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Christmas in Florida

Part 6:  Fort Meyers Area

Eventually all us siblings made it to the Courtyard just before the Sanibel causeway (it was cheaper than staying on the Island, but I missed the early morning walks on the beach!), and while my brother and his family had additional Christmas shopping to take care of, my sister needed a ride to the bike shop to pick up her rental, so off we went in the rain (which was supposed to continue through Christmas).  Fortunately it let up long enough to tempt us to go to Sanibel, so over we went!  I dropped her off at the Chamber of Commerce then headed over to Ding Darling NWR. Her talk of needing to get in a good ride because her "body didn’t fit" inspired me, and I hiked the entire Indigo Trail, a little over four miles! She just so happened to ride up just after I entered the auto route, so we figured that by the time she rode the rest of the route and back to the lot I’d just about be getting back myself, and it worked out perfectly! I got dripped on just a little, and bird-wise things were starting to come in to roost mainly: had some nice White Ibis on the dirt portion of the trail, and a couple of big alligators elsewhere! On the Red Mangrove overlook a lady Black-and-white Warbler came in for a stunning photo, and spoonbills gathered on the mangroves as well for the night (Becky had seen them coming in). A little tour came in to the mangroves while I was resting, and they had evidently seen a Yellow-crowned Nightie, but I couldn’t find any on the way out (although I did surprise a couple of Raccoons).  I expected a lot more hurricane damage than I saw; except for a few downed trees and some stripped vegetation here and there, it really didn't look too different from normal to me.

         

Hurricane damage along the Indigo Trail at Ding Darling NWR, with White Ibis

                

Hurricane Charley ripped the vegetation off many of the trees

           

Female Black-and-white Warbler and Great Blue Heron

    

An alligator basks in one of the lagoons while Raccoons venture out in the waning light

That night we drove back over for dinner at the little diner, then played Euchre afterwards (despite their best efforts, I won…)

The Subaru dealership there had ordered the windshield for me, but I still hadn't heard from them, so I assumed that if the part came that day (Christmas Eve), I’d be in the shop Monday, so that meant that I did Corkscrew Swamp the next day or not at all (probably). Becky wanted to sleep in so she ended up not going with me, which was just as well: her original plan was to bum a ride with me to the sanctuary and then ride her bike back, but it was a 50 mile trip one way! The forecast called for rain, and I ran into a pretty good downpour on the way over there, but by the time I got there it had let up and it was a delightful walk through the swamp (for ten bucks I was gonna milk it for all it was worth)! Ironically perhaps the best bird was on the way there: a Limpkin by the side of the road!

Inside it wasn’t terribly birdy: an Anhinga here and some Little Blues there; new trip birds included both species of night herons, a couple of shy Purple Gallinules, a singing White-eyed Vireo, and a pair of duetting Barred Owls! A very dull Orange-crowned Warbler and another Swamp Sparrow was nice for the dickey list, but I discovered to my chagrin that you’re not allowed to pish there! (I kept leapfrogging with these two naturalists and the lady chose the time when two other birders joined us to tell me it wasn’t allowed; guess she wanted to inform as many people as possible at once!) So that kept me from trying for sparrows in some very promising-looking grasslands, but what the hey: God is perfectly capable of bringing stuff up without pishing!

      

A Red-shouldered Hawk guards the entrance to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

       

Views of the boardwalk and various habitats

        

Birds hiding from the rain included this Little Blue Heron

              

L-R:  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Anhinga, and Great Egret and friend

Headed back after that and caught up with the rest of the family for meals and an evening movie before crashing for the night.

My brother Dave reneged on going to the Bailey Tract with me Christmas morning as it was threatening to rain, so I went ahead and went, and sure enough, there was a light rain falling when I got there, but I wanted my walk, so I bundled up and went, and it wasn’t bad at all! I played a memory exercise game wherein I tried to remember all the new species I saw (rather than try to write them on my notepad and risk getting that all wet), and it worked!  Headed over to the wildlife drive where the rain really started coming down (the only other people out there were fisher-families), and added a few things to the day list, plus Red-breasted Merganser for the trip.

Came back, where the rain let up and we ended up driving back over to Sanibel for lunch in one of the only places that was open, a little Mediterranean place we enjoyed last year (which also was the only place open for lunch on Christmas then)!  Somewhere in here my sister-in-law Audrey and I had driven over to Captiva to assess the damage, and they were much more heavily hit than Sanibel (we also ran into a huge flock of White Ibis along the road).  We braved the rain yet again and had a great Christmas Dinner at The Bridge, exchanged gifts afterwards, and called it a night.

          

Mob of White Ibis by the road (young bird in center)

On Monday Audrey and I looked at apartments just for grins (I couldn't believe how much cheaper a really nice apartment is in Fort Meyers compared to San Diego), but thankfully the windshield came in while we were doing that, so we ran over there and got that done, so I didn't have to stay over an extra day!  Becky needed a ride to the airport (as well as the drop-off of her bike), but since that was a noonish task I took off before the crack of dawn again and headed over to Six Mile Cypress Preserve (ironically, Becky beat me to it on a bike ride and said it was terrific--she saw otters!).  It was indeed a delightful little place, reminding me very much of Corkscrew only smaller, with a shorter loop trail that I actually ended up taking like a figure eight.  I showed up at the same time as another couple who had monster cameras, but it turned out great: they got way ahead of me while I used the potties, and I think I even ended up going the opposite direction.  But we met up at Otter Pond, and just had a ball pointing things out to each other and shooting all sorts of cooperative birds, including both night herons; Green, Tricolored, Great, and Little Blue Herons; Wood Storks, a Great Egret with a huge fish, and a whole treefull of Anhingas! 

  But I'm really getting ahead of myself: near the start of the trail there was a tiny little cypress forest (the trees were tiny, that is) where some titmice came in to pishing (I was hoping it wasn't illegal here J), but the gnatcatchers were going nuts!  I thought they were gonna land on me!  The Butterbutts were quite curious as well!  At a large lake were several Moorhens, and a smaller pond had a Tricolored Heron sitting up on a log, posing in the middle of the pond.  At the crossover I heard something that sounded either like a very enthusiastic Downy or a Hairy with a sore throat; it turned out to be the latter, who later started uttering his standard "peek" while allowing close approach for pictures!  Did get a little Downy coming in later, though (along with more gnatcatchers...).  On the way out there were several White Ibis feeding in the mini-forest.

       

Boardwalk at Six-Mile Cypress Preserve and miniature cypress forest

            

L-R:  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Tufted Titmouse, and an acrobatic Hairy Woodpecker, at the southernmost edge of its range here

       

Eastern Gray Squirrel in the cypress forest

             

Yellow-rumped Warblers at the "Otter Pond"

Great Egret with prize

       

Black-crowned Night Herons (adult at left. immatures center and right)

                                     

L-R:  Great Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, and Anhinga

        

The lake and surrounding marsh habitat

After saying my goodbyes to the family and dropping Becky off at the airport, headed south to Tamiami Trail and over to Miami for the night.  On the way, going through Big Cypress Preserve, a little buteo floated in front of the car and I slammed on the brakes: they looked like a pair of Short-tailed Hawks putting on a show!  I was so jazzed! The other spectacle was hundreds of Tree Swallows swarming over the road!  Further down I stopped for five at the defunct airboat dock to scan for Snail Kites, and sure enough, one was sailing over the sawgrass, and a second bird sat placidly in the stuff while an airboat approached (he did decide to poop at that point, but he showed off his white tail band while doing so!)

  Crawled along US 41 to the hotel and crashed. 

    One of a pair of Short-tailed Hawks along Tamiami Trail

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