Monday, August 31, 2009

Corkscrew Swamp

On our last full day, we decided to visit Corkscrew Swamp. It is known as one of the 5 best birding spots in the U.S. at the right time of year. We were not there at the right time, but we did see a few things, and found the place very interesting. We started off down the 2.25 mile boardwalk that weaves thru the swamp and talked to a volunteer who knew a few things about what we were about to see. As we chatted him up, a Red-shouldered Hawk landed on the railing about 6 feet from us. We grabbed our cameras, took some shots and then he flew to a nice Cypress Tree to perch on. I preferred these photos much better in their natural setting, so I posted this one:
(Blogger made this photo quite blurry, so it is worth the click to enlarge for detail!)

From there we trekked the boardwalk to a rain shelter with a nice view of the swamp and looked for Alligators. We found this guy hiding in plain sight:

After that, we wound thru the swamp, stopped at a spotting scope set up by the Audobon Society to look at a Ghost Orchid, then continued our journey. I have to say, that we saw nothing more. We still had miles of boardwalk to travel, and were excited to do so, but our interest faded pretty quickly in the 100 degree heat without a new bird to impress us.

So after walking the 2.25 miles, we decided we needed a beach, so we went to Marco Island for some fun in the sun. Here is a Sandwich Tern flying under a nice canopy of clouds.

And then the Tern was interested in what a Brown Pelican just dove for and tried to weasel in on his success.

At one particular beach, we were very lucky and found a Gopher Tortoise. (Click photo to see the rows of teeth!)

A few facts about Gopher Tortoises: They can live up to 100 years! Hatchlings are 1-2 inches long and grow 3/4 inch a year. Adults can grow to as big as 16 inches and can weigh about 30 pounds. It reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years of age, when their shells are about 9 inches long. The tortoise featured here was very large and I would put him at about 16 inches.

I had such a great time in Florida! When we first envisioned going to Ding Darling along with various other sights, we didn't know what to expect. After being there, I would absolutely recommend it to everyone who loves wildlife!

Cape Coral's Burrowing Owls

Cape Coral is home to Florida's largest population of Burrowing Owls. When development first began in the area of Cape Coral and the land was clear-cut for homes, these owls found suitable habitat in the sandy soil of freshly cleared lots and set up residence.

Aptly named, the owls either create new or make use of abandoned burrows to live in and nest. They stand approximately nine inches tall and weigh roughly four ounces. Active both during day and night, they can often be seen either peering out of their burrow or standing atop the small mound of sand over it.

Many Cape Coral residents help protect their feathered neighbors by placing stakes around the burrow with a string perimeter.

Sometimes a “T” stake is placed behind the burrow for the birds to perch on.

The Cape Coral population is estimated at more than 1,000 pairs.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 3-Part 1: Peeps!

On Wednesday, our plan was to visit some beaches and then see the Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral. We stopped on the Causeway to Sanibel and found some great peeps!

This first image is not a peep, but he was our reason for stopping in the first place!

Snowy Egret

Sanderling: I love the lighting on this morning!

Willet: Another image I really liked as the angle with the sun really brought out beautiful colors in the water.

Semipalmated Plover: Somewhat colored like a Killdeer but much less common.

Whimbrel: A very interesting beak but a whole lot smaller than the Ibis.

Ruddy Turnstone: What beautiful markings!

Royal Tern and baby: The baby begged the whole time, and mom just put it on ignore! I love the hairdos!

Monday: Burrowing Owls!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 2-Part 2: Roseate Spoonbills and Friends

After leaving Ding Darling, we set off for Lovers Key State Park. We heard that there were Dolphins and Manatees there, and wanted to make a stop. As we approach the entrance, we see some pink creatures along the parks grassy area and find an entry road to where they were. All of these shots were taken from the car window.

Seeing these guys was a thrill of a lifetime!

I had only seen them through other peoples lenses, and now I get to see them for myself!

The roseate spoonbill spends a lot of its time in shallow water feeding. It sweeps its open bill from side to side in the water to sift up food like small fish, shrimp, mollusks, snails and insects. It has touch receptors in its bill that help it feel its prey. Like the flamingo, the roseate spoonbill's pink color comes from the food it eats. Some of the crustaceans it eats feed on algae that give the spoonbill's feathers their rosy pink color.

The most distinctive characteristic of the roseate spoonbill is its long spoon-shaped bill. It has a white head and chest and light pink wings with a darker pink fringe and very long pink legs. The roseate spoonbill is about two and a half feet in length with a wingspan of about four and a half feet.

We also found a Little Blue Heron feeding with the Spoonbills!

