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Christmas 2006

Part 7:  Christmas Week

Becky decided to bail on the butterfly excursion (she had to critique a 400-page novel), so Martin picked me up at nine, and he turned out to be just a delightful fellow: a retired lawyer who’s still "working" in real estate, folk art, and other ventures, but who spends his winters here on Sanibel (just a couple of miles from this place, actually)! He’s also originally from Grand Rapids, so we had fun sharing Michigan and birding stories (he told one of an 80-year-old woman who wanted to see 500 birds before she died, and so she hired him to find her the last two she needed—Eurasian Collared Dove was one of them! I forget what her 500th turned out to be…)! But he also leads walks to raise money for the Nature Conservancy; they’ve bought lots of parcels here on the island and set it aside for wildlife.

So we headed over to Manatee Park, and unfortunately the sun was in and out (the front was coming in early, it looked like), but we did manage to kick up several new ones: he pointed out both Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail to me (only shot the latter, and really didn’t get an identifiable look at the former), and also what turned out to be Barred Yellows. Lots of Gulf Fritillaries and White Peacocks were around, of course, and he pointed out the band on the underside of the Soldier as a good distinguishing field mark from the Queen. But my favorite was the Polydamus Swallowtail (the swallowtail without the tail) which frustrated me to no end at first (it was one of those that stayed at the flower just long enough for my camera to decide to focus before taking off again), but finally it cooperated, eliciting a "Thank you, Lord!" from me! No manatees were around, but the docent explained that was because the gulf water wasn’t cold enough yet for them to come in and warm themselves!

                 

Martin (a local butterfly expert) takes me to Manatee Park in search of pretty butters, like this Gulf Fritillary!

               

Polydamus Swallowtails

                      

Soldiers; the Florida race has a paler post-median band than the Texan race.  At right is a Barred Yellow.

                    

L-R:  Sleepy Orange, Gulf Frit caterpillar, female Large Orange Sulphur, and female Orange-barred Sulphurs

                    

Dorantes Longtail and Ceraunus Blue

I took him to lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant that had frog legs! (I’ve had better, but they were still frog legs…) So we had a delightful time chatting about various things; it did indeed rain on the way home and that night! Brother Dave drove in later, and we went to dinner at another spot that had some kind of chowder that was okay (forgot the name of the place so it must not have been all that impressive).  He then went to pick up his family (who were flying in) and Becky and I hit the sack after several rounds of Rummicube!

Since I had to take Jip in for an oil change the next day, I really didn’t plan anything; I took a walk on the beach and a nice long bike ride in the morning, then came back to catch up on things, but mid-morning Becky called me to say there was a big Bald Eagle right by the road along Periwinkle! So I left early and tootled over to the campground (where they very graciously let me park for a few minutes) and did some digiscoping (Becky was dutifully impressed with the results)! So after the oil change I came back, and somewhere in there the Baers showed up, so we sat around and yakked for awhile then went for another walk on the beach.

  

Birds on the beach included this Willet on the move...

       

Sanderlings

                   

Black-bellied Plover and Ring-billed Gull

       

Royal (orange bill) and Sandwich (black bill) Terns

      

Forster's Terns

           

White Ibis and Bald Eagle (in "downtown" Sanibel)

      We all went to the Lazy Flamingo that night, which was very good, then kissed goodnight. Oh, before that we went to see A Night at the Museum, which turned out to be a great flick! We were all getting into the popcorn and M&Ms, though…

The next day was more of a traditional field day: Sister-in-law Audrey and Niece Laura wanted to shop and golf, so they did that (actually, golfing got pre-empted), and Becky went bike-riding (I was extremely impressed that she recognized a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who had taken up residence outside our window), so I went over to check out Lakes Park, as that was supposed to be a good butterfly spot as well.  The sun was on and off all day, so sometimes the gardens were productive and sometimes they weren't, but here I did get a good look at the Long-tailed Skipper, as well as more Dorantes and what turned out to be a Monk Skipper.  The place is also mentioned in the ABA Guide, and it was indeed a great place for birds: in the skimpy little reedy area near the garden a Swamp Sparrow popped up, Palm Warblers came in close wagging their little tails, and the boardwalk across one of the lakes provided great looks at Boat-tailed Grackles, several herons and ibis (including Glossy), and fighting Black Vultures!  Several Anhingas were drying their wings and sounding somewhat like crackling lightning (if you use your imagination), and a Wood Stork stood sentry on one of the grassy spits.  Making noises from the reeds were Moorhens, Green Herons, and a Least Bittern! 

               

Osprey (left) and female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker outside the apartment

      

Butterfly Garden at Lakes Park

            

L-R:  Damselfly sp., Loggerhead Shrike (token bird...), White Peacock, and Fiery Skipper

             

Dorantes Longtails (...without the tail at right…)

                               

L-R:  Monk Skippers, Brown Anole, and Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (my kinda guy…)

   

Black Racer (and, no, he’s not possessed—he’s getting ready to shed his skin!)

          

Birds along the boardwalk included Tricolored and Little Blue Herons

                                

L-R:  Great Egret, American Coot, and Wood Stork

           

Boat-tailed Grackles (female left, males center and right)

       

"What’re you lookin’ at?!" (Anhingas)

  

More birds on the other side of the boardwalk...

