Monday, December 13, 2021

Tampa and Fort Myers Adventure, Day 4

[Composed 11/23/2021]

Today's plan was to explore nearby Sanibel Island. We figured we'd start our day at the large green space, the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and explore from there. The 'Ding' Refuge website didn't give the impression that there was much in the way of trails in the area, so I figured we'd knock it out quickly and then move on.

Technically, my impression was correct. While the refuge is relatively large, there's only a 2 mile trail to walk and 4 mile section of road to drive. What I didn't appreciate from the website and map was just how glorious these short sections are. 3/10 of a mile into the Indigo Trail is a side trail and tower, which allowed us to view a hefty size gator and countless exotic (to me) birds. With my DSLR snapping pics, I was like a kid in candy store.

And that was basically our experience in the refuge: we were both thoroughly impressed with the birds and other wildlife we saw. After walking the length of the Indigo trail, including arriving at a dead end where we were met with a (harmless) Black Racer Snake, we made our way to Wildlife Drive. We walked against the traffic until we completed the loop and were back at our car.

The ecosystem was impressive at every level. From the large flocks of birds on display in the wetlands, to the single duck trying to catch lunch. As he swam through the relatively shallow creek next to us, small fish jumped out of the water to avoid becoming part of his meal. The perfect line of fish jumping was like a choreographed dance.

As we were walking along Wildlife Drive I noticed a group of folks snapping pics of the nearby canopy. I approached and ask what they were looking at. They pointed out the bird they were photographing and explained that it was a Mangrove Cuckoo. I snapped my own pics, as they explained that what I was looking at was a 'Lifer' bird. One of the folks in the group has been searching for this bird for 10 years, the other had been on the hunt for this species for 20 years. And just like that, I'd gotten to witness this amazing find.

After making it back to our car, we slowly drove Wildlife Drive, getting out to take more pics and explore as often as I could convince Shira to stop the car. Ultimately, we were both blown away by what we saw at the J. N. "Ding" Darling Refuge.

After the refuge, we made our way to one of the nearby beaches. Sanibel Island has a reputation for being a shell collector's paradise, and I have to admit, I had high hopes. What we found was a nice beach and all, but it wasn't anything spectacular. Of course, we went in the afternoon well after the beach had been picked over, and we didn't really come prepared for a day of playing at the beach. We sat and enjoyed the sun and surf for a bit, but after the amazing spectacle we'd seen at the refuge, the beach couldn't help but be underwhelming.

Because I'm always trying to squeeze in one more thing to do, I convinced Shira to stop at the lighthouse on Sanibel Island so we could do one burst of exploration. We again found ourselves on a beach without much interest in doing beachy activities, and now the wind had picked up so we were getting pummeled by wind and sand. This was looking like a fairly blah way to close out the day.

Fortunately, we kept walking and rounded the Eastern point of the island. I snapped a few pics of the lighthouse and we eventually made our way to the Northern side of the island, near Sanibel City Pier. Not only was this sheltered from the wind, but we managed to catch a beautiful sunset and even find a section of beach that had a heaping pile of shells to sift through. We left the island on a high note.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd have done the refuge, then taken in the National Shell Museum, and then taken our new found knowledge of shells and searched unnamed North beach for interesting specimens. Of course going to a crowded beach in the afternoon wasn't going to yield a romantic ambience or stretches of untouched heaps of shells. But I just couldn't resist the call of the sea!

Once back on the mainland we made our way to Dixie Fish Company at Fishermans Wharf. While my fish sandwich was OK, what really made the evening was the covid friendly open air digs, the delish Keylime Pie and the live music. Good times!

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