Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Boc Tower, Lake Whales, FL

Our next adventure began when we moved north from Naples to Arcadia, Florida.  The Burwells were still in Arcadia and we wanted to help Julie celebrate her birthday.  Which we did.

Julie's Birthday request:  Angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream, no candles. (She doesn't like the wax!)

  The day after her celebration, we went to see the famous Boc Tower Gardens in Lake Whales, FL.

The 205 foot "singing" tower rises above the tree line long before you reach the parking lot.

The Garden motto, "make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it", is taken from Edward Boc's grandmother's advice to him.

This amazing "carillon" tower was the inspiration of Edward W. Boc, former editor of The Ladies Home Journal.  In following his Grandmother's advise, he purchased the land on Iron Mountain, in Lake Wales, Florida, with the idea of creating a bird sanctuary.  Iron Mountain, which at 298 feet  above sea level, is the highest elevation in the entire State.  Boc began by commissioning the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., and instructed him to turn the sand hill into a place of beauty.

Olmsted began by trucking in thousands of loads of rich black soil in which to plant lush sub-tropical plants

The established gardens are home to over 126 different species of birds and mammals. 

The Tower Reflecting Pool was created to entice birds and animals to take up residence in the garden.  It also offers a striking first view of the tower.

Boc Tower, designed by Milton B. Medary, architect, sculpted by stone sculptor Lew Lawrie, and the colored tiles at the top, designed by J.H. Dulles Allen.

The Eagles at the very top were carved in place.

The enormous brass doors were carved by master metalworker Samuel Yellin.  They depict scenes from the Bible's book of Genesis.  More information about the creators of this great tower can be found on

  Brass doors

Ceramic tile  panels cover the bell tower and allow the music to be heard in the entire garden.

Other sculptures on the tower depict nature scenes.

This magnificent tower was specifically built to house a "Carillon", which was an entirely new concept for me.  Popular in Europe, a true carillon must have at least 23 cast bronz bells.  The  bells that create the songs, do not move.  The bells are stationary and the clappers are moved by wires attached to a keyboard.    The Boc tower carillon, with 60 bells, weighing a total of 62 tons, is considered the largest in the United States.  The Carillon in New York City has more bells, but the total weight is less than the bells here in Florida.  Guess weight out guns numbers!

The original keyboard for the Boc Tower carillon.  The large bells are played with the foot because of their weight.

Wires run from the keyboard's soundproof room, up to the bell tower.

The largest bell  weighs 12 tons.  The visitors center has a cut-out of the largest bell and lets you compare your size to the bell's size.

 The bell rings each hour with a song and twice each day a full concert is performed by the Carrillonneur.  The current resident Carrillonneur is Geert D'hollander.  Near the tower there is a closed circuit TV that allows visitors to view Geert as he performs the music.  The website listed above also list information about Mr. D'hollander, who is only the 4th Carrillonneur at this tower.

Geert D'hollander the resident Carillonneur

More of the grounds  

The gardens have both paved and unpaved walking trails

In the Reflecting pool

The Burwells enjoying the music and grounds

At "Window on a Pond" there is a bird blind looking out on several bird feeders.  Watching a squirrel check out his options, and thinking he could not get to the seed in the water, lasted about 3 minutes.  He took a flying leap and landed right where he wanted to be.

There is much information about the construction of the tower, the gardens,  the carillon, and the Carrillonneur on the web site that is worth taking a look at.  Boc Tower Garden is highly recommended if you are in central Florida. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

 A visit to south west Florida could not be complete without a trip to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.  This refuge provides over 6,000 acres of feeding, nesting and roosting habitat for over 220 species of birds.  It was a cool morning when we planned to drive the hour drive north from here. 

Usually the traffic through Fort Myers and onto Sanibel island is slow, if not stop and go.  However, due to the cool temps or the early hour, few vehicles were traveling that way.  Immediately after we entered the refuge loop road there were great egrets feeding in a ditch.  Guess they are very used to photographers because they could have cared less that we were only about 10 feet away.

