Monthly Archives: August 2008

Hurricane Gustav

We’ve had some rainy moments here on Siesta Key but that’s about it, thank God.  Let’s pray for all those in Cuba and the northern Gulf coast that Hurricane Gustav has and will tragically effect.

After a bit of rain this morning, I headed to Lido Key with my husband.  I just figured with Siesta Key’s sandbar, the waves (if any) wouldn’t be that exciting.  Just north of the public beach parking lot, at the northern most lifeguard stand, we parked and headed out.  There were about 2 dozen surfers in one spot waiting for the best wave to ride in on.  The waves were large but were crashing close to shore.  Farther north you could see them crashing out away from the coastline.

My husband was body surfing and had a great time.  I stood by beachcombing.  The waves were coming in so fast one after another that when I’d spot a cool shell it was swept out faster than I could reach for it.  Nonetheless, I did get a few little specimens and an awesome chunk of coral that looks like someones arthritic hand.  The wind picked up and the loose sand started blasting the backs of my legs.   I had to stand firmly bracing myself in the wind.  Lesson learned: even if its not sunny, wear sunglasses on the beach during high wind or don’t wear your contacts.  We stayed about an hour.

Later in the day we had a big gust of wind from the south with torrential rain.  The power went out around 5pm but was restored before 6pm.  Yeah Florida Power & Light!  I called FPL to report the outtage.  What an awesome automated system.  They knew who I was from my phone I called on (its good to have a fully charged cell phone when there’s a hurricane nearby), they estimated when power would be restored and even called me back to say what exactly had caused the outtage.  Cool!

I’m a coastal person.  I’ve lived on the Atlantic coast (Surfside Beach SC), Baltimore MD (hung out in Ocean City and Annapolis in my youth), and the Gulf coast (Mobile AL, Houston TX and now Siesta Key).  I’ve evacuated for many many hurricanes and tropical storms.  No matter what anyone says about it, I still enjoy this over being inland.  With a hurricane, you know what’s coming, and you can leave.  You can take responsibility for your self and your property by properly insuring and protecting it otherwise.  Our inland life (though brief) brings back memories of ice storms, blizzards, hiding in closets during tornado warnings, and stressing over whether the next earthquake would be in your community.  For me, the coast is where I want to be, whatever the weather.

Here comes another band of heavy rain.  Gotta go.

Roseate Spoonbills on Siesta Key

On weekends we go to the beach before lunch.  Gary and the boys swim while I take a walk.  This morning I was so amazed by the birds.  There are always lots of birds near the lagoon but today I’m thankful I had my camera and binoculars.  There in front of me were 4 unbelievably beautiful Roseate Spoonbills.  I watched as they waded northward sweeping their bills through the water.  When they do this their spoon-shaped bills sift through shallow water for insects and small fish.  They walked the edge of the lagoon and returned to their starting spot.  Then I watched as they preened themselves before settled in for a nap.

 The first time I saw a Roseate Spoonbill, I was in Texas.  There was a former rice field near the house we were renting last summer.  I had pulled out of my street and straight ahead was a small flock of pink things sweeping their heads in the shallow puddles (it rained a lot in Houston last summer so puddles were plentiful).  I was so amazed because I had only heard of them and figured I’d never see one.  They hung out for a couple weeks in the same area so I took advantage of the spotting and visited them often.  Apparently they nest in colonies mixed with Herons and they are related to the Ibis.  

The other birds I saw this morning by the lagoon included Great Egrets, a Reddish Egret, several types of plovers, somes Willets, a Ruddy Turnstone, a smorgasbord of terns and gulls including my favorite the Royal Tern and 4 black skimmers.

Low Tide

At the north bridge to Siesta Key you can pull over in a small parking lot, fish, watch the sunset or whatever.  I’ve even seen a little webber cooking someone’s dinner at this parking lot.  At low tide you can walk across a sandbar on this little part of Roberts Bay toward someone’s back yard.  There are usually lots of birds, welks, and fiddler crabs.  I’ve never seen a boat moored in this area until this week.  First there was one sailboat, then another, then 2 canoes.  As you can see the one sailboat moored too close to the sandbar. 

Turtle Beach shark teeth

I checked it out about the shark teeth.  Apparently they are found on Turtle Beach, on the south end of Siesta Key.  But not on the fine, white beaches.  I’ve been there several times and never found a tooth.  Now, across the pass and a little further down on Casey Key I’ve found tons, just by setting down in my beach chair and looking around.  I suppose that man I met today on Siesta with the shark teeth was just lucky.  But I’ll keep hunting for them.

Shark teeth on Siesta Key?

Well, I went to take my usual pre-dinner walk on the beach from access 5 south and back.  As I’m scanning the shoreline, which was so huge today at low tide, a man stopped me to show me his shark teeth.  He said the surf has been rough the past two days and they’re coming on shore.  Just then he picked up another.  I think he had about 6 in his hand and those teeth were large.

