Cruising along the Caloosahatchee

The Caloosahatchee River Excursion: “River Caretakers” began as the M/V River Queen departed smoothly from the LaBelle Wharf, leaving the hustle and bustle of the Swamp Cabbage Festival in the distance. The boat was full of hopeful birdwatching enthusiasts and snow birds, all armed with binoculars and ready for adventure.

We first traveled into a somewhat narrow portion of the Caloosahatchee, with our River Guide and retired educator, Scott Cooper, as he pointed out the flowering spatterdock, gorgeous leather ferns, and other native flora along the riverbanks. Cooper talked about the dredging and channelization that resulted in straightening the once wild, meandering river.

(Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper) In front: Joyce Borgmann, Joseph Thomas, & Captain John C. Cookman, with First Mate Robert Howell, behind them aboard the M/V River Queen. Joyce Borgmann is the raffle winner of the LaBelle Heritage Museum’s two-hour M/V River Queen cruise, with 30 friends.

Also aboard, was the keen-eyed Margaret England, from the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society. She quickly began spotting various bird species like the tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Belted Kingfisher, as we traveled. We could hear, but not see, a cardinal in the lush moss-covered oaks, as we passed through the oxbow.

A light breeze and calm waters made for a very relaxing cruise as we made our way down towards Fort Denaud. Ospreys, Swallow-tailed Kites, Red-Shouldered Hawks, and both species of Florida’s vultures soared overhead.

The vessel’s hilariously entertaining First Mate, Robert Howell, put aside his puns and jokes for a minute, as he got serious about discussing the river’s importance, and how supporting educational and fun river excursions, like this eco-friendly pontoon boat, was an excellent way to promote ecological preservation.

Captain John C. Cookman, informed everyone that the Fort Denaud bridge would soon be up ahead. He explained that it was one of the only remaining, working swing bridges left in Florida. The Captain then called up to the bridge operator and requested a passthrough. The passengers were in awe as the bridge began to pivot. We quickly went through the open bridge, the Captain pulling a quick U-turn and waving to the operator.

While on the return, England pointed out the historic Hendry House and the LaBelle Nature Park. We even spotted a few Limpkins, Little Blue Herons, and a flock of White Ibis gliding gracefully just above the water’s surface. Crossing back under the LaBelle Drawbridge, we made our way back to the wharf where the smiling group disembarked.

The crew, the weather, the sights and sounds, everything was wonderful. What a terrific trip.

(Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper) Passengers aboard the M/V River Queen while First Mate Robert Howell poses for a photo op.

Danika can be reached at dhopper@newszap.com

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