We all know the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Florida – lots of white sand beaches! Fortunately for us, our home base at Bonita Springs was just minutes from several beautiful beaches, natural preserves, shopping and restaurants and other fun things to do. The unseasonably wet and cool Florida winter did not deter us from taking long walks while exploring those beaches. And you may say a beach is just a beach, but on our walks we encountered beach scenes that brought smiles to our faces and made our walks seem less for exercise and more for relaxation.
Barefoot Beach Preserve
Barefoot Beach is on the same land mass – Little Hickory Island – as Bonita Beach. The south end of the island is home to 342 acres of natural land, one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. Following the nature trail, a tropical coastal hammock of sabal palm, gumbo-limbo and sea grape trees, among many others, were visible along the trail. What we particularly liked on this trail was that the plants are not only tagged, but also shown in photographs as they look during each season. The trail then lead us to a shell-filled, sugar sand beach that could be painful when walking barefoot (no pun intended).
The beach offers some of the best shelling opportunities along the Gulf Coast, and walking here can be a “crunchy” experience.
Bonita Beach has been named a top 10 destination beach of southwest Florida. The sun worshippers here were mostly snowbirds, so much so that a sign protecting the real snowbirds was posted and it made us smile. We took several long walks here, and each day brought surprises and a new backdrop of scenery.
When the sun did peek out, the worshippers came in full force:
Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key is a 2.5-mile stretch of beautiful beach along the Gulf of Mexico. There was a guided bike tour on Wednesdays, and we attended one to learn about the history of the island. According to our guide, the island was accessible only by boat in the early 1900’s. It was said that only lovers would make the effort to get to this romantic island – thus the name Lovers Key. Today it is one of four barrier islands that make up this state park. After a brief talk she led us through a maritime hammock along the canal banks of Black Island, pointing out how this area is a haven for wildlife.
The sea grape trees are abundant along the beaches.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
We had planned to go to the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva to check out the great shelling for which they are famous. Low tide is considered prime shelling, however, at low tide the wildlife viewing is at its best at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This is when the birds are feeding on the exposed mud flats. Choosing between wildlife viewing and stooping for shells was no-brainer for me – I’ll go for the birds in a heartbeat. The shells, well they don’t move around so much!
Thanks to a political cartoonist with an eye toward conservation, Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. At Darling’s urging, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. It was renamed in 1967 in honor of the pioneer conservationist.
The “Ding” Darling Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and is famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations. And boy were there lots of birds! This is a birder’s and photographer’s paradise. It was a delight to see the number and quantity of birds during our drive around the 4-mile loop. Without a super-zoom camera I could get only a few decent shots, below and my header.
But if you want to get an up close image of the pink birds (Roseate Spoonbills) check out Ingrid’s great photography and write up about them beauties.
We spent so much time at the refuge that shelling at one of the beaches in Captiva or Sanibel will just have to be postponed for another visit. Steve was so disappointed – not!
We thought our one-month stay at Bonita Springs could get boring, but it turned out to be full of socializing, encounters with wildlife and long walks on the beaches of southwest Florida. Not to mention productive, as several repairs and upgrades on Betsy were completed by Steve. Great stop!
That cluster of beautiful shells is fascinating! Great photo of the yellow crowned night heron, I have yet to see one, perhaps they are an Eastern bird. So glad you are sharing your FL adventures since I don’t know if we’ll ever make it there!
Hmm, one day you and Hans might just throw in the towel and head east and embrace humidity!
Just gorgeous! Love all the pics, even the foggy ones!
Sounds as though you had the best time there, Mona. I so enjoyed your photos, and loved the cute sand creatures, as well as that clever “snowbird” sign. 🙂
We did enjoy the southwest FL. How about you how is the weather on the eastern side of FL?
Should be warming up today! We have sunshine in Grayton finally..
It looked like the FLorida weather has improved a lot in the last few days. Time to go out and sweat!
Beautiful pics again! What a nice area to spend a month in! The bike tour looks fun.
Another great post MonaLisa and a great subject for a post. By the way, I wouldn’t let your hubby hear you call the tall “Pelican” dorky, you might crush his delicate spirit….
