Archive for the ‘Florida Wildlife’ Category

The Big Florida Hunt of 1869

Posted on: September 25th, 2016 by MB No Comments

The year of the big hunt was 1869. Florida had been part of the United States for only 48 years and Pinellas County was just getting its start. In fact, it was not yet called by that name. It was a wild, and as yet untamed area in that year. Wild animals roamed freely; too freely for those trying to settle in the area, and into the development of the area emerged the idea for a major hunt. To picture the area properly, however, you must first undo the infrastructure that spreads across what is now the state’s most populated area.


Pinellas County’s namesake was the pine tree, its name originating from the abundant scrub pines that grew across the area. It was a very different place back then, the only roads carved through the palmetto palms, oaks, and pines. After clearing, carts and early automobiles still had only the soft sands of Florida to drive across. The hot and humid weather offered no reprieve, other than measures pioneers built into the homesteads, such as breezeways, doors facing the prevailing winds, and kitchens built separately from the houses. Mosquitoes did as they pleased and the original population of alligators ruled the inland waterways.


Ranchers discovered Florida and liked it. Grass grew in a frenzy, invigorated by frequent rains, providing ample food for cattle and horses. In fact, the first cowboys in the Unites States worked their trade in Florida. With livestock came the struggle against predators. Panthers and black bears roamed the region, unchecked by the fledgling settlements that sprung up.


While Fort Harrison occupied a central location, the region had yet to gain its first incorporated city. The road from Tampa, then known as Fort Brooke, was long and arduous. Despite the hardships, people continued to arrive to settle. Just two decades earlier, the U.S. had opened the way for land grants in the regions not yet settled with the Armed Occupation Act. The American Civil War had just ended four years earlier and the people were eager to create new opportunities.


So it was that the people of future Pinellas County decided to make the land more inhabitable for people and livestock. Hunting parties were organized with the goal of eliminating the threat of bears and cougars. One can imagine that ranchers joined the ranks eagerly. The sound of gunfire would have echoed across the palmetto palm flats and through the forests of tall scrub pines. In the end, the two species were driven back, leaving the peninsula that forms the shape of Tampa Bay open for development.


In the present, the region has grown into the most populous area of the state of Florida. The well-known cities of Tampa, St Petersburg, and Clearwater occupy the terrain now, drawing new visitors regularly to their beaches and other attractions. The sandy roads of old are covered by pavement but still sometimes travel past broad swaths of pine and palm forests. Kitchens are now inside the house, chilled by the wonder of air-conditioning. Horse and cattle ranching still thrive in Florida but have moved to other parts of the state where the lands are broad and open. But what of the Florida panther and black bear? They survived the attempted extermination, though in greatly reduced numbers. The black bear inhabits scattered forests throughout the state while the panther has been relegated to the most southern regions where the fairly untamed wilds of the Everglades and its adjoining wilderness areas create a safe habitat. Through management, their numbers continue to return from the brink, leaving those of us in the present with the satisfaction that a piece of our world’s natural past yet survives.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Curious History of Philippe Park

Florida Springs

Where the Heck is Pinellas County and Why Should I Care?




Life among Florida Mangroves

Posted on: September 20th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Mangroves trees are a common sight along the coast of Florida, some growing only to the size of bushes while others reach heights of fifty feet or more. But who really cares about mangrove trees? If you knew more about them, you might be more interested. Not only do they create a habitat for a host of animal species but they also protect the shores of Florida from erosion. In fact, they are durable enough to withstand hurricanes, and that makes them important. So keep reading to learn more. The next time you’re in Florida, you’ll know that a gathering of bushes along the coast is actually quite a bit more.

