After returning from Costa Rica with over 250 lifebirds, I wondered if there was one place in the United States that I could go over a long weekend and pick up a few more. I decided on Florida, since there are a few birds there that aren't found elsewhere in the United States, such as the Limpkin, Black-whiskered Vireo, White-crowned Pigeon and others. Plus, I had heard good things about "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and was a little curious about it.
I flew into Tampa, rented a car, and drove down toward Ft. Myers. Along the way, I kept noticing nesting platforms in use by both Bald Eagles and Ospreys, as well as Boat-tailed Grackles, a Smooth-billed Ani, and some of the more common birds. I arrived at the toll bridge to Sanibel Island at dusk, and headed for my hotel.
Early the next morning, I got up to drive over to the refuge. It was closed. I was about one and a half hours too early.
In the meantime, I decided to investigate the rest of the island, and that turned out to be pretty neat. I pulled into a parking lot near the channel between Sanibel and Captiva Island, I found the estuary full of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Tricolored Herons. There were Willets and Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, and lots of Laughing Gulls, Black Skimmers, and several kinds of terns flying over the ocean. One of the terns was a Little Tern, which was a new one for me.
I returned to "Ding" Darling an hour later, and this time the gate was open. I noticed a lot of wading birds in the ponds along the road, such as Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, and Little Blue Herons. There was also a White Ibis walking along the road, and Anhingas perched on the tops of bushes, holding their wings out to dry them.
I took a walk along one of the trails, and noticed alligators and a few migrants (but not many). Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most common bird, but I also spotted a Black-whiskered Vireo and a Mangrove Cuckoo. It was also fun to see a lot of the more common east coast species, such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker , Northern Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, and Northern "Yellow-shafted" Flicker.
Leaving Sanibel Island, I pulled off at the beach immediately after the bridge, and spotted a few Wilson's Plovers mixed in with some dowitchers and other Calidris sandpipers.
My next stop was Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge near West Palm Beach. I had originally planned to go via the Everglades, but I concluded that it would be quicker to cut straight across past Lake Okeechobee. According to the field guide, I might also see an Everglade Kite and/or a Short-tailed Hawk in the area.
There weren't many places to pull off on this road, and the landscape was very flat and unfeatured. However, I hadn't gotten halfway to the lake when I spotted an Everglade Kite, perched on a fencepost right next to the freeway! The tiny problem was, there was no shoulder!! I had nowhere to pull off the road. I tried to double back at the next exit, but of course it was already gone by the time I got back. Along this road, I also spotted several Short-tailed Hawks, in trees or circling overhead.
After arriving on the east coast, I decided to drop by Loxahatchee the same day. I walked along a trail that led deep into a mangrove. The scenery was amazing, but all I saw there was a single Pileated Woodpecker. Afterwards, I decided to investigate another trail in a more open swamp. I had a lot better luck here, including a Mississippi Kite flying overhead, a Crested Caracara perched on a treetop in the distance, a Great Horned Owl hooting in the nearby woods, a Least Bittern trying to conceal itself in the tall reeds, and a Limpkin perched low on a tree branch!