The Land of Florida

In the aftermath of last week’s devastating Hurrican Ian in Florida, we have all seen much news about the tragic destruction. I have a brief tour for you highlighting the beauty and wild creatures in this fine state.

Geologically, the Florida peninsula is a porous plateau of limestone sitting atop bedrock. The limestone is topped with sandy soils deposited over millions of years of rising and falling sea levels. Today, much of the state is at or below sea level. See topographical map at end.

Florida has the longest coastline of any contiguous state–8,436 miles (13,576 km).

The Florida Reef is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef).

More info: Florida Wikipedia

There are many species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects in this subtropical and tropical wonderland.

You don’t have to be in Florida long to spot their state reptile, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

With all that coastline, sea birds and wading birds are commonly seen throughout the state.

The Florida Keys, the state’s popular coral cay archipelago, are the southernmost part of the continental U.S. They never have freezing temperatures and tropical wildlife thrives here.

Also in southern Florida, the Everglades offer an ecosystem that is not presently found anywhere else on earth.

Several ecosystems comprise the Everglades, as shown in this diagram, below.

Everglades Ecosystems. Courtesy Wikipedia

More info: Everglades Wikipedia

Much of the natural land of southern Florida is swamp and wetland, although decades of extensive human development have altered the natural state.

More recently, in the last few decades, scientists, citizens and environmentalists have done a lot to restore wetlands, important for many reasons. More info: Wetland Wikipedia.

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, also in southern Florida, offers visitors a view of the Everglades ecosystem, while providing a safe preserve for the abundant life.

The sanctuary has one of the largest remaining stands of bald and pond cypress trees, seen below, in North America.

This painted bunting, one of our country’s most colorful songbirds, greeted us while there.

One year we sought and found wild Florida manatees, the state’s designated marine mammal, near Tampa on the west coast. The manatees stayed submerged, so our photos didn’t come out well.

Oddly enough, the Big Bend Power Plant has a discharge canal that is attractive to the manatees for its warm water, and the state and federal governments have designated it a manatee sanctuary.

Manatee. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The west coast of Florida is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico. This coast, especially in the south, is where the recent hurricane did the most damage.

Sanibel Island, shown in photos below and throughout, was severely damaged. It is inaccessible right now because the hurricane washed away the only road access.

These photos are from a few years back.

We were on Sanibel Island for a week and were frequently greeted by pods of bottle-nosed dolphins. Tursiops truncatus.

The sandy beaches of Sanibel, a barrier island, were covered every day with beautiful shells washed up from the recent tide.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is also on Sanibel Island. It is a 5,200 acre (21 km2) preserve and wilderness area.

The east coast of Florida is approximately 500 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

Below are the white sands and warm waters of Cocoa Beach. This was a day in November, on a separate visit.

After a thoroughly exhilarating visit to the Kennedy Space Center…

… we spent several hours birding on nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Channels of tannic water and mangrove trees are the perfect habitat for alligators. This one, below center, is especially long.

We were hoping to see the Florida Scrub-jay here, which would have been a life bird, but that day it proved elusive. We did, however, see many other birds.

Close to the northern border, a day at the Jacksonville Arboretum yielded one of their common woodpeckers in a tree filled with the ubiquitous Spanish moss. We do not have this woodpecker in California.

We also had an open view that day of the gopher tortoise, Florida’s designated state tortoise. Native to southeastern U.S. and a keystone species (i.e., has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment), this Gopherus polyphemus was about the size of a small dinner plate.

That concludes our brief tour of the Sunshine State. This state of sunshine, warmth, and humidity is a troubled state this week and for years to come, after Ian’s destruction.

We hope for the best.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Courtesy Wikipedia

72 thoughts on “The Land of Florida

    • Thank you, Lenore, it was great fun composing this tour and I am so happy that you enjoyed it. The shells on Sanibel beaches are astounding and I agree with you, that’s a great photo of them. Many thanks.

    • Our visits to FL are always about the birds and wildlife, and you can see why, Deborah. It’s a bonanza. I was really glad we took time out to go to the Kennedy Space Center, too, because although it wasn’t about wildlife it was about the incredible achievements of humans. Always a delight to see you, my friend, thank you.

    • Hi Wayne, nice to have you visit way out on the east coast with us here today. Yes, the rebuilding of the plants, animals and humans will be a long one. Sending a big smile your way….

  1. I have thought of the wildlife of Florida often these days with the hurricanes they’ve suffered. I wonder how the birds (especially) fared in the storms. Bad enough to be a water animal with the extra high tides and the wind whipping the water everywhere, but to be a land or air animal would be very hard. Not to minimize the effect the storms had on people, but I do feel that the animals are even more at a disadvantage. Beautiful photos and excellent write-up. I hope these lovely animals survived.

