Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who's Sanibel's Newest Resident: Wile E. Coyote??

We know we are testing the memories of those who did not grow up with Looney Tunes, but if you did, you might remember Wile E. Coyote, otherwise known as just plain Coyote. And you may remember his nemesis, the rapid and always elusive Road Runner. The characters were created for Warner Brothers. They star in a long-running and popular series of theatrical cartoon shorts and occasional made-for-television cartoons.

In each episode, instead of animal senses and cunning, the Coyote uses absurd contraptions and elaborate plans to pursue his quarry, the infinitely faster and more clever Road Runner.

The Coyote has also separately appeared as an occasional antagonist of Bugs Bunny in five shorts.

Coyote was based on Mark Twain's book Roughing It, in which Twain described the coyote as "a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton" that is "a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is "always hungry."

The Coyote's name of Wile E. is obviously a play on the word "wily." Though the coyote in the cartoons may be exceptionally creative, he is far from crafty. The Road Runner always alludes him.

With all joking aside, we have to wonder if the sightings of a coyote on Sanibel Island will have the same process. Though Sanibel's coyote has actually been photographed, his appearances have been, hare and there, if you'll excuse the pun. We really don't know where he is at the moment, but for sure he will find his fill if he remains another happy visitor on Island. Feeding primarily on small animals such as mice and rabbits, he should find his plenty of great eating.

But coyotes need mates to thrive and survive, and so without one in the "hood", the coyote may leave to find greener pastures.

Meanwhile, should you spot the slender critter, you are asked to report him to the authorities. This observation will certainly be a special aspect of your stay on Sanibel!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Drilling down to details: Shelling on Sanibel

Sanibel Island is considered the best shelling destination in the USA and one of the top 3 shelling destinations in the world. That's quite a claim, but one well documented.

Sanibel Island has earned its reputation as the Shell Island honestly. It is made out of shells, created over thousands of years. When islanders dig gardens in their backyards, they find conchs, whelks, scallops and clam shells often perfectly intact.

Sanibel Island does the twist as it parades along the coastline among a string of other more orderly, straight-and-narrow islands. The east-west torque of Sanibel's south end acts like a shovel scooping up all the seashells that the Gulf imports from the Caribbean and other southern seas.

The abundance and variety of shells have made Sanibel shell-obsessed. People come from all over the world, drawn by the song of the seashell. They parade along the sands doubled over in a stance that's been dubbed the Sanibel Stoop. Every March, they gather to compare and appreciate shell collections and shell art at the annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show which just took place. Throughout the year, shell shops sell seashells by the seashore (and by the thousands).

Shells are the primary motif in island decor and boutique gifts. You'll find everything from finely crafted "shell-igrams" to lucite toilet seats with seashells lacquered in.

On the beach, each shell has a story. Though shells are often battered and broken by the time they are washed up on the beach for us to find there are enough intact to make the exploration memorable. You will notice that on many intact shells there is a perfectly round hole, almost as if someone took a drill to it and tossed it back on the beach.

Many times, a snail drilled that hole in the shell.

Snails have a tongue-like structure, called a radula, covered in tiny chitinous teeth. Some snails use the radula to bore right through the shells of other mollusks.

Predatory snails hold their prey with their foot while the radula goes to work drilling through the shell. A gland near the radula secretes chemicals that weaken the prey’s calcareous shell, making it easier to drill. Once the hole is drilled, and the mollusk killed, the snail can pry open the shell and feast upon the meaty insides.

Although some shells might seem fragile, drilling through them with a radula can really do a number on the tiny teeth of a snail. Thankfully, the teeth on the radula are continually replaced as they are worn down so the snail can continue to drill.

Like a vacation accommodation, shells are unique with their own history and personality. They do comprise an entire book. Come visit our beaches and you will find so many chapters of the book from one location to another!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What's that burning? No fear, prescribed fires help Sanibel's ecology

They say the sense of smell is our strongest recall.

For me that would hold true.

I can remember the smell of eucalyptus in Ecuador, the smell of Italian bread in Rome, the smell of lavender in Provence as well as I remember the sights of any of these places. And when I smell them again, they spark very strong and pleasant memories.

Sanibel is not without its own distinguishable smells.

Because it is so full of wetlands, there is a swampy odor in many parts of the Island and in many seasons. There are times when various tropical flowers are all in bloom in unison perfuming the Island air.

But when I first smelled something burning, I did find it a little alarming. As a 12 mile long barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, a fire could certainly wreck havoc for 2 and 4 legged creature alike. But generally, the fires burning on Sanibel are not those that will do damage or force an evacuation. They are controlled fires and their presence is beneficial to all flora and fauna.

According to the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) there are many benefits to prescribed fires.

Nationwide, prescribed burning is done systematically with measured results. Some of those include:
  • Preparing the land for new growth.
  • Helping certain plants/trees germinate.
  • Naturally thinning overcrowded forests. Historically, natural fire thinned the forests. Thinned forests can recover faster and are more resistant to insect and disease attacks. Currently, many of the mature forests are overcrowded, resulting in a lack of vigor and health.
  • Creating diversity needed by wildlife.

All these benefits can be witnessed on Sanibel.

SCCF works closely with their partners at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the City of Sanibel, and the Sanibel Fire Department to coordinate our prescribed-fire efforts and to reach out to Sanibel residents to let them know how to keep their homes safe from wildland fires and why prescribed fire is important.

Their prescribed fire program benefited over the past year with additional work to increase the accessibility of fire lines when conditions are wet. Many wet areas of fire lines were either elevated or covered in a hard base of crushed concrete. This will effectively extend the burn season by providing access further into the late summer and allow for earlier access in the spring.

The photos on the SCCF website are from a burn conducted several years ago to clear the thick growth on the swale just behind the Nature Center building (which can be seen in one of the photos). The photo of smoke shows a burned cabbage (or sabal) palm. Cabbage palms are adapted to a Florida landscape where lightning strikes often cause fire; they survive fires and send out new shoots.

Wading birds returned to the swale the first rainy season that followed the Center Tract burn.

So while fire can be seen as destructive, with careful management and planning, it can be useful and productive.

No need to panic at the smell of smoke on Sanibel. It most likely means there are good things taking place for the Isand!