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My Life’s Birds: #56-61

January 9, 2008
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JUNE 11, 1993 – “Ding” Darling NWR, FL – Finally, finally it was time for my dad and I to cast off the rest of the family for a morning of 100% unadulterated, unabashed, appeasement of the feathered monster of our obsession. It was the first real birding trip that I’d taken since I began my life list and in a bonafide birding crown jewel too, “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sannibel Island, Florida. I can’t think of a better place to begin. The birds are big, flashy, and situated so as to be easily accessible to non-birder and new birder alike.

The most popular part of the refuge is the wildlife trail, which provides access to nearly all of the ponds on the park from the comfort of one’s automobile. We were eschewing the car option to walk the Indigo Trail which runs on the opposite side of those very ponds. Early in the morning the light would be better here, and why drive when you can walk, right? Besides, we’d hit the wildlife drive another day, we were looking for a slow build rather than fast start.

We first pulled over to a public park with a marsh overlook and quickly added Common Moorhen to our list before heading to the park office and the trailhead. As we headed down the trail the first thing we saw was not a bird, but a huge Indigo Snake, perhaps appropriate for the Indigo trail. I remember it distinctly. It looked like the normal Black Rat Snakes I used to catch but thicker and longer with a bullneck. A great start, and soon we had added Common Ground-Dove and Mottled Duck as well.

But the real reason bird-enthusiasts come to Florida is for the wading birds, the herons and egrets. Needless to say, we did well here. We finally saw many of the birds I had seen on the highways leading to the trip well enough to be happy with our views. There were a few new birds though, several little Green Herons (difficult to see at 70 mph) perched still as statues on the mangroves. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron waded deeper still among the mangrove feet, hidden by shadows. Great birds, but it was something different we had targeted and at the far end of the trail we finally locked on to our quarry. A half-dozen Roseate Spoonbills roosting in the trees. It was still early and the tide was still high so they had nowhere particular to be so we watched the birds, equal parts grotesque and gorgeous, for a long time before heading back up the trail. Our appetite was whetted for Florida birds, we’d just have to convince the rest of the family that the wildlife drive would be a really good idea for the next day.

photos from wikipedia

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