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SCCF’s Wildlife Tour offers up close nature experience

By Staff | Feb 16, 2011

SCCF docent and bird expert Randon Eddy shares some of her vast knowledge with participants of a wildlife tour last week at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club.

Sanibel’s east end pair of nesting eagles regularly fish within waters located on The Dunes golf course. Recently, one was spotted walking the lake edge of hole number three.

There are three pairs of eagles that nest on the island from October through May. According to the most recent official bird count, 78 eagles nested in Lee County in 2009. The adult male and female bald eagle have white heads by the time they reach 5 years of age and can live nearly 30 years in the wild.

Fun and fascinating wildlife facts like these are shared with participants of a guided nature tour, presented by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) in cooperation with The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club.

Last Thursday afternoon, more than two dozen residents and visitors toured the 18-hole course by golf cart, accompanied by Sean Balliet, general manager of The Dunes, Dee Serage-Century, SCCF’s Living With Wildlife Educator, and Randon Eddy, SCCF docent and aviary expert.

“Let’s go out there and see what we can see,” Serage-Century told the participants, who paired-up and got into their assigned golf carts. “This isn’t an alligator show, but a lot of what we see depends upon the temperatures of the day.”

David and Louise Abbot, visiting from North Andover, Ma., watch an alligator with their binoculars.

SCCF and The Dunes began offering guided wildlife tours last year, with the hopes that providing better information about how people can live peacefully and cooperatively with nature may improve — and, in some cases, limit — the human and animal interactions here on Sanibel.

As the group approached the first hole, crossing a small footbridge, Eddy immediately pointed out a number of birds present alongside a lake. She noted a woodstork, blue-winged teal, several spotted sandpipers and cormorants.

At the next hole, about 15 yards from shore, an alligator swam slowly near the center of the lake. Part of the mission of these tours, Serage-Century explained, was to educate people about not feeding these large reptiles.

“If we don’t feed them, then everything should be A-OK,” she added.

Along the hourlong tour, the group spotted many species of birds — including a great blue heron, anhinga, ibis, moorhens, pelicans, ospreys and a great egret — which Eddy noted several typical characteristics of each. White pelicans, for instance, only weigh about five pounds despite their size. They also dive into the water when feeding, unlike their brown pelican cousins, who fish while swimming.

A cormorant was one of the first birds seen during the tour.

SCCF preserved lands are adjacent to much of the course making for good wildlife viewing, including many species of birds and alligators. The American crocodile — who was relocated from Charlotte County to Sanibel last summer — and the bald eagles both made an appearance on previous tours. With air temperatures now warmer than water temps, the reptiles are all coming out to bask, just trying to stay warm.

The next wildlife tours will take place on Thursday, Feb. 24, Tuesday, March 8 and Thursday, March 24, each starting at 4 p.m. The fee of $30 per person ($15 for participants ages 6 to 12) includes wildlife specialists, the course tour by golf cart and dinner at The Dunes from their menu that evening, plus a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage. Cost of the tour without dinner is $10 per person.

Please call The Dunes, located at 949 Sand Castle Road on Sanibel, at 472-3355 to make reservations for the SCCF Wildlife Tour.

Dee Serage-Century, SCCF's Living With Wildlife Educator.

A young ibis is identified by its brown feathers.