In mid-February we returned for my seventh visit to a land I love – Sanibel Island – an hour’s drive from the Fort Myers Airport but a step back into old Florida.  There are no traffic lights (but, yeah, traffic), and no buildings taller than a palm tree.  Inhabitants:  Lots of sea birds, bicyclists, wading birds, families, white heads (that’s me, too).  Also, various rodents, rabbits, raccoons, and a few gators (saw one.)  Add  nature walks and a grand wildlife refuge, the Ding Darling, beach life, shell collecting, fishing, Sunday afternoon alfresco jazz concerts, kayaking, or napping and life’s pretty good.

The banner image above was made late in the day – about 5:00 PM – along the wildlife loop through the refuge.  We called it their cocktail hour, and it preceded ours.  The gatherings vary day to day and can frequently be disappointing.  This day was rewarding.  I was pleased with the variety of birds, and I was struck by their clannishness … very interesting that they gather with their fellows but also share the sand spit with other two-legged, winged citizens.  It’s a major draw for bird watchers and for photographers.  Some of the stove-pipe telephoto lenses look as though they could also be launching tubes for small rockets.


Until the causeway was opened in 1964 there was only ferry access to the island .  Nevertheless, there were backup delays for the ferries as people sought the island beaches, particularly for shelling.  Today, they’re still out early most mornings searching for the find that washed up during the night.




These two willets were also out early among the shells but looking, rather, for previous tenants of the shells.



Parts of the beach are populated by flocks of Royal Terns, Herring and Laughing Gulls, Willets, and Sanderlings.  They will part for the beach walkers and dogs will cause a liftoff but they quickly return to the beach after the hazard has passed.  I think they’re all fun except the gulls which Barbara has always called “rats with wings.”  I admire the rest of them because they forage for themselves; gulls less so as they’re quick to take another’s catch.

As one who began to lose his hair in my teens I’m envious of the Royal Terns, even on bad hair days.  However, they also suffer from receding hairlines.





We drove through the refuge almost every day except Friday when it’s closed.  For those who enjoy the sea birds and wading birds in their habitat it’s generally always interesting.  One can become jaded, however.  After seeing ibis all over the refuge and then in people’s yards and in the drainage ditches I began to refer to them as being as common as chickens.  Then, as though to taunt me, a pair showed up on our beach.



My search for several years has been for the flashy roseate spoonbills.  We saw several this year but I still haven’t captured the group image I’d like so … have to go back again next year.  You’ll see a half dozen or so in the banner panorama, and here’s a nice single.


The color, of course, is striking; otherwise, they’re ugly, with heads like wood storks and that long canoe paddle bill which, blessedly, is submerged above.


At a feeding pond one day I captured this tri-colored heron.  They skip across the water’s surface with much splashing to stir up any fish, and then they spear them for dinner.






The other end of the day found us on the beach pavilion at our “old Florida” preferred place of stay, Beachview Cottages.  Here we enjoyed the chit-chat with other guests, and mellowing while awaiting the elusive green flash.


On this night I felt privileged to have been there to capture this twilight with Wilma and Wilbur Willet.  I look forward to seeing them again next year.







Florida, Sanibel, Winter White Stuff – February 2016


Sanibel Island and also Florida’s east coast – February 2013


Sanibel Island & Ding Darling Preserve – February 2009



We managed to escape on the last flight out of Philadelphia before winter storm Jonas (OK, maybe not literally the last but it felt that way).  Even with the last minute struggle to change our flight to Friday night and to make sure there was a car and a room in Sanibel, we were still apprehensive.  Indeed, after taxiing out to the runway the pilot announced a further delay in order to DE-ICE THE WINGS.  How comforting was that??  I was convinced he would abort but we made it and slipped in to our cottage about 1:00 in the morning.  Our first view of the beach the next morning (while Jonas was howling at home) …. WHITE STUFF …  but, a very comfortable kind.

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Yet more white stuff is seen here.  Sanibel Island is known for being a shelling paradise.  For some reason the shape and position of the island in the currents of the Gulf of Mexico result in extraordinary deposits of shells with each high tide.

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It’s something to do every day.  The fanatics are on the beach before sunrise with headlamps, searching for the elusive and therefore prized Junonia.  It’s so rare, finders wind up with their pictures in the paper.  Aside from the Junonia, however, we enjoyed our beach walks and inevitably came home with shells that caught our eye.  The above sight is typical.  The image is now a part of my place mat collection.


Another exciting activity is photographing the sea birds that meet daily on the beach.  Aside from the routine gulls we also enjoyed Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, skittering Sanderlings, and clusters of Royal Terns having bad hair days.  The terns are tolerant of walking humans ( dogs, another story) and gather in groups at sometimes the same spots along the beach each morning.  I’ve enjoyed photographing them over my fourteen years of occasional visits.  I posted recently about the need to get prone to capture some scenes and the terns are certainly in that category.

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I particularly love this image below.  He seemed to be zoned out in the joy of the morning sunlight and breeze.  I heard him murmuring, “Hey, Dude, is this cool or whaaat?”  I absolutely agreed.

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The tern was chillin’ in the sunrise along with others also drawn to dawn.  Most of us react to the drama of sunrises and sunsets and though I’ve seen and photographed lots of them I’m not immune to the next one.  Here’s one morning in which the sun was filtered more than usual but there was still light for the early morning shell seekers.

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And at the other end of the day, the sun’s farewell.

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Not every day was warm or clear or sunny, but at its worst it was better than being up home in February.  Even a foggy morning calls a photographer.

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Another major attraction of Sanibel is the 5200 acre “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  We managed to drive through on the eight mile Wildlife Trail almost every day.  It’s best to do so slightly before and after low tide as the bird life is then feasting on creatures from the exposed sand flats.  One sees a great deal of White Pelicans, Ibis, Herons, Willets, and Cormorants.  In fact they report over 200 species of birds.  Here are some selected captures.

Wilbur and Wilma Willet

Wilbur and Wilma Willet


Doc, I have this really bad neck pain.

Doc, I have this really bad neck pain.


This one made me literally laugh out loud.  They tolerate humans being close and I was about six feet away from his bath.

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Finally, an after-breakfast Cormorant Cleanup.

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This was a nice experience for us, and certainly warmer and sunnier than February at home.  We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed and informal atmosphere at Beachview Cottages on Sanibel Island.  As always, glad to be home but also wondering why??


There is a gallery of additional images from the two weeks.  To view it please click here.