Immerse in an ECO-Tour and Experience Southwest Florida Islands by Boat

“Captain Brian Holaway is well versed in the intricacies of our unmatched locale. He can guide to and through a multitude of out-of-the way tidal creeks, bayous, keys and islands. More important is his passionate interest and respect for the region. With unique insights from his many explorations and his studies, not only does he identify the birds and wildlife that inhabit our semi-tropical watery land, but he explains their interconnectedness to their environment and each other. In addition, he shares the fascinating history of rugged people who came long before us: Florida Native Indians, the Calusa, the Spanish, the Cubans, early homesteaders, and the wisdom evident in the growth of their culture.

You will come away with great enjoyment and a new understanding of this beautiful place and its history.”

Historian, Betty Anholt
Author of Sanibel’s Story

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I heard this Osprey chirping before I could see it. I grabbed my camera and went out searching for the sound. The Osprey was perched under the canopy of a ficus tree. The sun was at my back and the light was perfect. I took 198 photos. The fish in the photo is a sheepshead. The Osprey are excellent fishing birds. The talons of this bird are impressive, they have a 500 pound per square inch grip. .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Great Egret

The Great Egret has a fascinating history. I was lucky to get a good picture of this bird with its breeding plumage. The green around its eye is only present for a week. The Great Egret was almost hunted to extinction in the early 1900's. The plume feathers of this bird were worth more than the price of gold and were often used in ladies' hats. The Audubon Society helped put a stop to plume hunting in Florida. Plume hunters would go into rookeries and shoot the birds just for their feathers. Laws were enacted in the 1900's to protect this bird. The Ten Thousand Islands of Southwest Florida were a haven for such hunters. After the law was passed, a lot of the hunters went to Honduras to continue their hunting. In 1902, Guy Bradley was one of the first Wardens in the Everglades hired to protect these wading birds. In 1905, Bradley was shot dead on a hot July day around Cape Sable. He was found in his boat a day later. Bradley's boat had drifted south of Cape Sable into Florida Bay near a small mangrove island. Today you can see the same mangrove island in Florida Bay. The island is now named Bradley Key, after Guy Bradley, the protector of Egret plumes and wildlife in the great Florida Everglades. Each time I see the Great Egret, I can't help but think of Guy Bradley and that small mangrove island that bears his name. Bradely Key./div>

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Last Day Everglades

I woke up to gray skies. The rain that was forecast found somewhere else to go. Low tide at Pavilion Key was at 8:32 AM. I wanted to take advantage of the tide and explore the far end of the Island, only accessible on low tide. I anchored out far into the Gulf and set out to explore a small piece of the planet I had never seen before. The shells on the island were plentiful. Worm shells were found on a stretch of beach that you could only get to on this low tide. The island was beautiful, with sea grape trees going to the shore. I happened to find a rare Junonia shell. This is the most sought after shell of shells in this area and this particular shell is one that I will treasure for a long time. It is the "Holy Grail" for shell collectors in Southwest Florida and I now have two in my possession. This morning on the beach was outstanding.A definite highlight was just walking on the low tide line and then watching the tide roll back in. The tide was now in flood stage. I decided to go to nearby Little Pavilion Key and explore. On a high tide this little sandbar of an Island is covered with water. But for now the little Island was a fun place to explore for shells. The tide was telling me it was time to head back. I picked the boat up to speed and went up Rabbit Key Pass, between oyster bars, weaving by mangroves, until I got to the Lopez River. I pulled off the throttle, looking at the Lopez river, thinking I could go up the Lopez just for a while. I put the throttle down and got my boat up to step and headed back to Chokoloskee, reluctantly. I thought.... I will be back as soon as possible, then took one more smell of everything in front of me and took a picture in my mind.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 3 continued

