South Trip - Spring 2012

Last Update: 01-JAN-2017

Another excellent year with the media saying that the economy was bad so we were able to rent a house for 10 days on Marco Island for a great price.

We drove from Glen Rock, PA to a Brooksville, FL (940 miles) and stayed at the new Microtel Brooksville. Again, after you get past the DC mess It's an easy drive as the weather was great.

The Brooksville, Florida Microtel was new and it had the bar / food service. We were late for dinner so we had 2 chili-dogs and a beer for dinner which was nice. Our room was a non-smoking room on a smoking floor and Mary being sensitive to this asked to move. They had no issues with this so we changed rooms. Not sure of the logic of having a non-smoking room on a smoking floor ? Still, I like Microtel as they are generally clean and safe. For $65 a night you can't go wrong.

Being in Brooksville, it's easy to make it to Marco Island for the second day. We can't get into the house till 3pm so it gives us lots of time to drive the 220 miles and then get our food !

Coming back we made it to Wilson, North Carolina which was appx. 840 miles from Marco. . We stayed at the Comfort Suites in Wilson which was a very nice hotel. We will definitely stay here again.

Then it's an easy 330 miles (6 hours) back to Glen Rock, PA

As in every year, we like Florida again because it's close, friendly and being a pro gun state I can travel heavily armed !

We plan on doing this every year. Next year we are going to go a few weeks later as we want warmer weather

Camera Used on this trip was a Cannon S90 which does very well for its size.

Miles driven were appx. 2,600 Vehicle used was a 1999 Dodge Ram diesel pickup. As usual We had no issues. Because between my house and Marco I only have a few hills I got over 21 mpg on the trip.

13-APR Friday

Left at 4:30 am and was keeping track of the time we crossed the state lines:

MD  4:40    6 miles traveled
VA  6:05   91 miles traveled
NC  8:55  274 miles traveled
SC 11:30  456 miles traveled
GA 14:27  655 miles traveled
FL 16:15  768 miles traveled

Time was off by an hour. Not bad as we crossed the FL line at 16:15 after traveling 768 miles from home.

14-APR Saturday

As usual we had time to kill so we made our stop at Manatee Park in Ft. Myers along the Caloosahatchee River. We did see a couple of Manatees so it was a good that we stopped. Had no issues at all and got to the house right on time.

Did not go to the beach today as it was windy & cloudy

Very dry !

Zebra Long Wing Butterfly

So dry in SW Florida that the weeds are dying !

Coontie (Zamia pulmila) Cone at Manatee Park

15-APR Sunday

Nice beach day at Tigertail

16-APR Monday

Another great Tigertail beach day. In the evening messed with the camera to take some night shots. Did not bring the tripod this time so these were taken holding the camera against the back railing.

You can see Orion and Venus is very bright.

17-APR Tuesday

Just another great day. 1/2 day at the house & pool and the other half at Tigertail beach.

South Seas Towers and the clouds are staying inland.

Oh the crowds

To see the sunset we went to South Marco Beach Access where our Collier County Park pass lets us park and take a short walk to the beach.

Think of the idiots that go to the mid-atlantic beach towns ! Its 7:46 on a Tuesday and nobody is out ! This is why we come to Marco Island !

Sunset time

Another windy day

Snowy Egret (we think)

18-APR Wednesday

Tigertail beach day. Another day all alone on the beach ! GOOD !

Most of the shells here are alive.

The Burrowing owls and Gopher Tortoise. The Owls are all over the place on the island.

They let you get within 10 feet or so before they hiss.

Young to the right of the wood cross (hard to see)

As you can see this is all located in a residential area.

19-APR Thursday

We generally have had enough sun / beach by this time so we go for our Everglades run. Again very dry but not as dry as 2011.

Our first stop is a 2 mile walk out to a formal drilling platform at Ten Thousand Islands NWR. Its called the Marsh Trail. This is not that far from Marco Island along US-41. The platform is at 25 57'34"N 81 33'48"W. We figure most people don't go byond the viewing platform so the critters are wild out here. Some day we will come out and walk this in the dark.

We figure that this would be all water in wetter years.

Momma and young alligator

Nice walk along the dirt road

Poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens)

The drill site. A weather station and some interesting shell covered rocks. I would have carried it out if we were not in so far. At this point we are appx. 3 miles from the gulf.

