Monday, March 10, 2014

Mar 10 (Day 69) - Frigatebirding at JN "Ding" Darling NWR

Today was a simply gorgeous day here on Sanibel Island. I awoke well before sunrise and hit the road in the dark. I did not have my entire kit with me since I would be staying at the refuge again tonight. I first headed off the island to Bunche Beach where I was going to look for the mythical Mangrove cuckoo. My 2.5-hour search was fruitless. Although I was focused on cuckoo hunting in the mangroves, I did stick my head out to the beach for a few minutes. What I found was a nice array of shorebirds, skimmers, and terns. This looks like a FANTASTIC photography spot should anyone be in this area in the future. I did take a few minutes to nail this Western sandpiper; This is a species that I don't often see in Massachusetts. I did 40 miles on the bike today: 26 miles to Bunche Beach and back and 2 7-mile loops around the refuge.

Western Sandpiper

After the unsuccessful cuckoo search, I returned to the NWR where I spent the remainder of the day. Libby, the Biologist who showed me around yesterday, joined me again for several laps of the Wildlife Drive on our bikes. The highlight of the day was unquestionably the Magnificent frigatebird (#243) that flew over the refuge in the middle of the day. I spotted something suspicious looking WAY up in the sky while we were stopped to look at another bird. As soon as I looked at it with my binoculars I realized what it was. This was a huge find for me given how difficult the cuckoo and the Short-tailed hawk have been. I really did not want to miss 3 Florida birds. I am going to try Bunche Beach for the cuckoo again on my way off the island tomorrow morning. This is my last chance for the cuckoo;  Now that I have frigatebird, I can focus all of my efforts after tomorrow morning on finding Short-tailed hawk.

Libby wheeling along Wildlife Drive

Frigatebird WAY up high

More remarkable than the birds I saw today though was the welcome I received from the staff at the refuge. I spoke with at least a dozen different folks today, and each of them expressed great interest in the project and a desire to help in any way he or she could. I received a guided tour of the Visitor's Center, and I was furnished with a refuge T-shirt from the gift shop. I was also given a stuffed blue goose (the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuges) that will grace the front of my bike moving forward. The frigatebird appeared not long after the stuffed goose was bequeathed to me, so I hope it will bring me continued birdfinding luck in Florida and beyond. "Ding" Darling is certainly one of the crown jewels of the refuge system; It is one of the top 5 visited refuges year after year. Wildlife Drive is paved and makes for an ideal bike ride should you ever be in the area.

The folks at the refuge also contacted some local press on my behalf. This has led to some very interesting developments. The most notable of these is that I will be attending the Red Sox spring training game in Fort Myers as a VIP guest tomorrow! There might also be a chance to talk to some additional media-types at the game so stay tuned on that front. Sonia, my girlfriend, arrives in Tampa on the night of the 13th, so I will pedal furiously the next few days to make it there to see her! Here are some parting shots I took right at sunrise this morning.

Great blue heron

Same Great heron as sun rose


  1. Just for fun I googled "mangrove cuckoo" and nemesis. Ended up with a bit over 1,000 hits, and some interesting stories. So, you are not alone in your quest! Good luck, and enjoy the experience.

  2. I saw a Great Blue Heron here in Colorado today. What a beautiful bird!