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Stepping Stones

White Tailed Deer Around Marco Island

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist You are on a boat and in the distance you notice something swimming across the bay. It could very well be a pelican just relaxing on the surface or maybe a dolphin coming up for air. But the silhouette against the sun is unique. You grab your binoculars, filled with curiosity about what is there. As you focus on the animal you realize that you are seeing something rare, something never seen by most visitors to our area. A white-tailed deer is swimming from one island to another! It would not be a surprise for ... Read More »

Tis the Season…Two Aquatic Friends Return

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On Wednesday, April 13th at 7 PM join Bob McConville at the Rose Auditorium for a discussion about the sea turtles and manatees found in our area. Meet special guest, Master Naturalist Nancy Anderson, a manatee specialist. MIHS members and MIA students are free. A $5 donation is requested for all others. Ah, the first day of spring! Thoughts of warmer weather have many of us planning adventurous days at the beach or on the water. Our eyes will scan the surface, looking for anything that might arise from below. All of a sudden there’s ... Read More »

Pythons and Gators and Crocs, Oh My!

This 13-foot Burmese python is very visible in an open field, but well disguised when it reaches habitat shrubbery and trees.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist   Join Bob on March 8th at 7 PM at the Marco Island Historical Society’s (MIHS) Rose Auditorium for a presentation about the 2016 Python Challenge results and an update on area dolphin activity. Also, there will be a baby gator and baby crocodile on hand so you can compare the differences of the two species. All area school students and MIHS members are free, and a $5 donation would be appreciated from others. January’s event sold out – so come early to get a good seat!   Burmese pythons, alligators and crocodiles…Believe it or ... Read More »

Marco’s Magnificent Estuaries

A green heron hides among the mangroves to surprise an unsuspecting fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the beauty of those small islands surrounding Marco! Everyone wants to visit them, to see what hides among the roots and branches. Whether you get out by boat, kayak, an ecotour or paddleboard, they are a treasure to behold. The wide array of animals and plants in this area requires some very special adaptations from nature. The Gulf of Mexico lines our western border while fresh water flows from the inland regions to form a very magical combination. This is called an “estuary.” There are quite a few bays and lagoons in our area ... Read More »

The Original Snowbirds…White Pelicans

White pelicans are gregarious and will work together to gather fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It is estimated that humans have been in the Florida region for more than 14,000 years. Naples became a destination point just over 100 years ago and Marco Island was a mosquito-infested area until development escalated in the 1950s. Long before northern tourists began visiting our beaches to seek refuge from the winter cold there was a different type of “snowbird”…the white pelican. This giant of the skies breeds primarily in the interior regions of North America and makes its way to Florida, Central America and South America for relief from the colder climate. They ... Read More »

Discovering Your Way: How We Learn From Nature

Lee Memorial Hospital staff participates in a leadership exercise. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Humans…the dominant species on the planet. We have evolved to a point that we don’t have to rely on other animals for our own wellbeing. We’ve gone from being hunters to farmers to producers of artificial substitutes for food. We’ve domesticated other species to provide nourishment for ourselves. Our social structure now demands that we depend on each other to maintain a sense of community, a balance among ourselves. Skills and instincts that we once had are now less valued. There is a hierarchy of managers, middle managers and laborers now, and the relationships among ... Read More »

Winter in the Big Cypress Swamp

Green heron hides among the mangroves waiting for its next meal.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the harsh winter climate of South Florida! So blustery, so cold that I had to wear long pants twice last January! I don’t know how people can stand it! Actually our climate provides a safe haven for many of our northern visitors to escape the cold and snow. These humans will take advantage of the excellent beach conditions, boating opportunities and great eco-attractions to keep themselves entertained over the next four months. Some will also take the short trip, less than thirty minutes, and learn about the fascinating areas just west of the Everglades. ... Read More »

A Thankful Year in Review

It was a banner year for  baby dolphin births in our area; Mom Giza shows off her newborn, Freedom. Giza also became a
grandmother this year. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sails. ~ Wm. Ward   What a fantastic year this has been! I would like to thank the Coastal Breeze News for allowing me to be a part of their team. It has been an honor and I am humbled. I would like, even more, to thank those who read my contributions to this paper. Your positive feedback and constructive criticism have made me a better person (although I like the compliments more than the criticism). One of my ... Read More »

Losing Florida Wildlife

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Recently I submitted a column concerning the loss of many species around the planet and the idea, by some scientists, that we are experiencing the beginning of the next mass extinction. Several readers responded and asked that I address the loss of some Florida species, rather than just a generalization of global statistics. (This is good that I get such feedback, now I know someone other than my wife reads these articles.) Human expansion seems to be the main concern regarding some Florida animals, but climate change also plays a major part in the migratory ... Read More »

Going, Going, Gone! Extinction Rate is Faster Than Ever

Peregrine Falcons are slowly rebounding after near elimination. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist “It is a folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity.” ~ Joel Sartore A few weeks ago I was watching a morning news program that featured conservationist and National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. He is flying around the world taking pictures of thousands of animal and plant species and he is in a hurry. He displayed a few photos taken in recent months, and those subjects are no longer alive. They are gone, and gone forever. Mr. Sartore is in a race against time to ... Read More »

Meet Marco’s New Baby Dolphins

Cosmo and her baby  Honeymoon play in a wave. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Freedom. Honeymoon. Little Bear. These words do not describe a mountain getaway for newlyweds. They are, instead, the names of the first three baby dolphins seen in the Marco Island area this fall. This is birthing season for the bottle nosed dolphins in this section of the world, and we are hoping to see a few more “Young of Year” (YOY) over the next several months. As well as being an educational ecotour, the dolphin survey team onboard the Dolphin Explorer takes pride in monitoring the birth statistics in the area; which one is the ... Read More »

