Two hours before sunset, the Good Fortune, a large pontoon boat provided by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, departs from its dock at the end of Shell Island Road. A trained volunteer Naturalist provides insightful commentary as the Good Fortune makes its way to the rookery islands for a magnificent viewing of over 1,000 birds as they come into roost for the night!
On the way through Rookery Bay, Good Fortune guests experience the thousands of pristine mangrove islands, the largest remaining stand of mangroves in the United States. Before man began clearing mangrove islands to build on the beaches, the mangrove islands ran from the Yucatan to the tip of Florida. Here in Naples, three distinct types of mangroves exist – red, black and white. All are able to grow in salty water and provide lush habitats for birds, animals, fish and other aquatic life including crabs, squid, mollusks, and a myriad of other species.
The egrets and herons rest along the water’s edge on the cypress roots waiting for a fish to happen by into their territory. Guests experience the sightof the egrets and herons both in their natural habitats and in the rookery for the night. Along with these birds many others may appear along the way – cormorants, pelicans, ibis, terns, gulls, frigates, oyster catchers and many others.
As the Good Fortune meanders south on Henderson Creek, a proud eagle family that lives in the tall pines along the left hand side of the bay come into sight. Since the Good Fortune has been cruising, this eagle family has built a large nest and raised two eaglets every year. Last year at the end of the season the juvenile eagles demolished the nest so they will be reconstructing again this year. Hurricane Wilma also did in the nest in a few years ago.
Along the way the channel markers provide ideal places for osprey to build their nests. They are very thankful for the U.S. Coast Guard placing these markers off shore where their babies are safe from raccoons and snakes. The osprey parents stay near each other with one on the nest and one nearby, usually in an overhanging tree, preferably a dead one. Each osprey pairwill raise two to four chicks during the typical season.
Often when the Good Fortune reaches the channel, dolphins join in! The males tend to travel alone but the females often travel in pods along with the young ones. These playful creatures enjoy cavorting in the wake and rolling on their sides to catch a better view of the passengers. Occasionally, some particularly playful ones will put on a show to rival Sea World!
Just before sunset, the Good Fortune reaches the Rookery Island. The birds are flocking in by the hundreds now, squawking at each other and jockeying for places on the available real estate. Each year birds from as far as 30 miles away stop for an overnight visit while nesting birds raise their young. Because they find safety in numbers, they provide a magnificent show.
Just after sunset the Good Fortune returns to the dock past the oyster shoals and through the mangroves. This great show goes on every night.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida runs these sunset cruises Thursday through Saturday. Lunch cruises are also available, which include a stop at a selection of shore side restaurants onIsles of Capri where you can select a great lunch on your own. Special group discounts and private charters are available. To take advantage of these cruises, call 239-403-4236 to sign up. The boat seats up to 23 passengers.
About the Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida began in 1964 when community leaders came together to defeat a proposed “Road to Nowhere” and spearheaded the acquisition and protection of Rookery Bay.
The Conservancy is a grassroots organization focused on the critical environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region. Partnering with like-minded organizations, the Conservancy works to manage growth and protect area waters, land and wildlife. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida promotes sound environmental policies and practices based on solid scientific research while providing environmental education to residents and visitors. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treats more than 2,400 injured, sick and orphaned animals each year and releases about half back into their native habitats.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Conservancy Nature Center are located in Naples, Florida at 1450 Merrihue Drive, off Goodlette-Frank Road at 14th Avenue North.
For information about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, call (239) 262-0304 or www.conservancy.org.