Beautiful night heron picture. We’ve seen them here (in past years) roosting in the trees along the canal. They are really striking birds. Each evening a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies overhead. They are beautiful against the evening clouds….we’ve yet to see where they go though, sigh.
Thank you Sue and he smiled when he read your Pelican comment.If those birds are nearby, I guess you can start stalking them, who knows their pink behinds are just nearby.
I’ll come shelling with you ML! I love the look of the ill-named Barefoot Beach – with flip flops and a big bag we’d have a wonderful time. And which of those two do you think looks dorky? I wouldn’t like to say.
Ha ha of course Steve is the handsome dorky mmm maybe. Come on fly back here and we go bare footing at Barefoot beach and stoop for shells.
I’d love to do that!
Beautiful! You have me pining away for warm weather, sandy beaches and sunshine even more now! LoL
At least I am helping you with that. Stay warm where you are.
Hoping in a few years to travel like you two. My wife is from Carcar and she retires in two years. Although we have traveled a lot there is so much more to see and blogs like yours adds to the list of places 🙂
Oh from Carcar!, Please tell her I am from Moalboal. That two years will soon be here before you know it.
Lovely walks on the beach … I never get tired of it.
Beach walks is very relaxing even when it is foggy.
Love your new header! LuAnn and I caught the white pelicans the other day. We were wishing them closer to us. They had other ideas!
The Roseate Spoonbills are so pretty. Great photo of them in flight.
Glad you got a few days of beach walking:) Love Mr. Dork!!!
These pink birds are pretty shy 🙂 Will meet Luann soon to!
Now I am truly jealous…..roseate spoonbills in flight….nice shot, no rather great shot. With our little cameras it can be a challenge to capture some of these birds, but you do manage quite well. Our 30 days in Rockport went fast. I thought I would be ready to leave but actually wasn’t. I still had a lot more to explore and sounds like you could have stayed in Bonita Springs longer as well.
Safe travels and hope you have a great birthday destination filled with more birds and plenty of seashells 🙂
30 days went fast when there are still lots of things to do. I see some more spoonbills at the everglades but still so so far away, so Im still green with envy with your close-ups. Funny we want each others capture 🙂
Could there be a new camera in your future?
If I drop this cam accidentally maybe 🙂
We went to Sanibel Island today, both to Ding Darling and the beach. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one having some difficulty with capturing shots of the birds. Thought it was just me and my less than stellar photography skills. 😉 Great shot of the roseates in flight. They just did not cooperate with me and move a little closer as I requested. I am still envious with the images Ingrid captured.
I walked the beach looking for shells but was disappointed after the reading I had done on how great the shelling was supposed to be on Sanibel Beach.
Happy belated birthday to you MonaLiza!
Where are you two at right now?
So I did not miss anything on the shelling at Sanibel? Good. We are currently at Homestead, as our home base for the Everglades.
I am anxious to see what you think about the Everglades. I have heard the mosquitoes are more of an issue this year due to all the rain they have had. Sanibel had lots of shells but not much variety. We have seen better at other beaches since we have been in FL.
Lots of mosquitoes in the Flamingo area, I was eaten alive. But at the Royal Palm visitor center there were less or none at all. Flamingo area is 38 miles from the gate and if you don’t want to drive that far be sure to go to the Anhiga Trail.
Thanks for the info! We will prepare to be eaten. 😉
Nice post of the area…we have never visited that part of Florida. Wonderful pictures….I thought the crunchy beach experience was cool and what a great idea to take a bike tour!
You are so funny. I loved the snowbirds sign and the “dorky” one (not saying which). The sand turtles and the yellow-crowned night heron are beautiful. Fun, fun stuff. I actually took a fun video of the American White Pelicans at the Wildlife Refuge when we were there but couldn’t figure out how to post it! Glad to hear you’re going to the Everglades, if you haven’t, check out our posts (about four or five) on the Everglades from last year. There’s tons to do there! Enjoy! And Happy Birthday!
Wow, you did a lot while there! We only went to the NP once and that was it. Looking at your post of your two week stay made me wished we should have stayed near Flamingo.
Florida is so big, it’s tough to decide where to spend time.
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