Ducks Make a Home on Anna Maria Island

Ducks seem to be in the same category as squirrels on Anna Maria Island: they are not nearly as glamorous as some of the other fauna. They are common all around the United States. But sometimes, after one has marveled at ospreys, egrets or even roseate spoonbills (four of which I saw on the way to Publix market the other day), it’s kind of nice to run into just a plain old duck.

Sadly, that’s exactly what some motorists have been doing in the vicinity of Holmes Beach City Hall, where a family of ducks is known to live. Last I heard, one duck had been hit by a car and killed. Another had just gone missing for awhile. Some people have suggested putting up “duck crossing” signs, and I think that’s a good idea.

Duck and ducklings at Anna Maria Island It’s always a pleasure to look out the window and notice a duck, or two, calmly paddling up or down the canal. One of my most interesting duck sightings was when I was the one who was paddling. While kayaking I passed one of the rare canal frontages that has mangroves instead of a sea wall. Looking under the mangroves, I noticed a small gully. Suddenly, two duck waddled across the gully. I wondered if this were a nesting site for them. It certainly was well protected.

It’s comforting to see a duck swim by, simply because they are so ordinary. Before we moved to Florida, I dreamed of living somewhere with a pond and ducks. Little did I know how much more I would have out my door, but I still appreciate the ducks.


Shelling on Florida Gulf Coast

Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches
Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches

Every evening we walk several blocks across Anna Maria Island to the Gulf Beach, where we walk along the water’s edge as the sun approaches the horizon. It’s always interesting to notice what kinds of shells are on the beach at certain times. There are some “regulars,” which are almost always there. And there are some very unusual ones that show up only every once in awhile. But even the unusual ones tend to come in groups. In other words, if there is one, there are many. This happened one evening several years ago when there were beautiful shark’s eyes suddenly on the beach in large numbers.

The shells that usually wash ashore on the beaches of Anna Maria Island include spiny jewelboxes, which are white with spikes protruding. They look like bivalves, but are, in fact gastropods. Another fairly common gastropod shell is the lettered olive, which usually measures almost 2 inches long. We also come across Florida augers quite often, which are small cone-shaped shells.

A wide variety of bivalve shells is also seen at all times. One of the most interesting and charming is the little coquina, which comes in a wide range of pastels and earth tones. There is nothing more enchanting than seeing the live creatures in tidal pools, where they move with the inflow and outflow of the water. Little cat’s paws or kitten’s paws, range in color from white to black to orange. Jingles are translucent shells that come in these same three colors. About the size of a quarter, these round shells look like they’re made of mica.

There are several bivalves with remarkable patterns on them. Although it’s not unusual to see these shells, it is unusual to find one that is not worn. The sunray Venus may be the most beautiful of these shells, with a pattern that really does give the impression of sunrays. Both calico clams and calico scallops are quite common, too. The buttercup has an appealing smooth round shape, and is the color of butter. Less beautiful but more remarkable is the turkey wing, with one very straight edge and an otherwise roughly shaped surface, striped with brown.


Walking to the Beach

Here it is, mid summer, and we still are enjoying our daily walks over to the beach. Most of us who live on Anna Maria Island are able to walk to the beach. It is wonderful not to have to drive. The island is so narrow at the south end that the beach is never more than three or four blocks away. Farther north, the island widens and the walk increases by a few more blocks. But the only areas from which a walk to the beach would take more than just a few minutes are Key Royale and the neighborhoods near Galati Marine at the southeast end of the City of Anna Maria.

Our house is exactly a half mile from the beach. We usually make that walk and then continue along the beach, toward the setting sun before we turn and head home. The beach part of the walk is spectacular every evening. Tonight the beach was particularly wide, and the sand looked smooth and white. The temperature was extremely pleasant—amazing for mid August! The water reflected the pink/orange glow from the low sun. There was almost nobody on the beach. This is the kind of “paradise” experience for which people travel long distances. How lucky we are to be able to walk to it.


Small Birds of Anna Maria Island

This spring we have noticed surprisingly large numbers of small birds in our yard and the nearby neighborhoods of Anna Maria Island. We become so used to the larger great blue herons, pelicans, ospreys, egrets, ibises and wood storks that the small birds have become of particular interest.

Parrokeets of Anna Maria
Parrokeets have made themselves at home on Anna Maria Island

Several kinds of smaller birds are permanent residents of the island, or visit here often. The loud, gregarious parakeets that fly overhead seem to fluctuate in numbers. We suspect that may have to do with nesting trees being cut, in particular, along the main road in Anna Maria. For whatever the reason, it was not unusual several years ago to see large flocks of these green parakeets overhead, or on a tree or building. Now they appear much less often.

The doves can be heard cooing, and often perch on powerlines along the street. They also perch on deck railings and seem to like our Bahama shutter supports.

Mockingbirds are the state bird of Florida. If you are going to have only a limited number of songbirds in your neighborhood, it’s wonderful if one of them is a mockingbird. This cheerful-sounding bird rattles off a wide variety of songs, giving the impression that there are many kinds of birds in the area.


Walking the Beaches of Anna Maria Island

With seven miles of continuous Gulf of Mexico beaches, Anna Maria Island is a beachwalker’s paradise. Whether one walks at sunset or at dawn, the beauty is breath-taking, and ever-changing. Not only does the light change as the day progresses, but also as the weather changes. The wide-open horizon offers a vista in which every cloud for miles around can be seen.

Aside from the West Coast of the United States, there are no other places in the United States where one can watch the sun set over a body of water as large as the Gulf of Mexico. And not every Gulf barrier island has as terrific an aspect from which to view the sun set as Anna Maria Island. Perhaps even more stunning than the sun setting over the Gulf is the view of the full moonrise just before dawn.

Anna Maria Island sunset

In addition to the differences in light, there are many differences in how people can choose to walk the beach. It can be a solitary time for contemplation, or a social time for a good conversation with a friend. It can be a brisk walk or an easy stroll. Barefoot, wading, and walking slowly or with shoes on, avoiding the gentle rise and retreat of foam on the beach. Some walkers are focused on shells. Others are focused on birds. Some run to the beat of a different drum.