We celebrated our anniversary recently by returning to one of our favorite places, Sanibel Island, Florida. Sanibel is known for sandy beaches, sea shells and as one of the top ten birding locations in the country. It is home to 245 species of birds in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which makes up a good part of the island, as you can see on this map:
On December 4, 2016, our first day into the refuge, the tide was low and wading birds were very active. We stopped at the Mangrove Overlook and were helping a man and two women from Orlando to identify a few of the birds. We saw an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron in the distance that they asked about and then right over us flew an adult Bald Eagle. We moved on to the Tower Overlook and I said to Dan he might get some interesting shots if we went up into the Tower. (I had decided to just use my binoculars and bird that day.) The Orlando group had stayed down along the drive, but soon joined us to ask about a couple birds. "Oh, that's a young Yellow-crowned Night Heron walking along the shore," I said. Then, the man asked, "Well, what was that other bird following behind it, the stripe-y one?" The red mangroves had concealed the bird from our higher vantage point. I stood at the railing, looking down, shaking my head and trying to think what 'stripe-y' bird he might have seen. Then, I saw movement! "Is that your bird?" I asked. "Yes!" We watched the bird creeping along a mangrove branch. Then it hopped down to hunt in the water and I saw the barred flanks, the 'stripes' the man had seen. It took me a few seconds to put the pieces together because I had never seen this bird at Ding before, but had seen it in other coastal marshes. "Gosh, that's a Clapper Rail!" I exclaimed, and Dan stepped in to get these photos of this secretive bird.
The informative sign on the deck also had a QR code to the Bird Checklist, I downloaded it and saw that yes, Clapper Rails are coded "o" for occasional, seen only a few times in the season. We got back to the Visitors Center and reported the sighting and showed them Dan's photos. The volunteer/birder said it was a "Good spot!" The birds are there, but so difficult to see as they move through the mangroves and come out in the open rarely. We were extremely lucky and we give the man from Orlando full credit for first seeing this bird! The card for the Clapper Rail was added to the sightings list at the Visitor's Center.
The full checklist for Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge can be downloaded from this page:
To read more about the Clapper Rail:
We saw many more species in the refuge and on the beach. We are adding photos to the gallery as we go through them all. If you want to take a look at the whole gallery use this link:
Here are a few photos. A Sanderling feeds on the creature in a Coquina shell.
A Snowy Egret was on the beach fishing several mornings.
A juvenile Wood Stork moved its bill through the brackish water and stirred with its foot to find food.
A mixed flock of White Ibis, Snowy Egrets and a single Roseate Spoonbill work in a Refuge pool late one afternoon.
This Roseate Spoonbill was closer to the shoreline of a tidal pool.
Sunset silhouettes this mixed flock of egrets and Roseate Spoonbills.
A Reddish Egret caught a small fish.
A Green Heron landed right in front of us as it was being chased by another.
There was one other rare bird we saw, this Brown Pelican, subspecies Ruficapilla, ho ho ho!
It was fun to get away for a short southward migration. We enjoyed special times with our dear friends, saw beautiful birds and other creatures. We fully experienced the cold weather upon our return but now take heart in knowing the Solstice is past and days will be growing longer. However you may celebrate the holidays, we share with you this last image. It is the decorated window of Moonbeams in Downtown Kirkwood, one of my very favorite shops.
Happy Holidays ~ We wish you Joy and Peace!
Margy and Dan