Stone Crabs … Interesting Facts

Bob displays a male stone 
crab for guests to view onboard the Dolphin Explorer. PHOTO BY CAPT. MICHAEL TATEO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturali Yum! There they are, precooked, and on a plate right in front of me. Just a bit cooler than room temperature, with a side of drawn butter, as well as a mild mustard sauce, I can already taste them and I’m three feet from the table. Those delicious stone crab claws are back in season! Hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps were placed in position in the backwaters and just offshore during the first two weeks of October all around the Marco Island area. Traps were baited and commercial crabbers waited for the magic date ... Read More »

Snorkeling With Manta Rays… At Night…In Hawaii

The magnificent manta ray. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalis It was a warm September evening and the sun had just set on Keauhou Bay. Captain Kirk Herring carefully guided our boat, Hula Kai, into position and two of our guides, Brent and Megan, sprang into action. A floating, plastic plank equipped with underwater lights was quickly in place behind the vessel. Wetsuits on and already breathing through our snorkels, my wife Cathy and I waited for the command. The lights along the plank were illuminated below the water and we were told to proceed. We smiled at each other, entered the water and made ... Read More »

Falcon Fall Migrations Have Begun

The “barred” feathers on the chest and underwing, as well as the slate grey coloring around the eyes and head, make the peregrine falcon easy to recognize.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On September 23rd at 4:21 AM, Eastern Time, the first day of fall officially arrived. Here in Florida we all look forward to cooler temperatures and less humidity. We also notice the absence of some of our summer migratory animals, and the return of many others. The first day of fall is also known as the Autumnal Equinox. This occurs when the equator is closest to the sun. It also happens in the spring, known as the Vernal Equinox. It takes place twice because the Earth tilts as it rotates around the sun, and on ... Read More »

A Dolphin Rescue: One Year Later

September 4, 2015: Mom Halfway (notch halfway up her fin) leads Skipper in the Marco River on the anniversary of Skipper’s rescue. The tag is now gone from Skipper’s fin, leaving a notch toward the top.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist September 4, 2014: The Dolphin Explorer is not open for business. The entire crew is, instead, on the water with one specific goal…find a dolphin in distress. Captain Bob Erickson is at the helm of the Dolphin Explorer with Coastal Breeze reporter Noelle Lowery and a naturalist on board. Captain Michael Tateo and Naturalist Kent Morse are on Michael’s boat. Captain Chris Desmond is on a pontoon, and I am on a separate pontoon as well. Even more boats are at the Collier Boat Ramp ready to launch, all coming together to find a needle ... Read More »

A Stormy Recipe: How to Make a Hurricane

This photo of Hurricane Andrew was taken on August 23, 1992, one day before it  impacted the Florida coast to become one of South Florida’s most devastating storms in history. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist My wife Cathy and I love to cook. We are always conjuring up new ideas for old recipes. Sometimes we find that adding just one new ingredient can make a pleasant difference, but, more often than not, it seems that the original plan is the best. Mother Nature has a recipe or two that she shares with us now and then, but she seems very consistent with her cookbook. Some concoctions are seasonal, while others can be experienced year round. Right now we are in the peak season for one of her more hearty dishes…the ... Read More »

Invaders Among Us

River otters (seen here), 
raccoons, possum, deer and other animals are on the python menu. In some areas of South Florida populations are down as much as 90%! PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Let’s take a short trip back in time. Florida has stabilized from thousands of years of climatic turmoil. Sea levels have risen close to what we know in the present day, and the weather has settled as well. It is the year 3,000 B.C. and we are native to this land. We do not farm, but depend on the land and the sea to provide our food. It is plentiful. Fish, rays, mollusks, turtles and much more sea life fulfill our dietary needs, with just a small dependence on land animals as well. As we ... Read More »

Sea Turtle Species in Our Area

This lone Loggerhead hatchling is just moments old, about 2 inches long, and full of steam to get to the water. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It’s August and we’re right in the thick of things. They are coming and going, mostly by night, on Florida’s beaches, and rarely does the public get to see them. They disturb the sand and we can’t walk in that spot for two months. Many people look for them, but mostly in vain. Do they really exist? They must! We see evidence of their presence, but rarely do we see “them.” Numerous volunteers scour the Collier County shorelines every morning for tracks and then mark where “they” have been. What are these creatures? Why are ... Read More »

Fire… a Necessary Function of Nature

Mobile wildlife such as deer, bear and bobcat can flee a wildfire quickly. Nesting birds such as eagles, herons, egrets and storks could be more at risk. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

As I watch the evening news, I see that another wildfire is burning out of control somewhere across the United States. Reports proclaim that it is 40% contained, and then 60% under control. Attention is drawn to the number of structures that are at risk, then saved, because of the quick action taken by mankind’s actions. It’s good that homes are spared Mother Nature’s wrath, but is this stoppage of a natural event what was intended overall? Here in South Florida, throughout the past few weeks, I’ve left my home in the morning and I can smell smoke in the ... Read More »

150 Pound Tarpon Caught In The Marco River

Matt Stark, left, and Captain Ted Naftal display a 150 lb Tarpon  caught in the Marco River. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On June 25, 2015 a trio of guests from Randolph, NJ joined Captain Ted Naftal on board the Miss Nancy II for a day on the waters around Marco Island. Brother and sister Matt and Mattie Stark were joined by their grandfather Jim Grecco, with hopes of catching something good for dinner. Little did they know what was in store for them. Not too far from the Rose Marina basin and working the sand bars and mangrove treelines, Mattie had a catfish for bait on her line. Using 40 lb test line, she felt a ... Read More »