Caladesi Island mangroves

They are easy to recognize thanks to their root systems, which are designed for living in saltwater shallows. The longer you stay in Florida, the more likely you might be to notice that not all mangroves are alike. You will also surely notice that mangroves are perfect places for animals to take refuge. And, while a coastline of mangroves might not be as nice as a beach, the trees play a vital role in protecting the land.

eagle-point-park roseate spoon bill Florida

Florida has a number of varieties of mangrove trees but some only exist in the southern half of the state that does not experience freezes. The two varieties that have spread throughout the state are the red mangrove and the black mangrove. While that might not seem important, if you enjoy testing your knowledge in the real world, you can easily identify the two of them on your own.

magroves and foot bridge

Red mangroves are only red on the inside. You can see the color when you remove the bark. So how will you know one when you see it? That’s easy. They are the ones up on stilt-like roots. Array of a roots in a red mangrove forest is amazing to see. Those roots are also very attractive to animals. Fish and shellfish live underneath of them, birds will hide among them, and crabs love to climb them. There is even a type of snake that can live its life perched on the stalks. If that sounds creepy-crawly, well, okay. That’s hard to argue against. When you consider, however, that you are never going to successfully walk through a red mangrove forest, it puts it back into perspective. The reason they are such good hiding places is because it’s nearly impassable terrain. Larger predators, including alligators, are not going to negotiate the thousands and thousands of closely placed roots. Residents and visitors to Florida can enjoy the red mangrove forests from the outside. Thanks to their design, it is easy to see into the forest. That is best done from a small boat, where the gentle sea breezes can keep you separated from one of the less pleasant denizens of the mangroves, which is the no-see-ems.

Red mangrove

Black mangroves live up on the shores, rather than in the water like the red mangrove. You can identify them by their breather roots. If you ever find yourself by the shore and see a tree or bush surrounded hundreds of straw-sized stalks protruding from the mud, sand, or water, then you are looking at a black mangrove tree. Those actually are breather roots, drawing nitrogen for the unseen root system below. The trees will often sit right at the shore where they experience the ebb and flow of tides.

black mangrove roots

Here in Tampa Bay area, we have warm enough winters to also have the white mangrove growing on our coastlines. It is not as easy to identify as the other two because its roots are all below the ground. On the other hand, it is usually found hanging out with its cousins, the red and black mangroves. They tend to grow taller and, more importantly, they grow on higher ground, preferring to avoid the tidal waters. Florida parks often have boardwalks that pass through mangrove forests. If you see a mound with a tree growing from it, it is probably a white mangrove. Vice versa, if you identify a white mangrove, look down and you will see it is on higher ground.

white mangroves

Once you are very familiar with mangrove trees, you will know that their leaves grow differently and have different shades of green. Once you know that, you can actually spot the rise and fall of coastal lands from aerial photographs, which is handy for boating and fishing (and Google Maps enthusiasts).

black mangroves on Florida island

Mangroves are so important for the preservation of coastline that cities have legal codes regulating their pruning. Chopping down all the mangroves on your property so that you have a water view might seem like a nice idea but your waterfront will then be open to erosion and very vulnerable during major storms – and your neighbors as well.


So, the next time you are in Florida and you see a shoreline of bushes and think, “I wish that was a sandy beach,” don’t be so sure. Mangroves play an important role in keeping Florida safe.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Sharing Natural Paradise of Three Rooker Bar

Discovering the Artificial Reefs of the Florida Gulf Coast

Native American Indian Mounds of the Florida Gulf Coast




Fishing Charters on the Florida West Coast

Posted on: September 14th, 2016 by admin No Comments

A fishing charter into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico is a dream come true to many. The beautiful blue waters, the warm climate, and the fantastic fishing combine to create one of the best fishing charter locations in the country. But what does a fishing charter on Florida’s West Coast entail? That’s a we’re going to answer.

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico

While you can also find the larger tour boats that take large groups, most fishing charter boats are relatively small, taking four to eight people. That means you need to be prepared to spend time in close quarters with companions and the boat crew. Here at Clearwater Beach Marina, crews are almost always a team of two.