If you, the reader, are from the area or visit this Key regularly please let me know if you’ve found or hear of shark teeth on Siesta Key.  When we moved here last fall I had inquired of all the quirky things about each beach.  Shark teeth, I was told by a lifeguard, are only on Venice Beach and some smaller ones around Nokomis Beach (Casey Key).  Well, I looked and looked.  I only went to access 10 (near the sailboats) and back north and didn’t see one.  So I’m anxious to hear some tales, honest ones.

As I said the beach was so incredibly wide, the tide was incredibly low and there was another sandbar out past the markers now.  The waves were crashing out there and I saw someone walking on it, water about mid-thigh deep.

The only shells I found were Atlantic Giant Cockles.  Most still had the critter inside.  The book I have notes the maximum size being 5.2 inches (13.2 cm).  Most of what I spotted were around 4 inches.  The largest one we have in our collection is 4.5 inches. 

I love our beach.  Everyday brings something new…sandbars, shells, birds, waves, no waves, starfish and gorgeous sunsets.

Trip to Sanibel and Tropical Storm Fay

We took a long weekend trip south to Naples, Sanibel, Captiva and San Marcos.  Tropical Storm Fay had left its mark on the area in terms of flooded fields and parking lots but everything else looked ok to us.  We were just happy to be traveling around for a change.  Fay did try to ruin our time causing bands of rain and some thunderstorms but she didn’t win.  We had a great time!

Our first stop, after checking in at the Lemon Tree Inn near the historic downtown section of Naples, was the beach at the end of 5th Street S.  The waves were fierce, ending in a froth along the shoreline.  The wind was actually carrying some of the foam up the beach.  Some foam smashed into my younger son’s leg which totally grossed him out.  Seaweed, foam and some small shells littered the beach.  We decided after 15 minutes to explore elsewhere so we headed to San Marco.  We drove around looking at the town and decided to stop at the public beach.  We paid our $6 entry fee and it starting pouring.  There was another park we could visit on the same $6 so we drove there.  We drove through the rain to the spot with the blue sky above.  No foam, no seaweed this time…just shells.  We collected a full beach bucket before deciding to head back to the car.

Saturday we drove to Sanibel for some shelling at low tide.  Oh, I was in heaven!  This is what I remember post-hurricane beaches to look like.  I figured out that you found more if you dug a little.  There were top snails, ceriths, fighting conch and hawk-wing conch, shark eyes, tritons, nutmegs and tulip snails, spindle shells and welks, murex, lettered olives and Florida cones.  We found mossy arks and turkey wings, mussels galore. Scallops, jingle shells and really large cockle shells.  We filled the bucket several times.  And that was just Sanibel. 

We had lunch on Captiva, a quick swim and then headed back to stop at the shops.  The one shell I’ve been dying to find is the purple snail shell. I heard that is not just hard to find, but most likely to be found along the lower Florida Keys.  I don’t know when we’ll get there so when I found one in a shell shop, I bought it.  Is that cheating?  Well, if it is that’s ok…I’ve got one now.

Our last stop was the Sanibel Lighthouse.  Of course we hit the beach.  It was so full of oysters it stunk, but the wind was so strong it didn’t matter.  We collected some beautiful pen shells, and an unbroken Atlantic figsnail.

Before leaving on Sunday we made one last stop to the end of 5th Street S for a walk to the pier.  I added to my collection a handful of painted egg cockles and the flat valve of a orange round-rib scallop shell. 

Someone I met while shelling on Sanibel told me she hadn’t seen this many shells in a long time.  She lives in Naples and beachcombs often, so I rest my case about great shelling after a tropical storm or hurricane.  I am, in no way, in a hurry for another storm, but I do enjoy the abundance of shells such storms provide.  Thanks Fay.

A last note on Tropical Storm Fay

Well, it sure left nothing to write about as far as Siesta Key is concerned.  And I’m thankful for that.  No power outages, no downed trees, no flooding, no broken windows (we don’t have boards for them) and no need to evacuate.  Fay stayed away from us.  I was told, when we first moved here last year, that we just don’t have bad storms because the spirits of the dead Indians that once roamed this area still protect it.  That story makes for easy conversation over a drink but I have to believe that Fay just headed elsewhere.

My husband, children and I did go to the beach once the boys had finished their school work.  It was windy, out of the north, and cloudy but that’s about it.   We walked from access #5 south to the public beach.  The lifeguard stands were moved inland several yards.  The lagoon, which had been full, was shrunk (probably from wind).  Pelicans and terns were diving for their early dinner. People were strolling the waters edge.  Kids were skim boarding and one man was way out near the markers doing the backstroke. 

Beach combing wasn’t as thrilling as I wanted it to be.  I bet farther down the coast and along the east side of Florida it was much better.  I have to face the fact that the Siesta Key beach is not known for its shells.  When you can find them, they’re tiny samples.  There was one week, I think in February but don’t quote me on this, that a cold front had come through and brought with it an abundance of shells of all types along the Siesta Key beaches.  I had found out about it a day later and headed down just as the sun was setting so I didn’t get to pick through them, but I did make it home with my first sand dollar.  Yeah!  Anyway, aside from 2 dead crabs, 2 sea urchins (one dead, one alive), 4 turkey wing arks,  a tinted cantharus snail shell, and a broken plastic Scooby Doo toy, there wasn’t much to pick through.  But I had a great time.

