Sanibel Island, Ding Darling and Corkscrew Swamp Refuges Trip
April 2022

South West Florida Bird Trip
April 6 to April 12, 2022 

Wednesday April 6,2022
My wife Kelli, our friend Mark, and I traveled to South West Florida in search of birds.

    Kelli and I have not been back in 13 years. See our report from 2009,

    We flew into SW Florida International Airport on Wednesday April 6 on JetBlue out of Westchester County Airport. Our plane’s name was “Yes, I am a Natural Blue.”   Unfortunately our TV’s controls did not work on the way down, so no movie review. I had these infomercials on a repeated loop, without sound, all the way down.

    We arrived mid-morning on time to one of the nicest airports we know. Clean, bright and beautiful. We rented two cars from Budget and each got an SUV.

    Our first stop was the Cape Coral area to look for Burrowing Owls. We stopped at the visitor’s center just on the other side of the Cape Coral Bridge. Here we found a Cattle Egret, and an occupied Osprey nest, but did not see any burrows. We went inside to ask about the owls and a volunteer walked us back out to show us where the burrows were. They were right next to the parking lot and road. But no owls. A Brown Pelican did fly by. Somewhat disappointed we went back inside to pick up some material about visiting the area. When we left, I spotted a small figure near the burrows! An owl was out. He did not seem to mind the busy traffic whizzing by him or us for that matter.

Burrowing Owl

    We continued to the Cape Coral Public Library. We found lots of burrows but no owls. We headed to lunch but on the way out, across the street, an owl was right by the road. We circled the block, parked at the library again, and walked across the street. Two owls were out. 

Burrowing Owl

    After way too many photographs we headed to a nearby Bob Evans restaurant for lunch. I made a wrong turn and Mark bet us there. He texted that he had both an Eastern Meadowlark and a Loggerhead Shrike. We were minutes away and got great looks at both birds. A second shrike joined the first and we saw one ceremonially feed the other with a large bug. They were a mated pair.
Lunch was OK, not as good as we remembered Bob Evans could be.

Eastern Meadowlark

Loggerhead Shrike

    We headed to our hotel, but first stopped at a nearby Publix to pick up water, iced tea and snacks for the week. We stayed at the La Quinta Inn on Summerlin Road. This was a nice place 13 years ago. This time we were very disappointed. I think the pandemic paid a toll on this establishment. We got a room on the 3rd floor overlooking the parking lot; whereas Mark had one facing the pool. Both were handicap accessible, but out shower leaked all over the large bathroom floor. We had to use old towels to dam off the water. Out toilet was also slow draining, but they did fix that the first day. And we later found a cockroach in the room, no, not a Palmetto Bug. 

    Back to our trip. We rested a while, then headed down the road to Bunche Beach. The tide was very high so there were few birds. There was a very cooperative Willet along the shore. We also spotted a Magnificent Frigatebird, Bald eagle, and Osprey out over the water and later down the beach a Tri-colored Heron.


    We ate dinner at Buster’s Sports Tavern. It was very busy and noisy but lucked out with a table. A band played in another room. We shared the perogies appetizer and they were great. I enjoyed my Voodoo Shrimp. Kelli and Mark had the Greek Salad. Desserts were Key Lime Pies and Salted Caramel Chocolate Peanut butter ice-cream.

Thursday April 7, 2022
We waited for the free breakfast at the hotel which opened late after 7 AM. It was just OK and we will skip this for the next few mornings. Kelli noted that she wouldn't give any stars for the coffee as it was so weak.

    We traveled over to Sanibel Island to Ding Darling NWR and right onto the wildlife drive at 8 AM. The tide was not in our favor being high and still coming in. The first pond had our first Reddish Egret of the trip. A Little Blue Heron joined him and they spared and chased each other for the best feeding area. An unexpected find what an American Avocet. We heard a Prairie Warbler singing and we saw our first of many White Ibis.

Little Blue Heron                                                                            Reddish Egret

American Avocet                   Reddish Egret

    We birded at each water impoundment adding Dunlin, Willets, Great and Snowy Egrets and Ospreys. At one pond we had another Reddish Egret and a very close Tri-colored Heron. At one point a Swallow-tailed Kite soared overhead. 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Tricolored Heron

    We explored the short boardwalk at the mangrove overlook and found dozens of Mangrove Crabs climbing the trees. We spent a lot of time photographing them. A few fish were seen in the water at the overlook.

