We arrived at the famous Ding Darling on Sanibel Island after an excellent all-American breakfast and began to set up the cameras. It was just after dawn and the loop opened in a few minutes. But wait, what are all these tiny tiny bugs? Surely they're too small to bite? Aaaaaarrrrrghhhhhhhhh!! In a few short minutes Mick and I were basically eaten alive. Note to self - if birding Florida swamps bring insecticide and apply it liberally. Drink it if you have to. It was awful, I didn't remember this from either of my prior visits at all. I do remember lying on a nest of Fire Ants once, but this was probably worse as you could not get away from them and they numbered in the millions. They were rapacious and unrelenting to the extent that we were unable to linger on the loop drive at almost any point and instead just got the hell out of there. Not that there were many photographic opportunities for us, mostly the birds were quite far out or into the rapidly increasing light. We found a cooperative Anhinga but that was it. I've now been here twice and not been able to construct any decent images out of it. For birding it is good, you will get a decent spectrum of Florida's egrets and waders, but I probably won't try again unless I have loads of time.
Our next stop was the fishing pier near the lighthouse. This had a very tame Snowy and Reddish Egret following the bait fisherman around, and a pair of American White Ibis perched nicely on a bare branch. It was getting bust quickly however with the usual shell collectors and others beginning their weekend at the beach. Note that the parking here is paid, and is extortionate.
|This was several feet long and moved like the clappers!
We drove one more loop of Ding Darling and then went birding at the Bailey Tract, only a short distance away. This is small network of pools and canals with various walkable paths. Whilst Ding Darling is very well-known and has many visitors, Bailey is a potential location from which to get away from the crowds. It is probably far less popular because you have to get out of your car and walk! Despite the harsher mid-morning light we managed some promising images of a close Tri-coloured Heron, and we also found a large non-native Iguana which are apparently doing very well in southern Florida.
We spent the afternoon having a bit of lunch, scratching our thousands of bites, and shopping for sunscreen and insecticide. Checking in to our hotel on Fort Myers Beach (Estero) as soon as we could we had a nap before heading down to the lagoons about an hour before sunset, which is around half past five at this time of year. The Wyndham Garden Inn is perfectly situated next to the most productive of the pools here, and we were soon into birds. All sorts of herons and egrets were fishing around the edge, and just before last knockings a Roseate Spoonbill came in to roost. Down by the sea Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns were going past.
We decided to start here the following morning, following a strategy I had employed on my first visit - start at the far end near the causeway that goes over to Lovers Key. The sun rises directly over your shoulder as you head up the beach, and you can make your way from one bird to the next.