Clearwater Beach Marina

It is a good idea to choose a comfortable boat. The reason is the length of the trip. The Gulf of Mexico is shallow along Florida’s West Coast while the best fishing is in deeper waters. That means charter boats most often will take you straight out into the Gulf, heading for the shelf where you will experience the best fishing. Powerful engines are standard equipment and the boat ride is usually a lot of fun. The entire trip is most often set as half day and full day, which means either four or eight hours. If you want the best fishing, however, ask for the full day. That will get you well over the shelf and into the waters that will fill you cooler with fish and usually a bit more.

Gulf of Mexico fishing

Florida is famous for sunshine. Your chances of sun on a morning trip into the Gulf of Mexico are very high. Our skies usually start clear with clouds slowly gathering as the day goes on. Larger boats provide interior areas but the more common charters do not. That means you will be in the sun most of the day. Even if you are acclimated to being in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen to avoid getting burned. On the upside, you will be out on a very blue body of water in the bright Florida sunshine, which is actually quite nice.

Boating Florida West Coast

If your fishing experience is anything like mine, you might ask whether you are actually going to catch any fish. The answer is yes. The Gulf of Mexico is known for its excellent fishing. Whether you are looking for a good fight or a good meal, you have a chance of encountering either. Tell your boat crew what you prefer and, chances are, they will be able to accommodate.

Two Tails fishing charter

When it comes to extras, each boat is different. Some will tell you to bring a cooler of your own beverages. Others will provide drinks for you. Usually, it’s a little of both, with waters provided and other types of drinks on a bring-your-own basis. Let your boat crew know what you have in mind and they will tell you what you need to buy. If you think the ride is too long to go without eating, be sure to find out what is provided and what is not.

Florida West Coast Grouper

Keep in mind that when you bring the fish back, your charter crew will offer to clean the fish for you. That means you walk away with fish that is ready to cook. But, here on the West Coast of Florida, a good catch is not a surprise. Because of that, restaurants that sit near marinas will often take your fish and cook it for you! Yes, you will have to pay for the meal, but the cost of the fish subtracted. It’s a great way to enjoy your catch without the need to learn any recipes.

Florida sport fishing

When you put all the factors together, and you love fishing, the overall image is a good one. Fresh air, good food, sunshine, sparkling waters, and some hefty bites on your line are all in store for a fishing charter on the Florida West Coast.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Discovering Anclote Key All Over Again

Finding the Lost Dunedin Pass

Fort Desoto Beaches, Boating, and History



Hopping a Ride on the Little Toot Dolphin Tour

Posted on: June 28th, 2016 by MB No Comments

After years of watching the Little Toot dolphin tour set out onto Clearwater Harbor, I finally decided it was time to get on board. While I’ve done dolphin sighting cruises at Clearwater Beach before, I’ve never done one on the unique vessel called the Little Toot. In fact, the best dolphin pictures in my collection are from a ride where we ran parallel to that boat with the dolphins jumping in its wake.

Little Toot

The dolphins in Clearwater Harbor are bottlenose dolphins, made popular in numerous TV shows and movies. Most recently, Clearwater area dolphins appeared in the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale II, with the celebrity dolphins Winter and Hope.

Living in the Clearwater, Florida area gives locals ample opportunities to see dolphins. They appear quite often along the boat docks, in the harbor, and out in the Gulf of Mexico. Boaters in the area are treated to sightings regularly. In fact, if you are here long enough, you will eventually see them from your car as you drive near the waterways. While we are accustomed to the sightings, we all agree that each sighting is still a special event. For visitors to the area, dolphin sightings take on somewhat magical air. That’s why the dolphin sighting tours on Clearwater Harbor and out on the Gulf of Mexico are so popular. You will often see the tour boats cruising the harbor or past the beach.

Clearwater Harbor dolphinEach tour boat has its own perks. Some are conducted on giant speed boats, others on comfortable pontoon boats with lots of seating. The Little Toot is a vessel that looks like a tug boat. Because of its design, it creates a tall rolling wake when it picks up speed. That’s a good thing when you are searching for dolphins. A wake is a very alluring thing for bottlenose dolphins. They love to play and jump in the waves, and the Little Toot makes the best ones.