I ran through the maze of mangroves in the Shark River until I reached the Harney River. This is where I started my journey back to the Gulf of Mexico. I ran the boat along the curves of the river, enjoying the smells and beauty in front of me. The bird life was more prominent. White Ibis flew over the bow and turkey vultures were spotted sitting ominously along the river banks. The mouth of the Harney river was soon over the bow, skinny water, and oyster bars greeted me, as I made my way into the gulf. My first plan was to go to a little beach on Hog Key, check out one of my favorite trees on the island a Royal Poinsettia. The Tide told me that's not going to happen this trip. I continued farther north to Turkey Key where the water depth was more favorable. Turkey Key was a fascinating island, with all sorts of architecture on the landscape. You could see where parts of the island appeared to be, prehistoric dug canals. The island as a whole reminded me of other archaeologically significant Islands in Pine Island Sound. Turkey Key had some of the same features I have helped Document on other archaeological sights in Florida. The plant life was also intriguing, there were plants that you don't normally find unless you are on a prehistoric mound. I intend to go back and investigate the plant life closer in April, Hopefully in early April, before the bugs get bad. That will allow me to compare the plants from a few similar sights this summer. Nightfall was nearing. I needed to find a good place to anchor up for the night.I thought of running up the Huston river where I spent the first night. Then I thought of the bugs. I anchored out closer to the gulf , in seven feet of water towards Duck rock. The bugs found me even far out from shore. The tent was zipped until time to get in. The stern light was set, and I wiggled into my sleeping bag. The wind shifted and you could hear the water slapping on the hull of the boat. This rocking prompted the stern light to wobble and then fall into the water. The white light kept on shinning as it bobbed up and down farther away. I am sure by now it has made a nice night light for some Cuban family on the north coast of Cuba. Back to my sleeping bag I went. I was about to fall asleep, when I heard the sound of an outboard motor, no big deal. It was whining and close to duck rock, or at least that is where the sound was coming from. I got out of my tent closed it quickly, and looked to see where the little boat was going. NO LIGHTS! The boat was running with no lights on. That boat was running in water one foot or less around limestone and shoals. Definitely a Local. I was glad I had a back up stern light, so he or she could see me. I then watched a 34foot crab boat and its light's disappear behind the mangrove island of duck rock in very shallow water. These island's have been a smugglers paradise for decades. I went back to my tent and laid there, and tried to sleep. A lot of things were running through my mind. But my mind kept going back to an old picture, A picture of an crab boat tied up to a dock, not far from where I was anchored on this dark night. The name of the boat was "Miss Trial".

Day 3

The Sunrise spoke of tranquility and whispered solitude, until my ears hurt. I don't know which one was flowing faster, the tide or my mind. The morning beach had its own personality, hopeful, radiant, and welcoming. Shells, shells and more shells. The tide was going out rapidly, when I spotted my first Alphabet Cone shell behind the transom of the boat in seven inches of water. Then another and another. I continued walking the beach picking up Cone shells at a rapid pace. The shells were some of the best I have seen in my 16 years of collecting. (The best species of the cone shell I ever found was on Cayo Costa Island, back in 1996 on a hot July day when the tide was half full and going out.The water was gin clear where the shore meets the sea.) The tide was turning, and coming in fast. It was time to pull the anchor and point my old boat south to the last outpost on the Gulf coast of Florida, Flamingo. The trip took a little over an hour. Halfway to Flamingo, I noticed the boat engine wasn't peeing water out like it should. This in turn means the engine isn't cooling properly. I promptly shut the engine down and set out looking for a small piece of wire to stick up the hole to dislodge any debris that may be in there. Of course, I couldn't find the paperclip I had stowed away for situations like this. Then common sense kicked in and I proceeded to straiten a round metal key ring holder. This worked great. It fit up the water hole and in no time the engine was peeing water again. I reached Flamingo by noon, topped off the fuel, and paid 3 dollars for a "warm" welcomed shower. I then started the journey back to the north up the southwest coast of Florida for more exploring. Whenever I get this far south in my boat, I always want to keep going south. The Florida Keys are only 26 miles away, Cuba less than 150miles, always tempting. The seas were light and the ride up the coast was pleasant. The beaches of Cape Sable were a pleasure to look at and also painful. Painful because I wanted to explore the whole stretch of new beach. The threat of weather moving in later that night made me want to be closer to Chokoloskee. I was making good time with the following sea. I decided to take a scenic side trip up the Shark River and then come out the Harney River. The Shark River is AMAZING! The red mangrove trees that grow at the basin of the Shark River are some of the tallest mangroves in the world. The river snakes through mangroves and feels prehistoric. It reminds me a lot of the Amazon River. It holds a lot of hidden mystery behind those leaves. A true wilderness treasure.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Everglades Day 2