    • Thank you, Anneli. It has been a rough ride for all the plants, animals and humans in Florida since Ian went crashing through last week. Thanks for your visit and lovely comment.

  2. So sad to see all the devastation that occurred there recently. Parent had a condo in Ft Meyers so had the opportunity to spend time in that area. Fortunately, they no longer have that condo as I’m pretty sure it would be/was severely damaged. The Floridians are a resilient lot and have high hopes they will come together and make it through better than ever. Enjoyed your look at the state and thanks for bringing back so many good memories of the state.. and my parents who are no longer with us.

    • I enjoyed hearing about your times in FL, Brian. It’s wonderful that while your parents were living there you took the opportunity to visit this beautiful area. Ft. Meyers really got hit hard, very unfortunate for the folks living there. Thanks so much for all your visits today, I really enjoyed hearing from you and appreciate your interest.

  3. Wishing all the best for a sustained recovery after Ian. What a varied and wonderful set of Florida ecosystems you shared today. So colourful! So fragile…
    Thanks, Jet, and wishing you a great weekend!

    • I am delighted you enjoyed seeing Florida with me today, pc. It is incredible how many ecosystems they have there, hosting a wide array of wildlife. My warmest thanks for your visit, my friend, and sending you and Mrs. PC my best wishes.

  4. I’ve not seen much coverage on the storm damage, Jet, but am concerned for a blogging friend, Ad in Paradise, a lady called Sylvia, who has resided in Florida for a few years. I don’t know how close she is to the damaged area but haven’t heard from her in a while. We never went to Naples on our long ago Florida visits but I understand that was badly affected too.

    • Hi Jo. I, too, had a blogging friend in FL (Eddie) that I was worried about. Eventually he let us all know he was okay and his home wasn’t damaged, but the electricity had been out for three days so no internet access. I am certain a lot of people in FL are experiencing life in this way right now, downed internet and no electricity. Hopefully your friend Sylvia (I know exactly who you’re talking about, she’s my friend, too) will be okay and let us all know soon. It’s a rough time in FL right now. Kind of you to be concerned, my friend.

  5. An excellent tribute to The Sunshine State, Jet. Sad circumstances, indeed. Terrific wildlife photos by Athena along with your engaging narrative. I have good memories of searching for seashells on Sanibel…known as the β€œSanibel Stoop”. πŸ™‚πŸš Hopefully people will rebuild or perhaps relocate to less vulnerable places. Such challenging times.

    • Yes, Jane, exactly…it is a tough thing so many of us are experiencing as the earth warms up faster than we can manage. I know in my own wildfire disaster that rebuilding or relocating were both impossible until we could manage to fight with our insurance agents for about a year to get what was coming to us. It’s really tough in these catastrophes even when you have paid insurance premiums and have an income…and so many don’t have either of those things. You’re right…challenging times. So many thanks, Jane, for your visit and wonderful comment. I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of the Sanibel Stoop.

  6. My uncle and aunt live just north of San Island – somehow they survived the hurricane and have electricity. Still waiting to hear what kind of damage they have to their house. That picture of the turtles is classic!

  7. Another cool post. I only got to go there once and that was for work. Lots of alligators and turtles, but no time to be a tourist. I did attend an event for the convention I was at. Nice cold bar with wonderful seafood. I walked away for an hour to watch the space shuttle go up from a distance. I’d love to go back and just be a tourist.

    • Even at your convention, Craig, you had a good Florida experience with the wonderful seafood…and then watching a space shuttle launch as well! I really liked hearing about your FL experience, my friend, thanks very much.

  8. Thank you, My friend for picking Florida. After the Hurricane Ian made so much damage, people need a bit of “cheer up” and return to the happy normal. AS you have seen, Florida has a lot to offer, Nature has been generous to birds and has provided a place to enjoy the tropical weather get a tan, enjoying numerous beaches and plenty of entertainment. This is my new home noe! πŸ™‚

    • I’m glad to hear from you, H.J. I have thought of you and your new home and hoped that all was well for you after Ian. It was a pleasure to share the beauties of FL here on today’s blog, and you’re right, the state has a lot to offer. My warmest wishes to you, H.J.

  9. As always, love the great wildlife photos and fun facts. It’s sad about all the damage and lost lives due to hurricanes. I wonder when we will learn to find better ways to live in harmony with our environment in a way that prevents such tragedy. We should start by not using tax dollars to rebuild in dangerous places that see repeated destruction.

    • It’s a difficult thing on our planet now because it is warming at rates we have not experienced. I’m glad you enjoyed the FL post today, Eilene, thanks for stopping by.

