Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ding Darling, Darling

Although we vacation in Florida every few years, we usually end up on the east coast since our timeshare is there. So this year, we wanted to try some of the terrific birding spots in southwest Florida, near Naples and Fort Meyers. Dick started looking for a condo over six months ago, and the only one he could find ended up in Lehigh. It's a nice place, but it takes about an hour to drive to the coast where all the birds are. Ah well. So let's start the week with Ding Darling NWR. Everyone raves about Ding Darling, and now I know why. It is a 7,000 acre estuary and mangrove swamp, taking up the entire bay-side of Sanibel Island. As we drove the loop road, the first thing we discovered is that you must look at the very near water as well as that on the other side. The smaller herons, egrets and ibis often stood right where the water rushed under the road from one area to another, and they seemed unafraid of people. We watched for several minutes as a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron struggled to swallow a crab, tossing it around its mouth trying to chomp off the legs.
Another place to watch is mud flats of any sort. Varietes of plovers, willets and gulls shared space with huge American Pelicans. At one point, we watched four Bald Eagles soaring in the air, three immatures and one adult. Somehow the polarizing filter on my camera managed to disrupt the focus, so it's a good thing I stopped to check them about half way through.
It's fun to talk to other birders you meet. We chatted with two other couples, and they asked where we were from. "Louisville, KY," we replied. They knew someone whose son just got married there at some nature preserve. "Was it Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, in Goshen?" Well, it was, and they are friends of the people we are meeting tomorrow whose son just got married. Louisville has always been the biggest little town in the world!
A sunset tour of Tarpon Bay sounded like a wonderful way to end the day, so we joined Tarpon Bay Explorers to learn more about the area. Some of the animals we wouldn't see from the surface were kept in touch tanks....
...but the best parts were the birds, of course. A couple moaned about paddling a kayak for two hours, so Dick and I decided to take the pontoon boat tour.
The rising tide covered available perching spots on the oyster bars in the shallow estuary, but large and small birds shared what was available, including some Oyster Catchers, appropriately enough.
More birds came for a good resting spot in the mangroves growing there too. The guides had noticed some Vultures recently, which don't normally come near the water to feed, and investigation showed an Anhinga swinging between the branches, where it had strangled on fishing line.
Dick said we might have a tough time going for new life birds this trip, but I'm happy to just identify some we've been a little shaky on. It was a bonus to see the silhouettes of three Magnificent Frigate Birds flying overhead.
Yes, this is the way to end your first day of birding in Florida!

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