 This amazing refuge was created in 1945 as the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge. Jan Norwood Darling was a well known political cartoonist as well as an avid conversationalist.  When a large tract of land on Sanibel was in danger of being purchased by land developers, Darling urged President Harry Truman to designate this critical wildlife area as a refuge. Darling, who used the nickname "Ding" on his cartoons, was syndicated in 130 newspapers across the nation.  Many of his political drawings are as appropriate today as they were back in the 1930, 1940s, and 1950s.    He won a Pulitzer prize for his work in 1923 and again in 1943.  The Refuge name was changed in his honor in 1967.  Darling also created the Federal Duck stamp program and drew the very first Federal Duck Stamp.  This program's proceeds go to purchasing wetlands for waterfowl habitat.   For more information on Ding Darling check out

The refuge road travels along many large openings in the mangrove forests, and offers opportunities for walking trails along adjacent causways.  Thousands of birds, close up as well as far away, are always here to enjoy.

A reddish egret looking for lunch.

Hundreds of white pelicans

 Snowy Egrets

 Tri-clored egrets

And a black crowned night heron with the catch of the day.

I think this fellow already had his lunch for the looks of his belly!

Hundreds of white ibis' were feeding on the mud flats.  This immature was beginning to turn white.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Great to visit with John Miles again in Florida.  It has been at least 3 years since our last visit to Naples since Texas has been our most recent wintering spot.  His condo is in a complex called Bay Forest, which has 17 different housing complexes, and includes  two ponds and 3 miles of paved walking, biking, running trails that meander through natural woodland as well as groomed landscaping.

John making breakfast

His screened lanai, off the living room.

 His "computer room"

The walking path

This 1/2 mile boardwalk streaches out into Estero Bay.

One of the ponds hosts a variety of wading birds and ducks.  This Anhinga was drying its wings.

Naples is a gold-mile of nature preserves.  Even though the Naples area is over developed, conservationists have managed to save multiple pockets of natural habitat for birds and other wild creatures.  Past visits have incorporated many of these incredibly diverse locations and we added a few more on this trip.

Estelle Sanders recommended we visit Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers.  The Preserve encompasses 3500 acres of wetland. This slough (pronounced slew), filters rainwater moving from the north, through the slough, into Estero Bay.  The water never reaches much of a depth, but it is constantly, slowly, moving.  The diverse habitat is home to otters, alligators, wading birds, and many other animals, including migrating birds. The docent tour was limited to 10 people, which is about maximum for any kind of wildlife viewing.  A 1.2 mile boardwalk allows access to this natural habitat.

Our guide was very knowledgeable about the plants and animals, but birds were not her specialty.  Lots of small songbirds flitted through the trees but the group was not encouraged to linger. There were many sighting of larger birds, especially at one of the viewing stations where scopes were set up by additional interpreters.

Many cormorants

Green Herons

A Carolina wren, who's tiny size does not match its boisterous and melodious song

This big alligator is enjoying the sun on a chilly day.

 An epiphyte in bloom.

A variety of ferns were pointed out to us.

Resurrection fern.  So called because it often looks dried up and dead.  However, when a rain comes along, it "resurrects" itself into a healthy green plant again.

Shoestring fern.  This is a very rare fern that has thrived in this location.  When the first small patch on one tree was identified, the docents were not allowed to point it out to visitors.  They were afraid it would be poached because of its rare status.   It has spread significantly, so now it is part of the tour.

The long thin fern is called strap fern.  We will definitely come back to this preserve soon.

 John took us to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.  Adjacent to the Naples airport, this little gem has a great hands on museum, a 1/2 hour boat trip on the Gordon River, an animal rehabilitation hospital, and a series of short trails.

  The boat trip was first on our list.  Here we were waiting to board and that is when our camera battery died!!
Again, definitely a place to come back to.  The small museum was manned by multiple, very knowledgeable, helpful, docents.  There were live sea creatures in a touch tank, a 5,000 gallon aquarium, complete with a young sea turtle, several snake exhibits and information about the Conservancy itself.

On our boat trip we learned about the Gordon River Greenway.  This 2 mile walkway is a 10 foot wide path that weaves through mangrove and pine forests, along the Gordon River.  It gives walkers, and/or cyclists a wide corridor  that encorporates space for picknicking, kayak launching, nature photography and scenic overlooks, right in the middle of downtown Naples.

Rest stop

The trees along the elevated boardwalk held evidence of multiple storm damage.  Many of the downed trees were the result of past and recent wind storms.   

Chuck and Julie Burwell came down to Naples for a day.  They are staying n Acadia, about an hour north of here.  It was a clear, sunny day so we used our visit to walk the grounds, sit by the pool in the sun, and end the day with a sunset stroll on Barefoot Beach.  Could not have been more enjoyable.