The first thing I learned about the beach on Sanibel Island is you don’t really get it to yourself at 6 in the morning. Lots of crazy beachcombers just like me are already up, wandering the beach before sunrise.
I quickly found a set of turtle tracks, and noticed a little orange flag already in place. I suspect this was a false crawl, as it didn’t go far up the beach and there was no sign of digging at the turnaround point. But who put the flag there?
Nearby I found my first turtle nest of the season, nest 33. I called the phone number on the nest to report the nearby tracks, and spoke with a nice lady named Cari who told me how volunteers mark the tracks, then later other volunteers come out to investigate each set of tracks and rope off those that lead to turtle nests. She thanked me for the call and I moved on.
One of the amazing things about Sanibel is that there are literally shells everywhere – so many that you really can’t avoid walking on some. Unlike some beaches, which squeak as you walk on them, Sanibel crunches. As you can see, the literary arts are alive and well on Sanibel (no, I didn’t write either of those shell messages – I just found them and liked them).
As I moved east toward the lighthouse, I approached one of the many wooden boardwalks that carry pedestrians safely over the delicate dunes. Something on the boardwalk had caught my attention. No, it can’t be. Yes! It was a Florida box turtle.
She didn’t have red eyes, so most likely she was a female. She was trying (probably because of my frightening presence) to get off this exposed bridge and back into the dune vegetation, but her shell was too big to get between the bridge logs. After watching for a while I lifted her up and put her back at the edge of the dune. She took off in a moment and soon was hidden in the vegetation. Who says turtles are slow?
I saw another Florida box turtle later on, also heading for the dunes. Two in one morning; I wonder if they’re really that common?
Sunrise was spectacular. That’s Ft. Myers Beach off to the right. Is there any sight more optimistic than sunrise over the ocean?
After sunrise, as I was lying on the sand watching that second Florida box turtle, I saw a woman with a backpack, picking up trash. (Why would anyone go to a place like Sanibel and then leave trash on the beach?)
Sticking out of the backpack were a handful of flags just like the one marking the sea turtle tracks. I asked her about them; she told me that, yes, she was one of the volunteers marking sea turtle tracks. We talked about sea turtles and the island. I told her I would love some day to do exactly what she was doing, and she said, “Well, then, you will!” I hope she’s right.
On the way back I found what I think was a nudibranch, or sea hare, in the seaweed on the beach. I put it back into the surf, but it washed up again. Finally I took my sandals off and waded out a bit before returning it to the water. I hope it’s OK.
Right near the nudibranch, and my turnaround point for the morning, was a roped-off nesting area for snowy plovers.
I didn’t see any plovers themselves in the nesting area, but here’s a picture of one of them.
On the way back I saw lots of blackbirds gathered around something on the beach. Turns out it was a foot-long shark, dead on the sand. No need to show a picture of that; it was pretty gruesome. More attractive was this white ibis using its elegant curved beak to seek out the plentiful mole crabs.
As I approached our beach access, thinking my first walk was over, I got quite a surprise. There was another of the little flags. There were turtle tracks right outside our building. When I’d started it was too dark and I didn’t have my flashlight on, so I missed the closest set of tracks, right along my walk. A sea turtle had crawled up the beach – I could even see the tracks from our room.
Later I met the SCCF volunteers who mark the nests. Unfortunately, this one turned out to be a false crawl. The mother turtle got all the way up the beach, but then turned around without laying her eggs. Maybe something spooked her, or maybe she just wasn’t ready yet. Despite this false crawl, though, nesting season is in full swing. The volunteers told me they had dozens of tracks still to check and several nests already identified just from Saturday night. So maybe out there in the Gulf right now is a female turtle. maybe that same female turtle, who could build a nest right on our beach this evening.
I’ll let you know tomorrow.