April 14, 2024

Paddling with Manatees in Cape Coral, Florida


Paddling with Manatees in Cape Coral, Florida

Todd Swank's Diary Entry for April 14, 2024

It was vacation time last week so we headed to Cape Coral, Florida with our good friends Karl & Tina Zitzewitz.  Technically we were going to go on our 30th wedding anniversary last February, but Miss Sheri's medical situation caused us to postpone.  Probably a good thing because the weather in Florida this time of year was absolutely beautiful.

The trip stared off pretty bumpy as we flew into some of the worst turbulence I've ever experienced.  Even the flight attendant said it was the worst she'd been through in her 8 years on the job.  As you can see from our flight plan, the pilot had to take an unexpected detour over the Atlantic Ocean to try to get around it.  It didn't help much and the large number of barf bags filled up were proof of that!

One of our favorite things to do on vacations to Florida is going critter hunting.  Lucky for us, Karl & Tina enjoy that activity as well.

Florida is like the critter capital of the United States in my experience.  There's so many snakes, alligators, lizards, and other creatures just waiting to be encountered.  We find that swamps are a pretty good place to start.

We didn't see many gators this trip, but this big guy was laying out in the sun on the other side of the pond we were exploring.  Probably a good thing he wasn't much closer than that.

I didn't do well spotting critters, but Karl & Tina are great at it.  Tina found this guy hanging out in a tree during one of our hikes.  I wasn't sure what kind it was, but ChatGPT says it appears to be a Yellow Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata). They're non-venomous and quite common in Florida, often found in trees as they are excellent climbers. They tend to be active both day and night, depending on the temperature, and are known to prey on rodents, birds, and eggs. Always a fascinating find on a walk!

We saw three different species of owls while there. A screech owl, several burrowing owls, and ChatGPT says this one is a Barred Owl (Strix varia), identifiable by its brown and white striped plumage and round head without ear tufts. These owls are quite common throughout the eastern United States and are known for their distinctive hooting call that sounds like they are asking "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" They're nocturnal, so seeing one during the day is a special treat!

Miss Sheri snapped this photo of a fish in the swamp which turned out cool. ChatGPT thought it could be a Mayan Cichlid, but wasn't positive. I like the Mayans so I'm going with that.

One of our goals for the past 2 or 3 times we've gone to Florida was to see a manatee in the wild. We came close before, but never had luck so this was a priority for the trip. Karl & Tina are very strong people and told us the best way to do this in their experience was on kayaks. I was a bit intimidated by this because God didn't really put me on this earth to paddle my fat butt around. Lucky for me, both Miss Sheri and Karl were willing to support my deficiencies as we ventured to explore some different waterways.

We scored a few different times! Again we were fortunate to have Karl along because he spotted most of the ones we encountered. Despite the fact these sea cows are huge weighing 1200 pounds or more, they often hang out below the surface. We almost missed them a couple of times.

Several were hanging out under the trees and sticking their snouts up to eat the vegetation. They're very gentle creatures, but Miss Sheri and I were still pretty intimidated when one of them swam right under our kayak. I'm guessing they have the power to flip us over at will, but thankfully it didn't happen.

Along with the sea cows, we saw tons of other birds, turtles, and other animals we stalked with our cameras. We found this little blue heron hanging out on a tree minding his own business. It's possible he was up to something nefarious, but he didn't hassle us at all.

This Iwo Jima Memorial is outside the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve so we stopped by to pay our respects. It's a great place to visit.

We're not huge beach people on vacation, but we did spend one afternoon getting sand between our toes. There were red flag warnings while we were there. The shuttle driver gave us a long lecture about the dangers of riptide currents so we stayed on the beach for the most part.

We'd wondered why we hadn't seen any large iguanas while there, but driving out of the beach we suddenly saw several trying to cross the street in front of us. A pickup driver became impatient with us stopping to take pictures and suddenly passed us in a rush which caused them to scatter and run away. Seeing these iguanas run is a pretty funny sight so we were all pretty happy that we annoyed him.

We rented a boat on Saturday so Captain Karl could take us out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a beautiful day for a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour.

Our destination was Cabbage Key. It's a beautiful little island spanning about 100 acres and hosts an inn, a restaurant, and some nature trails.

They also have a water tower which is a pretty historic landmark. It was built in the 1930's and stands about 60 feet high. It's kind of unique in the fact that it's still standing while many similar towers on nearby islands were long ago destroyed by storms and hurricanes. This is a fact I pondered quite a bit while I climbed the wooden stairs to the top and wondered exactly how much would it take to snap one of those stairs and send me tumbling down.

We ran into a pod of dolphins on our way back to the mainland and they swam with us for awhile and even played in the wake of our boat. I was hoping one would come up to the boat and let us pet it, but no luck there.

This is our second trip to Florida with Karl and Tina. They're fun to travel with and we're pretty compatible for things we like to do on vacation. We discovered a bunch of great restaurants on the water and enjoyed many hours of good talks and good times together.

We had the joy of watching the Iowa Hawkeye ladies reach the finals of the NCAA basketball tourney while there. We were quite popular the day of the finals when we walked around wearing these shirts. Quite a few people made comments to us in support of the team or lamented the fact their team lost to them. It made for a fun day even if they didn't quite win the championship.

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