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Christmas 2006

Part 6:  Ding Darling NWR

Boy, it was a long drive down, but found an interesting talk radio program where they were basically asking the question, "What piece of technology that was not available twenty years ago can you not live without now?" Several people called in and mentioned cell phones, TV remotes, etc., but his personal devil was (I think) these Blackberries that do everything! I would have to say mine is the Palm Pilot my brother gave me: before that, I was content with one of those Day-Timers, but now I can’t function without having every hour of my week scheduled on that thing, it seems! And if I lose all the data, I’m totally lost!!

Anyway, the construction along the main drag was horrible (they’re building a Coronado-like bridge to Sanibel!), but once I got checked in at Seashells of Sanibel I threw my laundry in the machines while unloading the car and checking things out! The grounds look like they’d be pretty good for butterflies in and of themselves, although things were quiet when I checked them out (later I got to thinking that they might use pesticides…). Got ahold of my sister Becky to see if I could get anything at the store for her, which I planned to do the next day after birding Ding Darling first thing, then getting ready to pick her up at the airport (and giving myself plenty of time). Interestingly, she wanted to go with me butterflying!

I called Martin, a local "lepper" who had agreed to take me out, that night, and he said Thursday looked like the best day, as a storm system was supposed to come in Friday, so we planned for that. So after getting supplies at Jerry’s, I actually had plenty of time to check out Ding Darling, so made a quick run through the wildlife drive, enjoying the usual suspects along with all the tourists: tons of Little Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebes, Snowy and Great Egrets, and in some faraway lagoon, big pink Roseate Spoonbills!  Peep flocks contained several new shorebirds including Red Knot and Western Sandpipers.  My personal favorites, the Yellow-crowned Night Herons, were very cooperative, as well as a few Reddish Egrets doing their dances.  Butterfly-wise I was thrilled to get a new species: Mangrove Buckeye (of which there were many)!

Birds (and other creatures) along the Wildlife Drive...

      

Little Blue Herons with a token spoonbill, and White Ibises flanked by Snowy and Great Egrets

                                      

L-R:  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Eastern Phoebe, and Great Southern White

       

Red Mangroves, home to the endemic Mangrove Buckeye (below)!

      

             

White Peacocks, and female Brown Anoles  

Added Wood Stork and Bald Eagle to the list on the way to the airport! Connected with Becky fine; while she got settled and took a bike ride, I made a quick visit to the beach and added several terns, plus a Cassius Blue in Shalimar’s gardens.  I also decided to call the bike rental place and have them keep the extra bike here (it had been rented by someone else who left and they hadn’t picked the bike up yet) and I think we went to Timbers that night, where we both had a scrumptious "surf & turf" dish (I brought most of mine home)!

   

Walkway to the Beach

                                

Male Brown Anole, Neon Skimmer, and female Cassius Blue (in the process of laying eggs on left)

                     

Little Blue Heron and odd "flower" in somebody’s yard

    The next morning I wanted to bird the refuge more carefully, so I started at the Bailey Tract and hiked the inner trails, where a friendly Palm Warbler said hello!  Families of Pied-billed Grebes and Common Moorhens swam about, and in another long pond had a pair of Mottled Ducks.  Catbirds and Butterbutts were all over; the former were hiding, and the latter were not...

   

The Baily Tract of Ding Darling NWR

          

Palm Warblers

Took a quick look at Tarpon Bay and added some shorebirds for the day list, then hiked a bit of the Indigo Trail at the main refuge, where there were more Mangrove Buckeyes, but what also I thought could have been the Florida race of the Common Buckeye; my lep expert friends honestly felt they were all Mangroves, just with different-sized "eyes"… More of the same was on the drive, including a Snowy Egret giving a White Ibis a hard time, a Yellow-crowned Nightie having a "bad hair day" with his filo-plumes blowing every which way, and several Ospreys and posing Anhingas.  A flock of lazing White Pelicans made some visiting birders from abroad happy (seems to be the same flock in the same spot every year I go by there), and more stunning spoonbills fed out in the water, a little closer than the day before!

          

Along the Indigo Trail, Mangrove Buckeyes show the variability of the size of the eyespots!

      

Female Brown Anoles show a white stripe down the back

       

White Pelicans and cormorants along the wildlife drive

            

Anhingas (female left, male right)

  

Cross-Dike Trail with Gulf Fritillary

                

Yellow-crowned Night Heron having a "bad hair" day...

Wader portraits...

           

Snowy Egret (left and center) and White Ibis

    

With Snowy Egret (left) and Little Blue Heron (right)

            

L-R:  Tricolored Heron, "Greg" and "Sneg", Yellow-crowned Night Heron (after the wind died down), and Common Ground Dove

       

The Shell Mound Trail still shows the devastation of the 2004 hurricane season

After making a sandwich at home Becky wanted to join me at the Sanibel-Captiva Nature Center, so she rode her bike over after she ate her lunch while I drove over (you can tell which one of the two of us is the more health-conscious...), and she eventually found me on the trail; she had bought a Field Guide to Florida which illustrates common species of all life forms here, including plants!  So she was flipping through that thing at almost every bend (although the Sabal Palm wasn't in there, and we had a lot of those with their mistletoe-like berries)!  I pointed out some White Peacocks to her, and then we promptly got lost because they had closed a trail and the trail we thought we were supposed to take became terribly overgrown, as did every trail we found!  We finally made it back to the parking lot, but not before Becky found "the biggest grasshopper I've ever seen in my life!!!"  I assumed it was a Lubber Grasshopper of some kind; it was big and orange, but not as big as the huge black and orange Lubber Grasshoppers I encountered in the Everglades one spring!  Turns out it was the same species: Southeastern Lubber.

      

Prairie at the Sanibel-Captiva Nature Center and Sabal Palm Trail

                        

Sister Becky peruses her Field Guide to Florida in search of the Sabal Palm, while we find a Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper instead!

I told her she had to see the Butterfly House, which I had visited before she got there: they just had Zebra Heliconians in there, but they were all over, practically landing on you; just a delight!  When I took Becky in there the second time I noticed their little rack of chrysalli; some were clearly Monarchs, so perhaps they have different things hatching at different times.

       

Becky enjoying the Zebra Heliconians (right—Florida’s state butterfly) in the center’s butterfly house.   

We were both shot after that, so after stopping to buy our niece Laura a Christmas gift we came back and crashed.  Maybe that was the night we went to Timbers, and the first night we went to the Blue Giraffe; it all blends together after awhile!

Click here to continue to Christmas Week, here to return to Laguna Atascosa NWR

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