Our tour took us around Clearwater Harbor. We skipped going out onto the Gulf of Mexico because it was a windy day the water was too choppy for sighting dolphin fins. It took a bit of time but we did get a few sightings of fins breaking the water. Finally, however, we found some dolphins who wanted to play. When we passed them by, they followed us and caught up to our wake. The following video shows them jumping from the water using the large waves created by the Little Toot.

Most every dolphin sighting tour in the area offers a dolphin sighting guarantee. If you don’t get to see any dolphins, you get your next ride for free. The great part of the tour is that, even without dolphins, the ride is scenic and well worth the time. The other good thing is that you are almost always going to see dolphins. If you get the chance to visit the area, make sure to put one of these dolphin tours on your list of things to do.

A Slow Ride up the Withlacoochee River

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by MB No Comments



Cypress trees on the Withlacoochee River

Getting Away from it all in Florida

Clearwater Beach to St Pete Beach on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida is a great place to spend time and is our home base.  This blog post, however, is about a nice little day trip away from our area which is very easy to take. We set our sights on a river cruise and hit the road on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Calm waters of the Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River is a slice of Florida that takes you back to simpler times. The name Withlacoochee means little-big river. Because the river changes size drastically during rainy years, that is an apt name. The Withlacoochee starts in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve which is Northeast of Tampa. The river flows Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico on a 141-mile course. The land is flat so the river flows rather slowly, a deceptive appearance considering how much water it can move. The river flows through areas that are lightly inhabited and often used for raising horses and cattle. If that sounds like a laid back place, it is.

Banks of Withlacoochee River

Covered Pontoon Boat Ride on the Withlacoochee River

Our Withlacoochee River ride started near Dunnellon, Florida at the dock next to a restaurant called Stumpknockers. We caught our ride with Capt Mike’s Lazy River Cruises, which, by the way, requires a reservation so that Capt Mike knows your coming. Our group and the others along only totaled eight people so it was a nice light load on the pontoon boat. It’s covered with a nice roof so it’s a good ride even on sunny days. Capt Mike knew the river very well and told us all kinds of interesting facts about the area.

Cypress reaching roots into Withlacoohee River

A Lazy River through Florida Swamps

After the tour, I looked down on the area on a map to see that our ride flowed through an area that had zero habitation to the north and very little to the south. The river takes care of that little detail by rising and falling dramatically, especially during very heavy rainfall years. Apparently 2004 caused the river to rise ten feet and grow to over a mile wide. On either side of the river grew a forest of cypress, mixed with a few other volunteers like palm trees, oaks, and pine. The cypress trees ruled the area, however, because of their ability to live in wet, swamp-like conditions. The river banks rose just few feet before a broad and seemingly endless flatland began. We could see between the cypress trunks for a very long way until finally, the volume of tree trunks cut off the view. I imagined trekking through that wilderness with its herds of deer, wide variety of birds, and other wildlife. Unfortunately, that list also included mosquitoes and biting flies, which made the safe position aboard the boat a welcome place from which to view the swamp. The sights were amazing and something few people get to see thanks to the challenging conditions present when on foot in such areas.

Flood marks on cypress trunks

Floodwater marks on cypress trunks

Wildlife and Wild Views

On our trip we received a lucky break when we pulled in close to something called a hummingbird moth. I didn’t know that kind of moth existed and might have seen it before without realizing since it looked and flew exactly like a real hummingbird. We spotted deer among the cypress trees, fish in the water, dragonflies, red shouldered hawks, swallowtail kites, wading herons, and baby alligators. The boat moved slowly, the river flowed in a clam, steady flow, and the forest blocked off the sounds of the world. It made for a very pleasant trip.

Deck on the Withlacoochee

Easy Day Trip Perfect for a Vacation

This boat tour sets out from a spot where Route 200 crosses over the Withlacoochee River. It is approximately two hours north of either Clearwater Beach or Disneyworld in Kissimmee, Florida. That’s a big day trip but if you are looking for something to soothe your soul during an otherwise hectic vacation, this is definitely the ticket.