Water area near drill pad. Objects swimming in that area. We assumed gators.

Nymph Romalea guttata with its characteristic black and yellow striped body. We would see more of these later today.

Water areas along the road.

Believe its a Melaleuca Tree which is an invasive species in Florida

Small gator

Got to fight for parking !

Our next stop is the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. In wet years this is a great place... Big gators and lots of birds at the pond at the end. This was not a good year. I got bit up here too.

You can get close to the gators here

Pond at the end and new benches.

Along the boardwalk.

Snails ?

Janes Scenic Drive

The 11-mile drive on an old Cypress logging trail through the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve is an exciting and adventurous trip. Known as the Orchid Capital of North America for its dense concentrations of orchids, it also is known for the largest mixed hardwood and palm forest on earth. On the drive, you can park your car and venture on foot down some of the old logging trails. You may encounter deer, raccoons, snakes (poisonous and non-poisonous varieties), wild turkeys, alligators, otters, black bears, bobcats and the endangered, protected and rare Florida Panther. It is not advisable for the uninitiated to venture far off trail. On and off the trail you will surely encounter many bird species. For summer sojourns bring plenty of mosquito repellent.

The next place I wanted to explore was Janes Scenic Drive of FL-29 starting at the southern end in Copeland. Copeland, FL. looks to be a very dangerous place as many of the houses have security fences around the property. No worries as I was packing !

As we crossed the open areas this is where we saw hundreds of giant eastern Lubber grasshoppers. VERY COOL !

This is from Wild Florida travel guide: Floridians has some pretty spectacular insects. You have to go looking for most of them, but it's hard to miss the eastern Lubber grasshopper.

This giant, slow moving grasshopper's bright orange, yellow and red colors are a warning that it contains toxins and will make any potential predator sick. If for any reason, you fail to heed the color warning and pick it up, the grasshopper makes a loud hissing noise and secretes an irritating foul-smelling foamy spray.

These 4-inch grasshoppers are too large and toxic for most natural predators, so they don't need to move fast. Lubbers cannot fly far, and travel in short clumsy hops, or walk and crawl slowly through the vegetation. They feed on broadleaf plants and can become a nuisance when swarms invade residential areas and feast on garden plants. Lubbers seem to be unaffected by most insecticides, and according to experts at the University of Florida, if they become a garden pest, the best way to get rid of them is to stamp on them, or "hand pick" them and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.

We continued up Janes road appx. 15 miles and got to the eastern edge of Picayune Strand WMA. This area is very remote and we did not encounter anyone else and had no cell service.

From Wikimapia:

Formerly known as "Southern Golden Gate Estates", this 85-square-mile area in rural Collier County was over-drained in the early 1960s as part of a failed housing development by "Gulf American Land Corporation" which was formed in 1957. The company dug canals to drain the wetlands and carved the property into 1.25-acre lots. It then promoted Golden Gate worldwide as a vacation and retirement community. Most of the lots were sold by 1965, but unsuspecting buyers bought overpriced land with no city nor county infrastructure to back it up.

In 1974, when the area was less than 10 percent developed, it became apparent to county officials that the project, with limestone roads and no centralized water nor sewer system, could not support the number of platted lots. The county down-zoned the property that year and required a minimum of 2.25 acres to build a house, and took over road maintenance after the developer filed for bankruptcy. Over three-fourths of Golden Gate Estates remained unoccupied.

In 1985, the state targeted 42,000 acres in the southern part for purchase under its Conservation and Recreational Lands Program. Acquisition has proceeded slowly, hampered by the administrative burden of contacting over 17,000 far-flung lot owners. Most of the roads were paved, but in rough shape; many people did not obey the stop signs, so it could be dangerous and easy to get lost. With few road signs and flat terrain, the streets are a giant grid with few distinctive elements to aid navigation. The street names/numbers were literally painted on the center of intersection.

Since the restoration project started two years ago, Florida state crews have carted away half of the 160 structures from Southern Golden Gate Estates, nearly completed the filling of a seven-mile canal, and begun removing more than 260 miles of roads. Good progress is reported on this one-of-a-kind restoration project despite no federal involvement.

