Florida is not just popular for “snow birds”, it is popular for all kinds of birds. One of the hottest attractions for bird photographers is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island near Ft. Meyers. The refuge is part of the United States Wildlife Refuge System. It is famous for its migratory bird population. Most photographers will find plenty to shot along the four miles of Wildlife Drive that takes you through mangrove tree forests and tidal flats. What makes a photographer’s life even more interesting is that Sanibel Island is a tourist attraction by itself, with nice beaches and good restaurants, although most choose to go straight to the beaches. It is a relaxing place to be while I don’t take pictures, and certainly makes it easy to convince my family to come along.
The hours of operation is my principle complaint. The refuge opens at 7 a.m. and closes at sunset. It also closes every Friday. I anxiously waited outside of the gate every morning, watched the sun rising behind me, missed the best light of day, and the best bird action of the morning when most of birds take off together from the tidal flats they spent the night at. Well, U.S. government is not known to be photographer friendly.
Nevertheless, Ding Darling is a bird photographer’s paradise. What is remaining after 7:00am is still enough to give any wildlife photographer a real treat. There are plenty wake up calls after 7:00am.
And plenty of action even the light is not the best.
The most intriguing bird at Ding Darling is probably the Spoonbill. God must have thought the feathers are too pretty. He gave her an ugly head to be fair to the entire bird species. Nevertheless, I love her just for her feather.