Mangrove Crab                     Brown Anole


    At the crossdike trail we hoped for a Mangrove Cuckoo, but the bright sun already made the day hot and the woods were silent. We did manage a glimpse of a Prairie Warbler.

    After the drive we stopped back at the visitors center to shop, explore and use the restrooms.

    Lunch was at the Island Cow. It was as good 13 years ago and the frickles (fried pickles) hit the spot. Their collection of muffins and bread were delicious.  I think I had Lt Dan’s Shrimp Tacos, while Kelli had the Pulled Pork Quesadilla and Mark had the Cow-a-Bunga Quesadilla.  We finished it off with more Key Lime Pie, with this one the best of the trip.

    Next was Point Ybel Lighthouse Beach Park. Not many birds, but did see Bottle-nosed Dolphins swimming close to swimmers and shore. We added laughing Gulls and Royal Tern. A Brown Pelican flew in and rested near the shore.  Much to our surprise, a Reddish Egret flew right at us and landed on the railing in front of us. 

Bottlenose Dolphin

Brown Pelican

Reddish Egret

    It hit 86 degrees so we spent time in the late afternoon at the hotel pool.

    We stopped at a Publix to pick up a few things we forgot like bug spray and clementine oranges. We ran across some unusual Coke flavors and tried some limited edition “Starlight” zero sugar Coca-Cola. It tasted a bit like cotton Candy. A couple of Glossy Ibis were at the edge of the parking lot,

Glossy Ibis

Friday April 8, 2022
Today will be cooler but breezy. We grabbed breakfast at a nearby 7-eleven and traveled the hour drive to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. We made reservations a few weeks prior to visit. Lots of Button Bush and Alligator Flag were in bloom along the boardwalk. The drier part of the boardwalk featured Red-shouldered Hawks, Great Crested Flycatchers, Northern Parula Warbler, and many Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The very rare Ghost Orchid was still there but not in bloom.

    At the Central Marsh Overlook we found several Wood Storks, along with many vultures soaring in the thermals. Three Swallow-tailed Kites were also seen.

Wood Stork                                                         Swallow-tailed Kite

    As we approached Lettuce Lake, we found a Raccoon searching the swamp for food. Then spied a Pileated Woodpecker close to the ground. 


    Lettuce Lake held numerous gators, along with Anhinga, Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

American Alligator and Little Blue Heron

Great Egret


    Barred Owl was found along with some small baby alligators.

Barred Owl

    We added Black and White Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush.

    Lunch was at Brooks Grill and Tavern along Immokalee Highway.  We shared some delicious Korean BBQ Cauliflower.  Mark had a huge Chicken Pot pie.  I had the Stuffed Jalapeno Street tacos. Kelli had a bison burger with fig jam, goat cheese and caramelized onions, mmmmm.  We had Ice-cream for dessert. Kelli and I shared a hot fudge sundae.

    Back at the hotel we hit the pool to relax. Dinner was at Denny’s. Another one and done as Kelli's omelet was greasy and the waitress was clueless. She tried to seat us as we made our way out.

Saturday April 9
We headed out early for an hour drive to the Florida Panther NWR. We had trouble finding the nature trails which were just off the exit from Interstate 75, Alligator Alley, on Route 29. We traveled a few miles up Route 29 before turning around. But luck was on our side as we found a Crested Caracara along the road.

Crested Caracara

    We eventually found the nature trails. There was a suspicious guy hanging around the entrance in a pick-up truck and he made his way to the parking area after we went in. I was nervous for our cars, but we did not have anything of value in them. We explored the half mile south trail, finding the usual birds. We tried the north trail, but it soon became wet and over grown so we headed back. We did not see any signs of Mountain Lions/Panthers

    At the parking lot we found the truck gone and two cars that had just arrived as other people were heading to the trails. 

    We headed on to the far side of the Big Cypress National Preserve and stopped at the Oasis Visitor Center. I heard a few Purple Martins. The water in front of the center had a great boardwalk and was full of alligators, Green Herons, and Night-Herons. We saw a Black-crown Night Heron fly off with a fish but accidentally dropped it onto the road. We watched a few cars and trucks run over and obliterate the birds would be lunch.

