Just off the shores of Tarpon Springs is a barrier island known as Anclote Key. It is an amazing place to find some great shells. The island is also only accessible by boat.
Anclote Key Preserve State Park is Florida State Park and historical site located 3 miles off Tarpon Springs. The park does allow for camping on the north end of the island as well as picnic pavilions and grills. Wildlife includes various birds and sea life. The island is host to a picturesque lighthouse.
As far as shelling goes, Anclote Key is a nice site to find shells and sponges. Sponges are sparse in most places we go shelling, but the Tarpon Springs sponge docks are world famous with the title of the Sponge Capital of the World. As the tides roll in and out, Anclote Key becomes a resting place for many of the sponges the sea chooses to relinquish.
Shelling on the island was good. We went with a charter called Odyssey Cruises. They were one of the most affordable shelling cruises we have been on. They do pack the boat full and if you are reading this while the pandemic is still going on, not everyone will be wearing masks. The trip is a 2 and 1/2 hour trip which is barely enough time. Check the low tide charts and try to book during a low tide cruise for optimal shelling. The run back to back cruises. They are a business and quantity is what they are going for.
When my wife goes on these trips, I do look for shells, but am more interested in photography. The photography opportunities are plentiful. On this trip I found a beautiful sea star, a juvenile Herring Gull and an American Oystercatcher.
We are looking forward to heading back to Anclote Key. Any friends with a boat up for an all day excursion?
One of the neat things about being in Florida is the wide variety of birds and animals that are out our backdoor. I mean that in a literal sense. The other day I looked out our back window and saw this bird I have never saw before. I quickly got my camera and got a few rudimentary shots before the bird flew away. With a little research I discovered this is a Northern Flicker
This photo appears to be a male Yellow Shafted Northern Flicker. The northern flicker is a woodpecker. Often seen feeding on the ground in lawns, where they eat lots of ants and worms. The flicker is the only woodpecker in North American that commonly finds food on the ground. Apparently this guy was having a feast in my neighbor’s backyard the day he came to visit.
Unlike other woodpeckers, flickers typically migrate south when inclement weather arrives. In the spring the northern flicker establishes its own nesting territory. The do this by drumming on trees and any other object which makes noise as a way of warning others to stay away.
The Circle B Bar Reserve is an amazing place where one can experience a wide variety of wildlife. The grounds host miles of walking trails through woodlands and marsh areas. Here are some photos and a short video of a male Anhinga eating a fish.
Anhingas always stab their fish to catch them. They are very skilled at removing the fish from their bill. They will lower the fish and then whip their head upward to fling and dislodge the fish from their bill. The fish flies directly upward, and then when the fish descends, the anhinga catches it in its mouth. If the toss is not perfect, the anhinga will bat the fish up into the air until the fish is in the right position.
Below is a photo gallery of the birds, reptiles and animals we viewed on our visit to the Circle B today.
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Lake Apopka is a wildlife wonder. The drive through experience will offer you a chance to view birds and alligators. The drive will take you a minimum of an hour and a half to complete. The experience can easily take a half of a day to complete. Bring food and water. Please bring out all wrappers and bottles you bring in.
Various other walking trails available to visitors offer the experience of seeing other wild animals. Here are photos of the alligators we saw on our visit this day.
Fort DeSoto is a great place to see a wide variety of birds. Here is the photo gallery from our visit to Fort DeSoto on Christmas Eve.
Funny story from when we were heading home. We stopped at Publix and bought a roast chicken. We grabbed some napkins and plastic forks and knives. We sat in the car in the Publix parking lot and had a nice little picnic. We had a quarter cup of water left from the day. We washed down our roast chicken sharing the cup of water. It was a great day.
My wife loves shelling. That statement does not even come close to actually describing how Carrie feels about shelling. I blame myself. In 2008 we took our first trip to Florida. We visited Cocoa Beach and Clearwater Beach. The surf, sea, white sand, sunsets and seeing her first dolphin stirred a desire in Carrie that would not be tamed.
We did not get back to Florida until 2012. On that trip we visited Sanibel Island. And it began….
Carrie’s obsession with shelling led her to start following various Facebook groups and Instagram accounts. She came across posts from people who have toured with Reel Kind Fishing and Tours. In 2018 we booked our first trip. The trip took us to Kice Island in the 10,000 Islands. The 10,000 Islands are a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the coast of southwest Florida.