Road sign in the Withlacoochee River

Other posts you might enjoy:

Sharing Natural Paradise of Three Rooker Bar

Discovering Egmont Key

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Sun reflected off the Withlacoochee River in Florida

Video of our ride down the Withlacoochie River.



Wonders of Winter on Clearwater Beach

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Treasures on the Beach

The beach is always an enjoyable place. Summer is the time people flock to the shores to dip into the waters or sunbathe on the shores. Winter, however, has its own sort or allure at the beach. It is a place to take long walks, to observe what you see on the sand, or to spend time with someone you care about.

sponge on beach

Winter brings higher tides, the waterline rising to surprising heights during full moons of December and January. At Clearwater Beach recently, the high tides were accompanied by high winds and larger waves, a unique event for a beach that ordinarily sees waves of a foot or less.

Conch on Clearwater Beach

The draw of the waves and high tide brought things to shore that one does not usually get a chance to see. Peculiar creates wound up scattered across the sand, bringing delight to those who were wise enough to go to beach on a cold day.

Seashell on Clearwater Beach

The Tampa Bay area, which includes Clearwater, is known for its sponges. A wide variety grows on the shallow, warm seafloor of this region. The turbulent waters detached those in unprotected areas, or that were perhaps old or even dead. They many shapes and colors added to the display on the beach.

Sponges on Clearwater Beach

The birds gathered to pick through the treasures, though in the early morning they more often gathered in groups to huddle against the cool breeze.

Seagull at sunrise Clearwater Beach

While many people enjoy a clean, debris-free beach, this wash-up was a delight. The faces of those walking the shores showed their enjoyment and the scattered display prompted strangers to discuss their finds and to comment on the peculiar volume of sea life on the sand.

Horsehoe crab on Clearwater Beach

The visual treasures of the beach were the type that easily create beach memories that can last a lifetime.

Conch with visible eyes


Discovering Egmont Key All Over Again

Posted on: November 24th, 2015 by MB No Comments

Egmont Key flowersA long time ago, in a land right under your feet, a river ran to the sea. As the eons passed, the shoreline moved and the seas rose and fell. Today at the mouth of that ancient river-that-no-longer-runs is an island known as Egmont Key. Formed by the ancient lay of land, it differs from the nearby barrier islands, which were created wind, waves, and shifting sand. Located on the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this fascinating Florida island sits at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Egmont Key beachEgmont Key State Park is remote and well worth the effort of visiting.

November marks the days for visiting the island, not because of the season, but rather the Discover the Island event which is organized by the Egmont Key Alliance,. While Egmont Key is open all year long, the event invites guests to the island for tours, food, displays, and souvenirs which are not ordinarily present. By doing so, the Egmont Key Alliance increases awareness and support for preserving the important island and its unique history.

Egmont Key lighthouseEgmont Key has served many purposes over the years, but its strategic position at the mouth of Tampa Bay dictated its destiny for military use. A fort sat on the island as well as guns for defending the mouth of the bay. While modern technology has overcome the need for a station on the island, it was used from the Civil War through World War Two to defend the important harbor. Tour guides for the event explained the various unique ways those stationed on the island kept the mouth of Tampa Bay safe. Many of the concrete structures still stand. Others have sunk beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and sit off shore beneath the waves, victims of a shifting shoreline.

Train wheels Egmont KeyIn the present, the island supports a lighthouse, several old bunkers, and the brick streets of a bygone military base that you can walk. Amid the reminders of days gone by are railroad tracks that ran from the base out to a pier for loading boats. Palm trees and mangroves cover the island, the brick streets running through a palm forest now, rather than a base. On the west side of the former buildings is the beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand paradise. You will rarely find this beach occupied, except, of course, for the Discover the Island days.

Egmont Key beachThe southern portion of the island is off limits to visitors, being the domain of nesting birds and sea turtles. The large preserve is home to an amazing number of birds during nesting seasons, although our guide explained that November was not a peak month. Despite most of the island being a preserve, the portion that is open for touring is quite large and more than enough to fill an entire day of exploring.

