Biking With Nature

The Cape Haze Pioneer Bike Trail might seem an unlikely place to have a good nature-based experience. But in fact this 8+ mile long rails to trails paved pathway passes through some relatively unspoiled landscapes and crosses two tidal creeks. It offers intriguing views of wildlife and landscapes not so readily available on foot.

Here are a few samples from a recent trip I made going north to south. I always stop at the bridge over the East Branch of Coral Creek since there is usually something interesting there. I was excited to see a raccoon foraging along the edge of the mangroves using its front paws to search for tidbits. It is fascinating to see a “wild” raccoon living in nature instead of in a garbage can! The purpose of the famous “face mask” is uncertain although it clearly provides camouflage for the eyes and face, which could be useful for a nocturnal predator. .

Immediately south of the bridge there is a bald eagle’s nest on the east side of the trail. In this photo taken Feb. 20 you can see one adult and at least one fuzzy baby in the nest. Such close views of an eagle nest are unusual so I hope this dead nest tree lasts for a few more years.

During the nesting season it is not unusual to see large aquatic turtles on land searching for a good spot to lay eggs. I came across such a female peninsula cooter on the bike trail. She illustrates the remarkable ovoid shape of the shell, presumably designed to hold a lot of eggs and to resist the crushing bites of alligators. Indeed most of the shells bear deep scratches from such attempted predation. To identify this common species you must see the top of the head which has two “hairpin-like loops” which are distinctive. Males are much smaller and have long front toenails and a longer tail.

The trail ends near Placida and the fishing pier. I found a beautiful snowy egret hanging out at the pier in hopes of a free meal. The reddish color of the lores between the eyes and the nostrils indicates it is breeding season; the males and females are similar. Male blue crabs also have red breeding colors (“lipstick”) on their claws so human females were not to first to discover that method of attracting the attention of males.

The Placida area still retains its old Florida charm and long may we hope it remains that way. The picturesque square with large oaks and gumbo limbos is a cool place to recover from a hot ride in the sun and admire the waterfront and watch for birds overhead. A flock of soaring white pelicans provided a spectacular view while I was there.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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