Playing Among the Trees That Walk!

Playing Among the Mangroves on Sanibel Island

By Rachelle Siegrist

wes and rachelle siegrist at Ding Darling National Wildlife RefugeWes and I had a marvelous time this past week down in Ft. Myers, FL! We decided to celebrate our upcoming 25th Wedding Anniversary two months early, while taking advantage of the beautiful weather there this time of year. After landing in Punta Gorda last Monday morning, we hit the ground running and spent the day on beautiful Sanibel Island, with our week long adventures starting at J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Home to over 200 different species of birds, the refuge can be enjoyed from the 4.25 mile wildlife drive, as well as several trails leading off of the main drive, each varying in length and offering a variety of views of the mangrove forests, as well as wonderful birding possibilities.

roseate spoonbill in ding darling national wildlife refugeI was thrilled to see a grouping of Roseate Spoonbills resting on an exposed sandbar, as some meticulously preened, while others just slept.  Several more flew above us at times, enhancing the brilliant blue sky with a burst of bright pink! Rounding a curve, we came upon and stopped to watch an active flock of Willets quietly preening and feeding at the water’s edge.  A boisterous Osprey flying over and calling scared the group of long legged Willets, who then took off into the sky, circling several times above, before landing back in the same location they left minutes before.

willets at ding darling national wildlife refugeEach opening along the drive, opened up into yet another grand view of the dense mangrove forests, offering new species of birds to be seen.  We saw a beautiful White Pelican, various herons, egrets, warblers, ducks and more, and a couple of the small marshy beaches, exposed by the low tide, were covered with crabs all competing to see who had the largest claw, as they walked about waving it back and forth in the air!

crabs at ding darling national wildlife refugeAlong the way, we stopped to climb to the top of the observation tower, offering a lovely 360 degree view of the 6,300 acre nature preserve. Being low tide, you could easily see the sandy bottom of the marsh and it was great fun watching the mullet jumping out of the water, at times several feet up into the air, appearing as if they were doing it simply for the sheer joy of it! Everywhere we went, Ospreys could be seen and heard, as well as the call of their young desperately wanting to be fed!

osprey in ding darling national wildlife refugeSlowly driving along, we were delighted to spot a couple of Bobolinks right alongside the road! Having only seen them once before, it was a real treat to see these little beauties once again, and so close at that! Amazingly they were very obliging, and let us watch and photograph them for several minutes before disappearing into the nearby mangroves.

bobolink in ding darling national wildlife refugeWe relaxingly continued on our way, stopping occasionally to take photographs of birds and to walk different trails, just to explore and see what we may find. While doing so, I was simply delighted to be surrounded at times by huge Sea Grapes, Strangler Figs (which appear to be strangling their host tree, hence their name) and Gumbo Limbo trees, a few of my favorites!

rachelle siegrist in ding darling national wildlife refugeLeaving Ding Darling, we headed for Lighthouse Beach Park, located at the tip of Sanibel Island. It’s the home of the first lighthouse located on Florida’s Gulf coast north of Key West, which was completed in 1884, being first lit on August 20th with kerosene oil nonetheless.

rachelle siegrist with lighthouse on sanibelThe seemingly endless, sandy beach itself is wonderful for shelling, and we did just that, spending a couple of hours walking along finding a variety of beautiful shells, and other interesting sea life, while wading in the water. I was also delighted to be able to watch several dolphins playing and jumping out of the water just off the shore for quite sometime!

dolphins at lighthouse beach park on sanibelOnly shells which have no residents and are empty can be collected, but it was great fun to watch the hundreds of conch shells appear to be marching up and down the sandy beach, as their squishy inhabitants moved along, flipping themselves over with their “foot”, and at times burying themselves while making tunnels in the sand.

conch shell on sanibel islandLater in the week we enjoyed visiting these same parks, discovering and seeing new things each time! During our 2nd visit we decided to enjoy the Ding Darling area from a kayak. So for two glorious hours we slowly paddled our way through a narrow saltwater trail lined with mangrove forests. Their branches dropping into the water below appeared as legs, making them look as if they were walking out into the open water! Branches hanging from above made us feel like we were kayaking through an amazon river as we went along, stopping at times to watch the Sheephead, Jack, Tarpon and small jellyfish swim below, as well as the numerous Mullet jumping out of the water, at times excitingly close to our kayak!

rachelle siegrist kayaking in ding darling national wildlife refuge

kayaking in ding darling national wildlife refugeQuietly paddling and meandering our way through the twists and turns of the mangrove lined water, we came upon a variety of birds, including a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night Heron!  Once again the cries of numerous Ospreys could be heard as they soared above, with fish in talons, bringing them back to eat and share with their young.  I was in heaven to say the least and was hoping our adventure could last forever!

Yellow-crowned night heron in ding darling national wildlife refugeNeedless to say, it was another great adventure during our week spent in the sunny paradise! In my next couple of posts I’ll be sharing photos and stories from our visit to Corkscrew Swamp, and fun in the sun while swimming with my family at gorgeous Lovers Key State Park on Mother’s Day weekend.  I’ll also be sharing a few of our latest paintings.

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Until next time . .

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