Egmont Key FerryMark your calendars for November to take advantage of this fun and informative event. While you can visit the island any time you like, the Discover the Island event might be the best time to learn about the island’s history. It is also a good time to go if you don’t particularly want to be on an island all by yourself. Despite what type of experience you enjoy, guided or solo, be sure to check out this island. A ferry runs to it regularly from Fort Desoto Park. Don’t miss out on this unique experience!



Other posts you might enjoy:

Shaking Hands with Pirates

Clearwater Beach Marina

Native American Indian Mounds of the Florida Gulf Coast



Sharing Natural Paradise of Three Rooker Bar

Posted on: July 28th, 2015 by MB No Comments

Ever Changing Island

driftwood on islandThree Rooker Island is the most recent of the barrier islands to emerge, according to Wikipedia, although the accolade of newest island now actually goes to the sand bar north of Anclote Key. Anclote Key is estimated to be 1000 years old. That makes Three Rooker Bar an island which emerged very recently. Not surprisingly, it is a shoreline on the move. The light-weight sands that comprise the island are easy for wind and water to pick up and move.  Storms which push additional amounts of water are also a major factor in shaping the juvenile island. According to locals, Three Rooker Bar has split, reformed, and split again in just the last decade. During our visit, a strongly flowing channel of water divided the two halves. The islands of the area are constantly on the move, with the shores often appearing different the next time a visitor stops by. When you tour Three Rooker Bar, take a good look. It will only appear in that condition for a short while. What you find on your next visit will be a new surprise.


Finding Three Rooker Bar

Boating barrier islandsThree Rooker Bar is three miles off the coast of Pinellas County, Florida, where the cities of Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs meet. For those who need more general orientation, it is in the Tampa Bay area but is in the Gulf of Mexico, not the bay. The island is part of the Anclote Key Preserve State Park, being the most southern of three islands. It is only accessible by boat. For your boating GPS, it lies at coordinates 28.119170, -82.842028.


Wildlife Preserve

Anclote Nature PreserveBecause the island is part of the Anclote Key Preserve State Park, it is important not to tread across areas that are marked off. Anclote Key Preserve is a nesting place for many species of birds and is also used by nesting sea turtles. During certain seasons, the park service will rope off areas of Three Rooker Bar and Anclote Key to protect the nests. That is also why taking dogs to the island is not permitted. So, if you see areas marked or roped off, respect the zones and keep your visit to the other parts of the island.


Accessible by Boat

Island boating Gulf CoastThree Rooker Bar is accessible only by boat and is approximately three miles off shore. That means you have to own you own boat, rent a boat, or hire a charter. Rentals and charters are easy to find, although renting a speedboat should be done with caution. The Gulf of Mexico is shallow, especially along the shoreline and in the harbors. It is easy to run aground on a sand bar. Smaller, personal watercraft are the most affordable but, for kayakers, days with lower winds and waves are recommended, since the three mile stretch is directly across open water. Island hopping FloridaThe challenges of getting to the island inhibit visitation, and that low level of visitors makes for a private, or at least semi private island experience. Be advised, that on some occasions, such as major holidays, the island can fill up with boaters and become a pretty wild party atmosphere. On most days, however, it is a peaceful location to stroll the shores, collect shells, fish, catch sun, or just relax.


Barrier Island Paradise

Three Rooker Bar is the one of the most beautiful locations you will find in the area, perhaps even in the United States. If you like beaches, remote locations, white sands, boating, and sunshine, this island is a perfect destination for you. Just be sure to respect the island while you are there. You just might find your own private paradise.

Three Rooker Bar, FloridaThree Rooker Bar, FloridaThree Rooker Bar, FloridaOther posts you might enjoy:

Discovering Egmont Key

Discovering the Artificial Reefs of the Florida Gulf Coast

Sea Turtles of the Florida Gulf Coast



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