This trip took us to another island. Today we visited Shell Island (Second Chance Reef). Shell Island is literally an island made of shells. As you stand in the middle of the island, you find yourself surrounded by piles of sun bleached shells and beautiful blue water. Shell Island is a designated/protected nesting site. Shell Island is closed from March 1st to Labor Day weekend.
Today, Captain Ryan, pictured here, was our tour guide. I always told my basketball players it is the little details that make the big differences. Captain Ryan definitely understands how the little details can make a big difference.
Once we got to the island and the boat was secure, Captain Ryan instructed us on where the best shelling would be. Off we went. My wife with her shell bag, I with a shell bag and my camera. We both knew she was serious about the shells and I was serious about getting some interesting photos.
One would would think it would be difficult finding a lot of interesting things to photograph on an island made of shells in the middle of the the Gulf of Mexico. Once you take a closer look you find the place full of beauty and interesting photo opportunities.
Earlier I mentioned the little details make the big difference. After our morning on Shell Island we headed back to port. On our way back Captain Ryan noticed a group of jet skis slowly maneuvering near the shore. He took the time to swing over by the jet skis because his experience told him the people on the jet skis were viewing dolphins. As we pulled close we saw at least four dolphins swimming near the shore and feeding. Captain Ryan worked hard to get me in position for a photo of the dolphins. Trying to get a photo of a dolphin breaching is like playing “whack-a-mole.” By the time I got the camera in position and focused, they were gone. Captain Ryan was more than patient as we tried to get a good photo, which I never was really able to do.
After what I thought was a full morning of shelling and dolphin sightseeing, Captain Ryan had one more surprise for us. He slowly cruised along the shore just up from the dolphin sighting where he noticed some shore birds. We watched the beautiful Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the water. Captain Ryan graciously maneuvered the boat, again working to get some photos of those beautiful birds.
Captain Ryan found this beautiful Lightning Whelk deep in the sand. He gave it to me. As we walked over by my wife, Carrie, he said, “Look what your husband found.”
Of course I did not take credit for the find, but this is another example of just how dedicated Captain Ryan is to making your shelling experience the best it possibly can be.
This selflessness is not just the trait of Captain Ryan. When we went with Captain Jesse on our first tour, he also shared some of his fantastic finds with us and the other people who joined us on the tour.
Twice we have gone with Reel Kind to shell in the 10,000 Islands and twice we have had a fantastic time with some great finds. We still haven’t found the elusive Junonia shell, but it isn’t without trying. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
Every visit to Three Sisters Springs offers new experiences. These manatees were hanging out today. It was fun seeing a baby manatee, called a calf, flip over and lay on his back for this photo opportunity.
Here are some photos of the different Herons seen at Lake Apopka today.
Lake Apopka is is the fourth largest lake in Florida. If you are looking for nature, head to Lake Apopka. Lake Apopka features many different birds, reptiles and mammals. You can enjoy a nature lover’s paradise by taking the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. You may want to take water with you and a snack. The drive takes about 90 minutes, but you are going want to stop and enjoy the all the wildlife Lake Apopka offers.
One never knows when an excellent photo opportunity will arise. On the day I took these photos of the softshell turtle riding on a manatee I decided to take a ride to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. I was going to try out my new CPL filter which helps filter out glare when shooting subjects on or just under the surface of the water. I was walking on the path and came across two people who later introduced themselves as Don Markham and Wendy Pate.
While we were talking Don noticed a softshell turtle hitching a ride on a manatee. He moved over and gave me the shot. Not too often do you get the opportunity to get an exciting shot like this where two different species are peacefully interacting with each other.
If ever you encounter a manatee while in the water you should know riding or even actively interacting with manatees is illegal. A manatee can come up to you and often will. The young manatees, or calfs, are extremely curious, but your interaction with them must remain passive.
I am sure this turtle gets a pass since the law is to keep humans from harassing manatees because they are so docile and gentle.
Softshell turtles are one of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. The shell of the softshell turtle is soft, flat, and rubbery. The edges of the shell are pliable with small spines. As you can maybe see from the one photo, the turtle’s nose is long and piglike. The softshell turtle spends most of its life in the water.
When the cold weather reaches Florida, the water temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico cools down. Manatees need to be in water that is no colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent hypothermia. Florida has now had a few cold fronts come through. These cold fronts are bringing the manatees into Three Sisters Springs where the manatees will winter. Hundreds come in to enjoy the water of the springs which is a constant 73.3 degrees Fahrenheit. These photos were taken on December 5th, 2020.