The little blue heron is a small heron. It is about two feet tall with a wingspan of about 40 inches. It has slate-blue feathers with a maroon neck and head. Its bill is gray with a black tip and it has gray to blue legs and feet. Its long bill is gray with a black tip and it curves slightly downward. It has yellow eyes and black legs. Males and females look alike. Young little blue herons are white and have blue bills with a black tip and dull green legs.

Another friend with the Spoonbills was this White Ibis!

The white ibis about two feet tall and has a wingspan of about three feet. It is entirely white except for its black-edged wings. Its blacked tipped wings may not be noticeable when the ibis is at rest, but are easily seen when it is in flight. It has a long, down-curved reddish-orange bill and a reddish-orange face. It wades in the water sweepings its heads form side-to-side in search of food. It uses its long, curved bill to probe in the mud for crabs and crayfish. It swallows its prey whole. It also forages for food on land and it may also eat insects, frogs, snails, marine worms, snakes and small fish.

Tuesday was absolutely the best day for new wildlife! Ding Darling, along with roadside stops made this day amazing! We saw just about everything on the list we needed to see in waders on this day! The only wader I didn't get was the Anhinga. We saw one in Fort Myers at a pond on a busy highway, turned around to take a few shots, but it flew out of sight. Oh well, 7 out of 8 is pretty darn good!

Tomorrow: Plenty-O-Peeps!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 2- Ding Darling Explodes with Wildlife!

Being much better prepared for our second day, we headed for Ding Darling in the morning with greater expectations than last nights visit. A few wrong turns later, we finally arrive at around 9 a.m, not exactly early morning, but anyway...

Our first photo op was a very cooperative Little Blue Heron. The bonus was that he was in the midst of catching a crab. Again, this guy was right next to the road, so anybody with any kind of lens could get a great close up. We left him to his feast as the excitement built for what could possibly be around the corner...

(Click on photo to see the crab!)

It just so happened that another little blue heron in it's white morph phase was fishing. I thought it was so cool to see the different stages of the little blue. You would not get confused with ID, as I thought I might, when you take a look at the blueish bill. Unmistakable!

And here again, as we went down the road, discovered yet another Little Blue Heron in the inbetween stage of white morph and blue. So freakin cool!

Now this shot is my first look at the Roseate Spoonbill. He was quite a distance off, but not knowing if I would ever see one, I had to get some shots and wish for the best. They came out better than expected, and of course I didn't know I would get much closer shots later that week. This particular guy is what brought me to Florida in the first place. This unusual creature has always intrigued me, along with the various other herons I had yet to see. Add a Burrowing Owl, and the destination was a must see!

Here is another fascinating creature I had never seen with my own eyes before. The White Ibis was alot smaller than I had thought. That blue eye was just as blue as I've seen in pictures, but seeing it "for realsies" was awesome!

(Click on photo to see the blue eye!)

Another amazingly cool wader was this Reddish Egret. Isn't he handsome? That plumage was gorgeous! I still can't believe that all these species were concentrated here in this place!

And last but certainly not least, we stumble upon this Tricolored Heron. He flew to this log after we walked over a bridge. He must have been on the waters edge too close to us and flew just a few feet away for safety. He was completely at ease standing on the log. We took his picture for at least 5 minutes, and he could care less. Yet another handsome guy to mark off my list!

And that concludes the trip through Ding Darling. I will continue Tuesdays sightings tomorrow with a new post, as the day got even better!

I will also share so many more photos that I got from Ding Darling, but I didn't want to overwhelm the post with too many photos to look at, so I will save them for additional postings after I get through posting about each day. I loved this area!

First Sightings in Florida

Our trip was AMAZING! We saw so many wonderful things, and I have so much to blog about, so I thought I would start with each day in order and what we saw on that day:

Upon arrival into Fort Myers at sometime around 2 in the afternoon on Monday, we headed for the hotel in Bonita Springs to drop off luggage and start exploring. Our first stop was Ding Darling because the anticipation of finding every wader you can think of here was overwhelming. Near the entrance, we spotted an Osprey on a tall snag. Now, that's a pretty good start to our short afternoon jaunt!

We then pay our entrance fee and follow the road at a crawl, not wanting to miss a single thing. We see that we are surrounded in mangroves and are at the edge of our seats waiting for the next sighting. A few miles later, we start to think that we came at the wrong time. We were not seeing anything, which was shocking, because everything I have read and saw in pictures proved that this place was going to be a wonderland. We kept going and finally saw this juvy Yellow-crowned Night Heron just a few feet from the car. (Things were looking better we thought...)

We rounded a curve, pulled over to look at our first Tri-colored Heron fly over and noticed a Raccoon cross the road...

