Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ding-Darling NWR - 06 Apr 2008

Clear and sunny this morning after an overnight shower, and there's little-to-no humidity. Shell and I took off for J. Ding-Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Leaving the condo we stopped at the pond just outside the gate and found a nice male Mottled Duck swimming in the morning sun.

Crossing over the bridge to Sanibel Island we stopped at the beach on the other side and found a number of shorebirds, including a beautiful American Avocet in breeding plumage. Nucklehead me slammed the car door getting out, however, and spooked all the birds. I managed a few flight pics of the Avocet as it headed up the beach.

Arriving at D-Darling we took the wildlife-loop and quickly found a group of shorebirds, including Willet, Black-bellied and American Golden Plovers. A small flock of American White Pelican were roosting on a sand-bar. As we took several photos with the D300 and a few digiscoped images, the no-seeums took the opportunity to get an easy meal. My head and skin stung as dozens of the little stingers feasted away. Jumping back in the car we headed away from the biting nasties and headed on. Just a short distance up the road an Osprey was on the nest, and posed for several pics.

A short distance later the ponds opened up and held more shorebirds (Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and more Willets). A Double-crested Cormorant posed for an up-close digiscoped image. Continuing on, we stopped short and saw a large flock of Roseate Spoonbills fly into view and provide gorgeous looks (and photos) as they passed by. A pair of American White Pelicans soon followed. As we arrived at the viewing tower we heard the clicking and whirring of cameras as dozens of photographers were lined along the shore with some of the largest lenses in the world. They were photographing a number of the spoonbills that were resting in the morning sun just a few feet away. I moved in among them w/ my scope and proceeded to photograph the lovely pink birds as they preened, fed and slept. For the next half-hour I captured dozens of images of the birds with both the D300 and the digiscoping equipment (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (10), (11), (12), (13). Among the birds were a Great Egret in brilliant green breeding colors and a smaller Snowy Egret .

On the other side of the tower a Laughing Gull was swimming near shore, and allowed a digiscoped image from a short distance. A Reddish Egret hunted nearby, and seemed intent on its reflection. A Great Blue Heron was also making itself easy to photograph. Also near shore was a Red-breasted Merganser swimming and diving. Up the road a small inlet hosted a roosting Little Blue Heron, which preened and posed in the morning sun, and provided wonderful digiscoping opportunities (2), (3), (4). Just before leaving an immature Magnificent Frigatebird soared overhead for a moment before heading off.

The rest of the loop provided few sightings, so we returned to the interpretive center called other sister Liz to wish her a happy birthday. Happy Birthday, Liz!

We then drove back to the condo, picked up Robin, and returned to Sanibel where we had lunch at the Lazy Flamingo. Afterward, we took a hike in the mid-afternoon sun over to Lakes Park. As we walked a dozen Black Vultures soared overhead, giving us opportunity to see their silvery fingertips that distinguish them from Turkey Vultures. A pair of the birds landed in a nearby snag and shared an intimate nuzzle before settling down to rest. At the end of the road we came upon the most tame GBH we'll ever see, and took some closeup images as it hunted just a few feet away.

Inside the park a number of Double-crested Cormorants were roosting on rocks in the middle of the ponds and feeding nearby. At the first bridge a Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors hunted completely oblivious of our presence. An unsuspecting minnow made for a tasty meal. Suddenly an Anhinga surfaced below us with something ishy in its mouth. A number of foot-long gar pike were floating on the surface, and this Blue Crab kept surfacing next to shore. As we walked on we were treated to several Anhingas flying overhead (2), (3). An immature Laughing Gull had me thinking it was a Franklin's Gull. Just a few feet from it was half-dozen White Ibis that were feeding and ignoring our presence.

As I was running out of memory cards this Red-bellied Woodpecker appeared in a tree above us, and I managed a shot against the back-lit skies. Overhead but too far away to photograph a Swallow-tailed Kite soared with several Black Vultures. It drifted away from us, so I missed yet another opportunity to get a photo. Time to return to the condo and pack for home. Great trip! Thanks, Shell!

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