Birthday Week(s)- Part 3. . . Seashells and Sand

Our VRBO was about 45 minutes from the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, so after breakfast in Matlache each morning, we headed towards the sandy Gulf of Mexico shores.  I spent a birthday weekend here a few years ago with my sister, cousin, and friend, so I already knew what a treat we were in for regarding seashell hunting.  Sanibel is unofficially known as the seashell capital of the world.  People come from all over the globe to scour the beaches as the tide goes out for common and rare varieties of shells.  We found bunches of scallop, conch, cockle, coquina, cerith, and olive shells, but we never did stumble across the coveted, rare junonia shell (though we saw one with a price tag of $300 at a local shell shop).  Why is the shell hunting so good at this particular island at this particular time?  According to what we read at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, it’s because of the unique combination of winds and currents that happen this time of the year.

Calico scallops, conch, and cerith shells
Deb and Daria sorting through the treasures

Depending on the tide level when you walk the beach, there can be just smatterings of shell groupings or literally mounds of shells so deep that people were using special shovels to sort through the piles.  It seems like such a silly pastime, but the more you get tuned into looking for particular shells and sizes, the more addicting the scavenger hunt becomes.  Smelling the salt air, hearing the ocean waves and sea gull cries, and feeling the sand between your toes makes a day on the beach searching for deserted exoskeletons with good friends a nearly perfect day.

The three retired chicks!

We did take breaks from the beach for delicious seafood meals (yep, every meal for the whole weekend included seafood!) and key lime pie, and to explore a museum and wildlife refuge.  We got to see live mollusks, fish, and seahorses in the aquariums at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, but for me, the most interesting exhibit there was the extensive collection of seashells from around the world, and the history of how they were used as tools, currency, and to create extravagant art throughout the ages.

Great seafood and key lime pie at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill
Back in the day, enterprising women would make elaborate “sweetheart” gifts of sea shells for Sailors to bring home to girlfriends and wives and display them right on the ship docks to market them to seamen hastily boarding ships for the long trip home.

After dropping Deb off at the airport, Daria and I returned to the island to explore the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge until it was time for her flight later that evening.  I’ve become a bit of an amateur birder in my old age (go ahead and roll your eyes, it doesn’t hurt my feelings 😉), so I was excited to see a Roseate Spoonbill in real life.  Sorry that I don’t have a good pic to post, they were too far away for my phone camera to get a decent shot.  We actually saw a wide variety of birds on the islands, including white and brown pelicans, several varieties of herons, gulls, egrets, sandpipers, terns, ibis, cormorants, and anhingas.  The unmistakable call of the majestic osprey constantly pulled our gaze skyward towards a circling parent or nest high up on a pole.

These brown pelicans were actually stalking us for a bit on the beach!

I stayed an extra day in Fort Myer after Deb and Daria had departed and spent it exploring the beaches one last time before I too had to leave.  My solo day of shell hunting was rewarded with fresh heaps of seashells, sea urchins, and even star fish on the beach.  Careful not to pick up any that were still alive, I sifted through the new treasures the tide had brought in and bagged the best ones to bring home.  After a stop at Boops by the Bubble Room for a scoop of ice cream, I made my way to the western tip of the island in the waning light to watch the sunset from Lighthouse Park Beach.  Beach sunsets never disappoint. 

Piles of sea urchin on Lighthouse Park Beach
Delicious ice cream and old school ice cream parlor vibe at Boops by the Bubble Room
Sanibel Light House

With the beach in my rearview mirror, I headed a little further north to reconnect with friends and continue my Florida gallivanting!

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