I’ve been here so long, it might seem like I’m a Florida native but I actually grew up in Minnesota. There, we didn’t worry about the cold, ice and snow in the winter because we didn’t really know any different. Cold, icy and snowy was just how it was. Back then, our biggest concern was how thick the ice on the lakes was because we knew we’d be getting new skates for Christmas and wanted to make sure we could use them.
When I was 16, my mom and I moved to Fort Myers Beach to live near my grandparents and uncle and my outlook on fall and winter took a turn — for the better. I know many of our northern friends think that we don’t have seasons here in Southwest Florida, but I beg to differ. You just have to have a keen eye to see the changes.
November marks the start of the time of year when our local waters start cooling down, our seasonal birds begin migrating from northern climates and we celebrate the holidays in true Island style.
In fact, some of my favorite seasonal changes involve the wildlife in Southwest Florida. For instance, we’re starting to see more wood storks, the belted kingfishers coming down from northern homes, king mackerel are showing up and the mullet are starting to run. (I mean, is there anything better than locally caught & smoked mullet spread with crackers?)
Manatees are also on the move. When waters start cooling down, manatees migrate to warm-water spots where they can spend the winter. So now is the time of the year for boaters to make note of changes to manatee speed zones and to keep an eye out to avoid hitting them. (FWC has a handy guide of changes online.)
And white pelicans are showing up by the hundreds from their colonies in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. Unlike the brown pelicans that call Florida home year ‘round and their dive-bomb approach to picking up fish, these seasonal visitors often gather in large groups, herd the fish together, then dip their heads in the water to pick up their meals. These are some of my favorite birds to see because I know it means the holidays are just about here.
The holidays on Pine Island will really kick into high gear with the 6th Annual Holiday House, scheduled for Dec. 3, 4, and 5 at the Tarpon Lodge, 13771 Waterfront Drive, Pine Island, Pineland. Family night begins at 4 p.m. on Dec. 3 and then at 5 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive for pictures with the kids. They’ll be coming by boat, of course, because how else would Santa travel in Florida? Holiday House, which is a fundraiser for the Beacon of Hope, includes sales of holiday themed goods, including works from our wonderfully talented Pine Island artists. A $10 donation gets you in the door.
And while the Junior Olympics isn’t necessarily a holiday happening, it does mark the winter season for me. I’ve been involved with putting the Junior Olympics on since my own kids were growing up out here. Now I’m having a great time seeing the next generation compete. (Junior Olympics, for kids in K-5, is sponsored by the Pine Island Kiwanis Club and takes place on Dec. 12 at the ball fields at Pine Island Center.)
Of course, I can’t forget to mention how things light up on the Island during the holidays. The lighted dolphins will be going up soon on the Matlacha Bridge and, personally, I’ll take palm trees dressed up in white lights and water skis over skates and ice any day of the week.