More grasshoppers

The type of terrain we would find the grasshoppers in.

So, now we are over on County Road 839 heading south to the H.P.Williams Roadside Park (Ochopee)

This was our first encounter of the Florida softshell turtle. They are the largest of all the species in the genus Apalone and the largest soft-shell turtles in North America.

Florida softshell turtles are almost entirely aquatic, generally only emerging from the water to bask or to lay their eggs. They prefer still waters and can be found in ponds, streams, rivers, lakes and swamps. These turtles are usually shy around humans, but when they feel threatened they will bite with their strong jaws.[3] Like all soft-shells they are very fast in water and on land. In captivity they have been known to live up to 30 years old, although in the wild their lifespans are shorter.

The Florida softshell is highly carnivorous, consuming fish, frogs and other amphibians, insects, duck hatchlings and crustaceans

Well, I was trying to push them off the road.. In fact they were probably looking for a place to lay eggs.

H.P.Williams Roadside Park (Ochopee) is a good place to see critters. The bad thing is that its right along US-41 so plenty of city people !

So, now we are on Loop ROad (does not seem to have a county number) Last year this area was closed so its been a few years since we drove this. Again, its very remote, no cell service and during the week its not used much. The first interesting place is Sweetwater Strand which usually is one of the most scenic points along Loop Road. But, we were shocked how dry it was !


Cool photo of gators, birds and deer.

Area along the loop that have a very high concentration of gators


Back to the pavement

So, the loop takes you back to US-41 appx. 40 miles west of Miami. Too close ! Time to head west !

Our next stop was the Kirby Storter Boardwalk. Again VERY DRY !

Marco Island from the bridge on Couty Road 92 - San Marco Road.

Looking back east at the big thunderstorms out where we just were.

20-APR Friday

A full beach day as the weather for Sat and Sun does not look good !

As usual no people at Tigertail.

This trip we saw many Frigatebirds. Could be because its later ?

Storms getting closer.

Mary brought a fish net to get shells (did not work) but this Great Egret must have figured we were fishing.

I then played the call from my android app and he / she was trying to figure out where the bird was. When we left he followed us most of the way back to the truck.

21-APR Saturday

This was probably the worst day of the trip. Still we got in pool time and spend a good bit of time reading at the house. Mary went shopping in the morning.

22-APR Sunday

The day started off very wet. But, got nice later.


After sunset

23-APR Monday

We decided to go on a boat trip--a 3 hour tour on the Dolphin Explorer out of Marco Island.

Launched February 1, 2006, the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project is a long term study of the abundance, distribution, movement, association patterns and behavior of bottlenose dolphins of Southwest Florida. Designed in Three Phases, it extends north from Bonita Beach south to Everglade City, a distance of 50 coastal miles. Bays, rivers and estuaries are also included.

The Project is the only on-going study of wild dolphins in SW Florida and the only in the United States that engages and is supported by the general public.

Using 'photo-identification', our dolphins are identified by their dorsal fins which acts as their 'fingerprints'.

Lots of fun and saw many dolphins, herons, egrets, shorebirds, osprey, sting ray, manatee...

Looking at a blue crab

The new bridge on FL-951

Various views

We walked a mile or so on the natural beach of Keewaydin Island

Interesting signs to tell you where you are if you have to call 911

Found a bird breast bone. At first we id'ed it as the skull of the sleestak

Nice beach

Bay side on Keewaydin Island

Around the house and street views

Just cement holding it in. Can't do it this way where you get frost.

They had just posted these signs and blocked off this part of beach for nesting plovers. At the northern end there are large parts blocked off for plover and black skimmer nesting. I love to watch the skimmers flying low along the gulf to catch fish with their extended lower mandible. The remarkable bill of the Black Skimmer sets it apart from all other American birds. The large red and black bill is knife-thin and the lower mandible is longer than the upper. The bird drags the lower bill through the water as it flies along, hoping to catch small fish.

Very windy

very cool how the sand was blowing south on the beach

Eggs of some type.


Sunset and a small sand dollar

The critters ! Starfish - Conch Shells (never seen them so red) Hermit Crabs

Amazing evening. Great sunset and very low tides !

Along the pond at Tiger Tail

24-APR Tuesday

South of the border. We drive by at 75+ ! Would never think of stopping !

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