After that stop, we see a small bird roosting on a wire and took a closer look. It was our first Loggerhead Shrike but not our last. (We saw many on wires in the coming days.)

Next, we spot a Pileated Woodpecker up high and stopped for some shots. They make them much larger in Florida, than in Illinois. It was a really cool sight, since our heron sightings were almost zero for the day.

We left Ding Darling as our road came to an end, and headed toward Cape Coral since the day had a few more hours of sunlight and our thirst for nature wasn't quenched. The city is known for its Burrowing Owl population and I had a map of burrow locations. I was VERY excited! Adding to my Life Owl List was one of the attractions for choosing this area to vacation.
We get to Cape Coral, pay $2 to cross a bridge, and begin our journey in search of the tiny owls. We look for wooden "T" pickets (The pickets serve 2 purposes. It provides a roost for the owls, and marks the burrow so that people don't step on them.) in yards and start to see a few. The day is almost at a close and the clouds start to take over the sky, but we didn't care so much, as we just wanted to spot a few and save the cameras for a better sky on another day. We spot our first occupants:

They were so small! What we didn't see until further inspection was another one was on the ground. So there are 3 of them in this photo! We spotted a few more along some neighborhood streets, but this was our only one with multiple owls. We marked our locations on the map and planned for another day. We couldn't wait to get back!

Even though our first day was a bust photographically, we just hoped for good weather so that we could do it all over again tomorrow! And the tomorrow we hoped for arrived and what a day it was! Tune in tomorrow for the "real" start to our vacation!

NOTE: Getting to any place in SW Florida it seems, could cost you a small fortune. The state nickels and dimes you for everything. Crossing a bridge, for instance can cost you $2 to $6 as I have found. Parking at a public beach usually cost $2 an hour, or $8 for the day. I spent alot of time at various places and crossed many bridges. I also went to several beaches, parked, payed, and left a few minutes later, either because I didn't like the beach or got rained out, BUT... I did enjoy every minute there and would go back if the opportunity arose in a heartbeat! (Although my wallet protests!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sneek Peek

(Click photo to see the red eye!)

I am back from Florida and have too many files to go thru, but have found this preview as I go along the way. The Roseate Spoonbill was a "must see" and I was lucky enuff to stumble across a few feeding in a flooded out area. What a beautiful creature!

Many many more to come!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ding Darling Anyone?

I am headed to Florida this coming Monday for a week, and am very excited to be visiting a vacation bucket-list destination at long last. Ding Darling is renowned for its birding and especially its waders/shorebirds which was the huge draw for me.

Now I ask...Has anyone been there and would you have any tips for me? I am also visiting Cape Coral for their Burrowing Owls, and will try to visit as many of their area parks as possible, but other than Ding Darling, I'm not sure what other locales might be a really good hotspot. So I ask my blogger buddies, what do you know about Ding Darling/Sanibel/Captiva Island or Fort Myers?

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Some interesting shots of Killdeer at the fluddle I talked about yesterday.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Assorted Peeps

Over the past few months, I have been checking a local fluddle that seems to never dry up. I've saved a few photos to post about when all is said and done, and the fluddle has dried up. That day is today. It enticed many types of peeps, but getting good photos was a whole other story. It was a tough shot at any time of day, but I managed a few that were blog-worthy. I also want to note that identifying these waders was very tough, so if you want to argue an ID, please do!

Least Sandpiper (?)

Long-billed Dowitcher

Greater Yellowlegs

Least Sandpipers(?) landing

An assortment of peeps including Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and last but not least, mystery peeps. The smallest peeps in this scene I cannot ID. Can you?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Old Friend

This 10 pointer has plenty of years on him, and I know this because I see him every year. He still looks quite healthy, and his rack is still very impressive, but I always recognize him because of the spread. He has a very wide rack extending a considerable distance past his ears, and is very proportional on both sides which catches my eye every time. But it is his eyes that really get me, because there are a few of bucks that might match his description, but this one has very recognizable eyes and snout. He must be very smart to be this old, as I would date him being at least 9 years old, as when I first saw him 6 years ago, he was a young buck at about 3 years at the earliest, as he had a mature rack, but he could have been older. Good luck this year old fella!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surprising Fly By

While shooting butterflies, a startling number of geese took flight just a few hundred yards away. They reached a photo pleasing altitude as they flew close by. Luckily, my f-stop was cranked up for some bit of background cloud definition.

This Blogger photo looks fuzzy, click photo for much better detail.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Heavy Breather

Two deer were about to cross the road as I drove around a curve. They take off into the woods and then one of the deer decided to head in another direction. This deer here didn't know if she should follow, but as I was approaching, it decided to stay in the woods. She stopped to catch her breath captured here in these photos.