Wind and tides dictate where you can travel in the vast wilderness of the Ten Thousand Islands. Both were in my favor. The decision was made to go south while the winds were favorable. Traveling south 60 miles down the coast was extremely enjoyable, everything from a deliciously crisp green apple, to the passing by of Mormon Key, Lostmans River, the Harney and Shark River, and finally the white shelly beaches of the southern most beach on the gulf coast of Florida, Cape Sable. The Beach was absolutely picture perfect. The shells were good and people sparse. The people I did run into were friendly and from Wisconsin. The older lady was very nice and talked about her old shell collection, with a twinkle in her eye. She had been collecting shells for years. The wind had picked up to 25 mph out of the south east. I was anchored in the last bight on the gulf coast, tucked in just enough so the boat was lying in calm water. My thoughts drifted like the tide. Should I go to Flamingo and top off with fuel, then come back and anchor for the night in Lake Ingraham? If the wind picks up out of the south and gets a little west to it, things could get ugly, and I still have to get back up the coast. Running on the inside in the bays can be a bit dicey this time of year with the tides because of the shallow water. Two to three feet of water in the bays, when there is water. I brought 3 props; one is already dinged, and one is aluminum. The back bay on these tides, is definitely plan "D". I decided to anchor up for the night just north of the entrance to Lake Ingraham. The tide was really moving at the entrance, at least 5 knots. I decided to anchor in a little Eddy to the north of the entrance. The sand bar west of the entrance provided excellent protection from the wind. The tidal drop is 5.8 feet on this moon, huge for the gulf coast. This stretch of beach was a treasure trove of plants, shells, and a plethora of signs and scat, of four legged critters. The moon coming up over Lake Ingraham startled me for a moment. The moon beams on the driftwood caused me to run a quarter mile down the beach to get my camera. The sun's last pinkish glow was still in the sky as I walked back to the boat. The mosquitoes came out to dine soon after the pink left the sky. Common sense says," Keep your tent door's zipped at all times until its time to get in."

Everglades Day 1 continued

The Ten Thousands Islands on the west coast of Florida are remote awe inspiring and buggy. After leaving Rabbit Key Pass I traveled south to Pavilion Key. The shelling was great and the weather was perfect. I decided to take a nap under one of my favorite trees, the Buttonwood. After a brief catnap, I planned where I would anchor the boat for the evening. The deepest water around was up the Huston River. I anchored close to shore at first, then after a debate with my common sense. I anchored at the mouth of the river in 9 feet of water and watched the moon rise and the sun go to sleep in the gulf of Mexico. The silence was deafening. I heard double crested cormorant's wings flap as they flew inland for the night. What a sound, a moment I will not forget. The sunset light was superb. The mosquitoes were less superb. I put up the tent on the front of the boat, because without the zipper closure on the tent, the bugs would have carried me, and my common sense away. The beauty of the Everglades is as inspiring as the bugs are bad. Over all a great night under the moon.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Every now and then you need to go out and stretch your legs in your own back yard. So that is just what I did. After many nights of studying the charts and many days getting all the extra first aid items, Alieve, eye wash, ace bandages, etc. I went to the last untamed wilderness, The Everglades. I put the boat in at Chokoloskee, Florida, which was crazy. The tide was so low the trailer bottomed out in a hole at the ramp. That was very interesting. I did not know for a while if things were going to work. Finally got the boat off the trailer and promptly hit a cement block and dinged my brand new prop. I then idled across Chokoloskee Bay to the mouth of the Lopez River, poled my way across the river and finally headed out Rabbit Key Pass to territory unknown.