Florida – Day Three 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Today, we ventured out at 8:45am, filling our backpacks with cameras, swimwear, binoculars and (of course) plenty of water, amongst other zoologist necessities. Essential in the dazzling 40°c heat!

The day was spent at Lovers Key, a barrier island consisting of three islands (Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island) – approximately a ten minute, scenic, drive from our accommodation where we saw unique mailboxes, ranging from dolphin and manatee themed to mermaid themed.

Evidently, Americans truly embrace their individualities and it was a delight to see.

Following a talk from our fabulous Lecturer, Christian, about Lovers Key, mangroves and fascinating barrier islands we perched ourselves excitedly on the bridge, keen to witness manatees in their natural environment, following the success of other students in previous years.

Binoculars at the ready, hopes running high, it wasn’t long before we joyfully encountered a manatee swimming elegantly in the distance. My first manatee sighting! Unfortunately not close enough for a high quality photograph, but enough for a breathtaking experience and long lasting memory. We manoeuvred quickly to another area close by and luckily witnessed another manatee within close proximity of us.

We walked for roughly 4 hours around Lovers Key, embracing high abundance’s of the stunning nature (including mangroves – which consist of 3 types) we had the privilege of experiencing. Also spotting more gopher tortoises, a juvenile included, anoles, butterflies and dolphins. I adored seeing such a wide diversity of animals up close, Florida is blessed with such fascinating wildlife!

We then made our way to the beach, accidentally becoming caught up in a man’s fishing net, to his disapproval, and being taken in by the biggest crashing waves.

Later on in the evening, promised a good view of the sunset, we made our way to the beach, walking the short route together as a friendly group of 16 students. The sky was a very pale pink and the bright sun was heading down, approaching it’s setting. I loved spending time with friends, whilst embracing our surroundings and having thrilling conversations. The sunset was truly stunning and an exceptional way to end another magical, fulfilling day.

We spent a while on the beach, relaxing and laughing. It was great fun!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Manatee
  • Dolphin
  • Brown anole
  • Turkey vulture
  • Black vulture
  • Black racer snake
  • Orange barred butterfly
  • Mangrove crab

Florida – Day Two 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

BAREFOOT BEACH RESERVE

Following a well needed sleep after a lengthy (though enjoyable) travelling period, we were ready to embrace our first full day in Florida, whilst fending off jet lag!

Meeting at 8am, lathered in sun cream and covered in protective gear, filling two buses we eagerly headed off to The Barefoot Beach Reserve. The drastic temperature increase was a delight, the sun was beaming down blissfully. Although it felt odd to be wearing minimal layers after succumbing to Bangor’s identifiable declining temperatures.

We had a scheduled talk from Jimmie Trulock – an (extremely knowledgeable) ex park ranger at The Everglades and a current volunteer at the reserve. And Florida’s Master Naturalist.

Jimmie kindly guided us around the reserve, showing us an array of beautiful fauna and tree species, aswell as telling us about their histories and their uses. Ie: some trees being used for pharmaceutical purposes. The talk was super interesting and Jimmie displayed a strong passion for nature and his work, which we made notes about in preparation for our assessed blog posts.

We were blessed to see animals freely inhabiting their natural environments, some of which included stunning gopher tortoises, brown anoles, raccoons and feeding pelicans.

We then had another lecture, listening to another naturalist talking about sound pollution, the different types of sound and the ways in which we can be kinder to our senses.

Following a few insightful hours at the reserve, we had 3/4 of an hour free time to roam around the reserve as we pleased. The majority of us headed to the beach, captivated by the stunning, soft, white sand and the dashingly beautiful blue water. We swam, splashed, and experienced animals feeding naturally – and peering for fish, whilst laughing lots and creating wonderful new memories.

Canoe time! We paired up and ventured out on the canoes, it was my first time canoeing so I was a little rusty; I soon grasped the concept of manoeuvring around the peaceful reserve, after frightening Carla a handful of times with my unpredictable steering methods (oops!) and it turned out to be a pleasurable experience, navigating around mangroves and embracing our surroundings.

Rowing our way eagerly around the calm waters, we witnessed gorgeous dolphins (my favourite marine mammal!) swimming both elegantly and closely to our canoes. The experience was incredible, it felt magical and captivating – to say the least. We also saw a number of magnificent bird and fish species, boats, and bubbly Americans.

Our accommodation gratefully has a pool, which we all went in afterwards for a swim and a cool down, before a debriefing about the day we’d experienced and the plans for the upcoming day. It was incredible to spend a day with wonderful people who share my passions and my admiration of animals, whilst experiencing new things and visiting new places!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Dolphins
  • Gopher tortoise
  • Brown anole
  • Ospreys
  • Red breasted woodpecker
  • Cuban tree frog
  • Raccoon
  • Ant lion

Day one – Arriving in Florida 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Arriving at the meeting point following an agonising wait for the day to arrive, it was finally time to head to Florida, ready to engage in an incredible field course, offering new experiences and unforgettable memories.

With it also being my first time in The US!

6am sharp, we were packed up and rearing to go. Handing the bus driver my luggage proceeding to sit comfortably on the mini bus, gently wrapped up in my oversized fleece to accommodate the typical British weather. Freezing. It was dark, it was cold. But I was excited. All 16 students (myself included) alongside 3 of our wonderful tutors were set to go on a big American adventure!

We arrived at Manchester airport at approximately 8:30am, approaching check in, handing over our passports for checks and receiving seat numbers and boarding passes in return. The wait wasn’t too lengthy. And after successfully passing through security checks, my friends (Beth, Annabel, Carla, Beth, Georgina) and I wandered through to some shops, passing the time before boarding time approached.

Our trip to Florida consisted of two exciting plane journeys.

Plane one was our trip from Manchester to Philadelphia, lasting roughly 8 hours. To my amazement, we were issued individual televisions with a vast selection of movies, tv programmes, games and music. And watching Mamma Mia Here We Go Again millions of feet in the air, wrapped in a blanket and rested on a pillow, made me incredibly happy. The airline staff were wonderfully kind and accommodating throughout the journey, which definitely kick started my first American trip as a delightful one.

8 hours later…yay! We arrived in Philadelphia, undoubtedly restless but ready to collect our luggage so we could check it in for the next flight. The time difference already began to confuse me, but I remained confident I’d adjust in no time.

The second flight (Philadelphia to Fort Myers) lasted approximately 3 hours. In comparison to the earlier flight, time *literally* flew by and we arrived in next to no time. All of us feeling the exhaustion, but also the contentment of finally landing in our destination.

After locating and reuniting with our luggage, we headed over to the bus hire centre in order to receive the vehicle we required for our transportation to our accommodation – Vester Marine Field Station. We waited patiently and chatted away with minimal energy after a lengthy day spent travelling.

We finally reached our destination which was set to be our home for the upcoming 10 days. After a 30 minute drive, we unloaded the bus and chose our preferred rooms with the people we’d opted to stay with, afterwards packing and making our beds in preparation to fend off jet leg and to welcome our first full day in Florida.