So we set out with our friends yesterday afternoon at 4 p.m. to help them meet their challenge of finding 100 different species of birds during their short stay on Sanibel. At 4:00 p.m. when they met us, they'd already seen 93 species of birds on their own. Our job was to help them meet their goal and we had planned a strategy of going to places we knew they had a good chance of seeing birds they'd missed.
First up, possible Painted Buntings in the backyard of one of our former neighbors on Sanibel. She graciously let us sit on her screened-in back porch and watch (and photograph) through her screen. After a few moments we heard the characteristic "chit" call of a Painted Bunting and a female bunting came to the feeder (a tube in a cage that deters squirrels and grackles from the seed but allows small birds to feed.) A little more patience payed off because into the feeder came a brightly colored male bunting amid a chorus of "oooohs." Painted Bunting was number 94! Check.
We next walked across a little bridge to the back part of the property in the hopes of picking up some other species. Don looked up and pointed.
We'd discovered a pod of birds — Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler and several Pine Warblers!! One was feeding on the tip of a pine and flew out into the sun. Pine Warbler was Number 95!
We were going to continue on the path but a napping alligator made us think otherwise. In Florida one ALWAYS needs to be cautious about encountering 'gators and give them a wide berth.
Onward to the Bailey Tract, (a marshy area that is a separate part of Ding Darling NWR). The sun was getting lower. We were betting a Red-winged Blackbird would show up among many of the grackles that come to roost there. But, what! Tonight there were no blackbirds to be found. We walked a little further into the tract and there, on the right, was a Sora Rail among the reeds. Number 97! Three more to go, would we make it? We decided to walk slightly further on the path. On the right, a beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron came in to land on a branch and was illuminated pink by the setting sun. Our friends already had this on their list.
Where to next? Lesser Scaup were a good bet. We had seen Lesser Scaup on the other end of Sanibel in newly opened Clam Bayou a few weeks ago. We came to where a dock overlooked the bayou. Scanning to the right brought up nothing. Don panned to the left and directed, "there they are, across the inlet." They were very teeny at this far distance, but still viewable. Yes, number 96!
Time was running out. The last part of our strategy was to go to our friend Harold's house where he had a Screech Owl roosting in a nest box on his property. He said it came out at 6:oo p.m. It was already 6:20 p.m. — quickly to Harold’s.
We arrived in the dimming light in his backyard, which fronts on a pond with cattails. We heard a Red-winged Blackbird loudly call its “Ok-ah-lee” song. It was roosting in the reeds. Number 98! All of a sudden Harold, who was scanning the far edge of the pond with his scope called out, "American Bittern!" Then it was joined by another American Bittern flying in near it. Number 99!! This was good.
All eyes turned to the Screech Owl box....waiting. Finally, at exactly 7:00 p.m. the Screech Owl stuck its head out of the box, Number 100!!!! We made it.
On to celebrate at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille Restaurant, an island favorite. It's named after the famous Doc Ford character in the Randy Wayne White mystery novels set on Sanibel.
Perfect ending to a birding adventure. Good birds, Good food, Good friends.
All photos taken in real time during the trip and copyright Lillian Stokes