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Christmas Trip 2003

Part 4: Birding Sanibel

All photographs © 2003 Mary Beth Stowe

Didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought it would to get to Sanibel (and getting off at exit 131 was a breeze: you just followed the signs to Sanibel). Logged a Wood Stork sailing over the freeway and a few Glossy Ibis on the way in. Once on the island I went ahead and checked in, and then did laundry (after finally finding it); it was kinda fun to sit out by the pool in the stereo-typical tropical isle setting, drinking a diet Coke and reading Harry Potter (with two sweat jackets on; one gal was dozing in a bikini, which I found unbelievable). They have a murky lagoon which supposedly has an Alligator, but all I saw was a curious Soft-shelled Turtle (the sign said not to feed the alligator, so I guess people were feeding the turtle) and a wing-flopping Anhinga!  So after the laundry I went ahead and decided to get field food at Bailey’s, then splurged at the Sanibel Steakhouse (for 40 bucks, I’d better make that stretch!). I am very tempted next time I do a road trip to bring cereal and noodles in addition to field food, and save the splurging for the weekend.

Had the whole day next day to spend at Ding Darling NWR, so after a great breakfast at Jerry’s (again prayed for protection cuz the waitress had a terrible cough) headed over to the refuge drive, which didn’t open till 7:30, but was okay cuz I could walk the Indigo Trail. It was nippy and quiet (and still had to show the guy my National Park pass; they’re even charging for hikers now) but managed to kick up a curious gnatcatcher and Blue-headed Vireo. Pileated Woodpeckers called enticingly as well, but not much showed themselves.


Start of the Indigo Trail at Ding Darling NWR


Left and center:  Blue-headed Vireos; Right:  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The drive was a popular place, even at that hour, and ran into several big-time serious photographers with monster cameras! The light was just perfect, and the birds just as I remembered; one hole in particular was just stuffed with egrets, with a token Tricolored Heron and Wood Stork thrown in! Lots of White Ibis were around, and at the Red Mangrove Overlook a couple of spoonbills were hiding way out there. A couple of tourists were shooting something in the mangroves; a Red-bellied Woodpecker was chunging in there so I thought that’s what it was, but then saw the young night heron right there close by! Adult Yellow-crowneds were scattered about, but only the young were close enough for shots.


Typical scene along the auto tour with typical multi-species feeding frenzy...


Egret Convention (big ones are Greats; little ones are Snowies, and the blue ones are Tricolored Herons)                                                


“Greg and Sneg” (the Universal Banding Codes for Great Egret and Snowy Egret respectively...)


Left and center:  Tricolored Herons.  Right:  token Wood Stork


Mangroves hide all sorts of goodies, like this young Yellow-crowned Night Heron!

Brown Pelicans entertained many of the tourists as well, and tons of Little Blue Herons were out in the low tide, along with the occasional Reddish Egret. A docent was near the beginning of the drive and we got to chatting when a pair of Mottled Ducks flew in, which was nice! (He threatened to follow me around when I clarified the difference between Mottled and Mexican Ducks...) Blue-winged Teal were flocking in abundance as well, and Ospreys were all over the place. At the observation tower a flock of shorebirds was way out there; the only things I could pick out for sure were Semipalmated Plovers, dowitchers, and (probably) Western Sandpipers. The "Powerline Trail" didn’t have much except a couple of fishermen and an annoyed Anhinga; a young Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the road, however, and posed for pictures! Nearly ran over a pair of Common Ground Doves on the way to the Cross Dike Trail, which also had a great Anhinga, as well as a Spotted Sandpiper and a Mockingbird guarding the pavilion. Shell Mound was pretty quiet, so after finishing the drive I headed to Tarpon Bay (missed the turnoff to the Nature Center; they don’t sign it well coming from Captiva).


More birds along the drive include a Double-crested Cormorant and a Belted Kingfisher helping keep the tourists honest...


Left:  Brown Pelican; center and right:  Mottled Ducks


Left:  Great Blue Heron; right:  Heron Consultation (mostly Little Blues) 


Left:  View from the overlook.  Right:  Young Red-shouldered Hawk

Roseate Spoonbill and Double-crested Cormorant (and I shouldn’t have to tell you which is which...)   

Blue-winged Teal


Left:  Cross Dike Trail, which hooks up with the Indigo Trail.  Right:  Anhinga


Left:  Mockingbird; Right:  Shell Mound Trail, so-called because of the literal mounds the Indians would make of discarded shells

Anyway, the Bay was pretty busy with tourists, but did pick up a Common Loon, which was nice. At the Sanibel/Captiva Nature Center you had to go through the building to get to the trails; I took the left loop first, and made a wrong turn that nevertheless put me underneath a knockout Pileated Woodpecker! Yellowthroats got upset at pishing, and back on the right trail had an Osprey with lunch, and a mated pair building a nest nearby. The woods were pretty quiet in general, but did have the usual Palm Warblers, Butterbutts, Catbirds, and a Carolina Wren. A Downy Woodpecker called from a restoration area, and nearly stepped on a snake in the path! (I assumed it was an Indigo at first, but after seeing a Black Racer at Shark Valley it could have been that as well...) I could have sworn I heard a Bald Eagle chirping, and then the Ospreys as though they were upset, but never could see anything. A pair of Moorhens was at the observation tower. After a rest break I took the east loop, where it was really quiet except for when a pair of gnatcatchers got really upset at me at the resting spot, but the ruckus brought in a gorgeous Prairie Warbler!


Left:  Boardwalk at the Sanibel/Captiva Nature Center.  Right:  White Ibis


Left:  View of the marsh; center:  Pileated Woodpecker; right:  Cuban Anole?


Left and center:  Ospreys, with lunch and at the nest.  Right:  Probable Black Racer


Left:  View from the overlook; right:  Prairie Warbler


Common Gallinules

My feet were shot, but I forced myself over to the Bailey Tract, where I got my second wind on their big loop (funny how it seemed so much longer when I was a kid...). I definitely wanted to go back early in the morning, but it was still a great loop that had more gallinules, a Pied-billed Grebe, the only Coot of the day (!!!), Ground and Mourning Doves, and an Eastern Phoebe. Nearly hit a confused Cattle Egret on the way back to the motel (with a car and a couple of bikes coming from all directions, he didn‘t know which way to go)!


The trails at the Bailey Tract are good place to look for Swamp Sparrows


Various loop trails take you all around the ponds...


Mourning Dove and a Pied-billed Grebe in a neighbor's back yard!


Along the back side of the loop, an Anhinga poses with a turtle (slider sp.?)

My brother and his family were in by then, and they just happened to be put right over my room! (Dave said he recognized Jip’s beep...) So I went on up and we chatted for awhile before going to dinner, catching up, and then coming back to crash!

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