     

Black Vultures fighting over a fish

   One of the bike trails goes off into the woods, but just before it did there were all sorts of butterflies in the low flowering grassy area; got great looks at Barred Yellows, plus another Phaon Crescent and knockout Ceraunus Blue.  White Peacocks were all over the place, and in the woods themselves were a couple of Zebra Heliconians.

             

Butterflies along the trail included Ceraunus Blues and Barred Yellow

                       

Phaon Crescent and Fiery Skipper (showing the typical "jet plane" posture at left)

                         

Zebra Heliconian and Orchid (?)

Bird-wise it was quieting down by then, but the Tree Swallows had taken over the skies!  I checked out the garden one more time but things were slowing down there as well, so I decided to call it a day and take care of my smarting toe...  We returned to Timbers for dinner, but I decided to get the Surf & Turf again next time…

 

Scenes coming around the loop

        

More Black Vultures by the lake

                      

Marsh with Moorhen and Large Milkweed Bugs

                        

Puerto Rican Crested Anole (?) and Coronado-like bridge to Sanibel under construction

Instead of attending the Christmas Eve service at the Sanibel Community Church I went that morning so we could all spend the evening together.  The Baers came over about the same time I got back from church, and while Dave and Becky went kayaking, Audrey and Laura laid out at the pool while I went looking for Mangrove Skippers at the refuge.  Couldn't find any (saw one small dark butterfly that could have been it, but it went tearing across the road, bounced around in the mangroves, and then flew at my head as if to say "neener neener neener" and then took off...), but the most action was actually at Red Mangrove Overlook, where several spoonbills fed close in, as well as a Raccoon that entertained everyone!

          

Waders back at Ding Darling included Roseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibis

        

Palm Warbler (left) and Raccoon fishing for breakfast

                  

L-R:  Mating Gulf Fritillaries, immature Little Blue (yes, really) Heron, and Alligator

  

"Teddy Bear" cloud behind the community church on the way to dinner

We then went to dinner and watched Talladega NightsChristmas Day was actually rainy, so when the skies cleared, I headed down to Lovers Key State Park just to get a hike in if nothing else! It was a pretty little place, and they had a nice mile-long (probably) loop that didn’t have much in the way of wildlife besides the usual (lots of Gulfies and Peacocks braving the lousy weather, though), but down at the main entrance they actually had a butterfly garden at the start of another mile-long loop trail, and unfortunately I didn’t have time to hike that whole thing, as I didn’t have any food with me and the plan was to head back when I got hungry. That garden had great potential, and I did spot a little hairstreak or something flitting around, but I lost it L. Had a Zebra Heliconian and a Dorantes Longtail, but that was it. Called a bunch of people to wish them a "Merry Christmas" during the down time...

   

Bridge to Lover’s Key State Park and estuary

         

Mangroves along the Nature Trail and butterfly garden

                                

L-R:  Dorantes Longtail, ventral view of a Zebra Heliconian, and Polished Ladybug

Just on a lark I called Audrey, and it turned out they were in Fort Myers Beach as well, trying to find a place to have brunch! So I headed up and tried to join them at the Waffle House, but the place was a madhouse: no parking in the lot, and no parking in public areas (without paying an arm and a leg), so after another try at the restaurant I gave up and told them I’d see them that night. We were all intrigued by the Hitchcock-ian gathering of Fish Crows on the buildings and wires (and kicking myself that I didn't get a picture)!

Becky and I played Rummicube while the storm I barely missed raged outside, and when the Baers got there they said there had been a tornado watch for the area! And there had indeed been some tornadoes north of us; I think the closest one was near Tampa. We had a great dinner at the Greenhouse; most of us had quail, but everyone ended up taking so much home (that night and other nights) that the next night we just all gathered at the condo and ate leftovers! Christmas night after dinner I forgot what we watched—oh, it was a rather cute movie called The Devil Wears Prada (about a young journalist who gets wrapped up in the fashion industry and doesn’t like what it does to her), and the next night we rented Ice Age – Meltdown, which no one had seen but me, but it was fun seeing it again!

   

Laura enjoys her new pearl necklace while Audrey (her mom) toasts in the holiday!

 

L-R: Dave, Audrey, Laura, and Becky

Got packed and headed out the next day; took Becky to the airport, and she treated me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant, which was very nice. First we stopped at Lakes Park again where we checked out that other trail, but while it was pretty sunny, it was cold that morning, so still no butterflies to speak of. After I dropped her off I headed for Naples and went ahead and got a motel room (there was a boys’ hockey team staying there as well), then went to check out the Naples Zoo, which, unless it was the other Naples Zoo they were talking about (and doing a quick Google search I think that was the case; the place I visited is officially called the Naples Aviary and Zoo), turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment: it was actually a bird shop with some domestic animals and some plants that had butterfly potential, but again, it was cold! They did have a couple of fun things: this breed of chicken that the guy called a Silky that was the craziest thing I had ever seen (it looked like the chicken equivalent of a Bichon Frise), and their Hyacinth Macaw liked to hang by his beak and have you tickle his foot and belly!

Becky shoots some vultures on a final swing through Lakes Park

    

Fancy chickens at the Naples Zoo

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