More on Tropical Storm Fay

When the boys were little we lived in Myrtle Beach.  We evacuated several times over the years for their safety.  One time, and cannot remember the name of the storm, we stayed.  We simply boarded the windows, put everything in the garage and hung out.   We had power the whole time as it was a minimal category one storm and all of our power lines were under ground.  We spread out sleeping bags, ate pizza, watched cartoons.  We fell asleep with flashlights on.  The boys had fun.

Now they’re older, and this storm is making them nervous.  The Sarasota County schools are closed tomorrow to be used as shelters and so the neighbor kids told them they will have the day off from school.  Then they told my boys that they might have to stay in a hotel “if things get bad” because they have a bearded dragon for a pet and can’t take it to the shelter.  So now, not only are my boys bummed that they still have school tomorrow (since I homeschool them) but they’re super worried that “things will get bad”.  Its no use watching the Weather Channel talk endlessly about where Fay might make landfall.  It looks big and menacing on the radar.  They’ll just have to learn to deal with storms.  After all, we spent four years in NW Mississippi, and a half year in TX and endured countless trips to the closet as tornadoes skirted by.  We even traced the path of a tornado in our town to see what kind of damage it caused.  While it left it’s impact on my boys, watching and waiting is proving tough for them.

So what has happened so far?  We had a few minutes of rain twice since noon today.  Oh, and the sunset (what we saw from our house) was beautiful.  The whole sky was a light cobalt and pinkish-orange reflecting on the high cirrus clouds scattered about.  Directly above the sunset the cloud was pure yellow.  Too bad it didn’t translate well on film.

Everything is stored and secure and we’ll just wait until Fay passes.  I can hear my wind chimes out back so the wind has picked up.  I can’t wait to go beach combing on Wednesday.  Maybe we’ll take that day off from school…just kidding.

Tropical Storm Fay

I can’t wait until Fay has passed.  I’m going to bet the beachcombing will be unbelievable.  There are several shells I haven’t found yet, one being the purple snail, and I’m hoping they’ll be on my beach this week. 

We’ve had red flags and rip currents all week so my husband, Gary,  hasn’t been able to go to the beach.  I’d go just for a walk, but he likes his “hydro” so we’ve found other things to do.  We finally went today…green flag.  While he and boys swam, I combed the beach.  Here’s what I found: lots of beautiful, small shells, strange bones (again, which I’ll write about separately), coral pieces, fairly large pieces of drift wood, green sea glass and a penny.  I’m not able to download the pictures right now so check back later to see them.

The waves were super calm this morning.  Later, we went back.  While the tide was far out the waves were a bit choppy.  Gary took off to swim, I walked down the beach.  There is a sand bar you can walk  to just north of the public beach area.  You can also access it from the south of the public beach as it was pretty much an extension of the beach at that point.  Well, today, the sands have shifted.  I walked toward the south from beach access 5 and found myself on the sand bar.  I didn’t see anything where it usually is. 

My family and I like to go to the sandbar at low tide.  The sand dollars are plentiful there.  We must have 300-400 of them.  As I walked along today I found a few but they were live sand dollars.  I left them there.  They’re so beautiful, green, sometimes with a purple hue, and rough to the touch.

Monk Parakeets

I was driving home from a trip to the grocery store on the “mainland” and was about to cross over the north bridge to Siesta.  To my delight, perched along the electric wires to my left, were about 100 of these parakeets.  They were so beautiful.  I rolled down my window and listened to them screech, which is the best description I can think of to describe their song.  Its intense with that many birds.  The sight was beautiful.

Monk parakeets have mostly grey colored face and breast.  They’re very noisy but in a beautiful sort of way that I, as a birder, finds everything beautiful.  Anyway, they remind me of a exaggeration of a nagging old hag with a high pitched voice.  But, like I said, in a beautiful, nature kind of way.

I first heard of them when I was letterboxing with a friend and her children.  One of our stops was the grounds of St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Longboat Key.  There’s a colony roosting there behind the church and if you’re lucky you can spot some from the board walk that runs out toward the bay.  They hang out back there.  Of course I didn’t see them at that time.  When we all parted from the church grounds, I pulled over in a parking lot to take a phone call.  Above me, on a power line, perched several monk parakeets.  Lucky for me I had my camera.

The first parakeets I had ever seen here were the black hooded parakeets.  They are mostly green with a black head.  I hadn’t seen many since the spring.  I would bike ride through the village to what was called dog beach (I don’t know the new name) with my camera to capture some amazing pictures of these birds in the trees.  I guess they were nesting in the cabbage palms. 

Their range, according to my National Geographic field guide, is Brazil to Argentina, same as the Monk Parakeets.  They are considered exotics/escapees according to one of my birding books, “Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties” complied by the local Audubon Societies.  Curiously, the Monk Parakeet is not. 

The first picture shows the Monk Parakeets, the second shows the black hooded parakeets.