  10. YesπŸ™ I saw in YouTube so terrible hurricane happened there 😟 The photos are showing the
    Sad view there πŸ‘ so glad that you went there and made photography πŸŒ·πŸ™πŸ‘πŸ» Florida again
    Will come to normal by the Grace of God πŸŒ·πŸ™πŸŒ·Thank you for sharing update photos πŸ‘πŸ’•

  11. Thank you so much for this picture nature tour of Florida, Jet! I haven’t been down there in many years, but went very often as a child to visit relatives and nourish my mother’s birdwatching passion. So tragic about the hurricane. My aunt lived in Fort Myers and I remember collecting shells on Sanibel Island with my mother, sister and aunts. Your pictures stirred up a lot of pleasant memories. That painted bunting is stunning! Loved the pelicans, spoonbill, osprey and towhee. Wonderful post, my friend!

    • It is easy to see why your mother the birdwatcher enjoyed going down to FL, Barbara. I really enjoyed your comment because it demonstrates how much you are enjoying your new love for the birds. Cheers to you and many thanks. Always a pleasure to see you, Barbara.

  12. Nature is still very much alive here in Florida. But the people suffered the most it seemed.
    Sure nature went through some horrible times but then again we shared in that!
    Great post, great photos, and story. hugs to you Jet

  13. I laughed out loud at the photo of the gull with the seashell in its mouth. I’m not sure why; I think it just looks silly trying to carry that giant shell in its beak.

    • I, too, really like that cheeky gull with the shell, Diana. Makes me laugh out loud too. Thanks so much for the smile you brought to my face as I type, and wishing you the best on this Saturday.

  14. A lovely tribute to the diversity of Florida. It sounds as if Ding Darling NWR was hit very hard and it will be quite awhile until it recovers. So sad. Always glad to re-visit many of these places with you! Athena’s photo of the Zebra Longwing butterfly is stunning!

    • Hi Nan, I’m glad you liked the Florida tribute, and am grateful for the Florida visit we had together just last year before all this destruction hit. The impact on Ding Darling is so tough. That photo of the zebra longwing was great because that individual actually had a big tear in its wing, but somehow this angle worked perfectly to hide the tear. My warmest thanks for your visit and lovely words.

  15. Peggy and I love the wildlife of Florida, Jet, and have been there many times over the years. Peggy’s parents retired there, our son and his family live in Safety Harbor, and we once owned property in the Port Charlotte area, near where Ian came ashore. Thanks for the visit and the reminders. Peggy and I should be back in Florida in December as we finish up our present four-month tour of America’s wild lands. We always try to plan our trips to Florida skipping summer and hurricane season. –Curt

    • I am happy I could share the beauties of Florida with you, Frank, and appreciate your comment. Athena spent many hours on the beaches taking photos, and I agree that these are some of her best. My warmest thanks, Frank.

  16. One thing I learned while reading news articles about Ian is that the southern tip of Florida is the only place in the U.S. where both alligators and crocodiles are found. I thought a writer for the Tampa paper had gotten the facts wrong, but when I did my own fact checking, I discovered he was right! I smiled at the photo of the Common Gallinule, formely known as the Moorhen. Every time Halloween is approaching and the candy corn is being advertised again, I can’t help thinking of their bills; the resemblance is as humorous as it is obvious!

    • I am glad you enjoyed the Florida post, Linda. Florida is a state of many interesting facts. We felt lucky to have spotted this gallinule family hidden in the watery reeds, these two parents and their chick, glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by, Linda.

  17. Having been to Florida numerous times, I felt like I knew the state pretty well. Wrong…Kirt! I truly had no idea of so much of the stuff about Florida you covered. Love this post….so informative! Thank you for sharing!! My best to both of you!!

  18. Thank you both for this. Seems all of my visits to FL I was held entirely captive by the family, so never got to see all these magical critters. Except for the habituated Egret who would trot up the driveway to get to the pond in the back and the cormorant sitting on top of the utility box, drying its armpits. Though I did manage an escape to the Kennedy Space Center that one time. 😏 Seems I had to rent a car to pull that off… should have done it more often! (Heaven forbid!) πŸ₯΄

    ​Always a whole lot of fun going along on your excursions! πŸ™πŸ’žβ€‹

    • I so enjoyed hearing about your FL visits, Gunta. As I’m typing this, I have a big smile on my face. I’m glad you went to the trouble to rent a car and go to Kennedy Space Center, I’m sure you were glad too. And always great fun to share the critters with you. My warmest thanks.

  19. Thanks for this informative overview of natural places in Florida. Hurricane Ian caused unbelievable devastation. I hope the natural systems can recover and it will be hard for many human survivors to rebuild their lives.

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