Green Heron

American Alligator

American Alligator

    We then  toured the Turner River Road Loop which included Wagon Wheel Road and Birdon Road. This 13 miles of dirt roads was all wash-boarded and shook us up a lot. I couldn’t wait to get off the dang road. Highlights were an accommodating Red-shouldered Hawk and a Loggerhead Shrike. Kelli got a great picture of a Wood Stork.


Red-shouldered Hawk

Wood Stork

    Our late Lunch was at the Diving Pelican way down in Everglades City. Kelli and I had the crab cake sandwich, and Mark the ahi tuna. We loved our crab cakes but dessert was more Key Lime Pie which was just OK.  We looked for some water views but did not find any. We did not get back till late afternoon. We rested and ate in the room after this long day.

    Since we had a very late lunch I had Taco Bell late and Kelli munched on cereal and chocolate.

Sunday April 10
Today we drove down to the Naples Botanical Garden. There was a free planned bird walk and we joined in. One of the leaders pointed out a cool Jade Vine from the Philippines before we met up for the walk.

Jade Vine

    The grounds are great and we heard a lot about the history and efforts of this fairly new botanical Garden. We walked the Uplands Trail but it was not very birdy. It was also dog day where people can take their dogs for a walk through the park in the morning. A very interesting idea. 

    In Lake Tupke, Mark finally tracked down a good look at a couple of pairs of Mottled Ducks in one of the ponds. We had another Loggerhead Shrike and made our way to the White Birding Tower. Here was were all the wading birds are. Tons of egrets and herons. We added Blue-winged Teal to our trip list. 

Mottled Duck

Blue-winged Teal

    On the way back to the entrance I took a few pictures of the variety of Orchids and some unusual looking plants

    Breakfast for Lunch at Joe’s Diner were Kelli enjoyed a Greek omelet with Kalamata olives, Mark some pancakes with strawberries and I some Huevos rancheros.

    We drove north and visited Harns Marsh. It was sunny and getting warmer. We added Common Gallinule, American Coot, and Limpkin. All three were quite vocal.

    Around the bend we found two families of Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

    On the walk back we started finding more and more Gray-headed Swamphen. This bird escaped captivity and is spreading all over Florida as an established species.

Gray-headed Swamphen

Great Blue Heron

    We freshened up back at the motel and headed to the Bimini Bait Shack for dinner. They do not take reservations, so it was a bit of a wait for a table. But it was worth it. One of our best meals of the trip. I loved the homage to the castaways of Gilligan’s Island

Over the bar reads  IYCTMWIMIWBYADT

    I got duped to asking the waitress what it means, and she responds  “If You Can Tell Me What It Means, I Will Buy You A Drink Tomorrow”


    Mark had the seafood tacos, Kelli the crab cakes, (needed more sauce) and I the Fried Seafood Basket combo. Kelli had a Key Lime Pie, I the rum cake (disappointing), and Mark the coconut cream pie. We loved the atmosphere of this place



Monday April 11, 2022
Today is our last day and we headed back to J. N. Ding Darling NWR Wildlife Drive. We added Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and a few Roseate Spoonbill. Most or all the spoonbills and White pelicans have left the refuge. If we visited just a couple weeks earlier, we would have seen more.

White Ibis

    We walked the crossdike trail again and had a Belted Kingfisher at the beginning and at the other end we heard a Mangrove Cuckoo. We tried hard to get a look but it just didn’t want to come out of the thick Mangroves.

    After the wildlife drive we drove out to Captiva Island. There was no real place to bird, except if you wanted to pay $35. It was mainly just houses. 
We backtracked back onto Sanibel and had lunch at the Sunset Grill. Kelli had pancakes and eggs over easy with bacon and enjoyed it. I had a great breakfast sandwich. Mark had a bagel with lox and cream cheese. A great palce for breakfast

    Our last birding spot of the trip was Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. There is an extensive boardwalk next to a lake and through both wetlands and upper drier areas. We did not add any new species, but got to enjoy more herons and limpkins. Some of the benches were adorned with quotes about nature.

Little Blue Heron

                                                Mayan Cichlid                                Florida Gar

    Dinner was one of our better meals of the trip. We went to Summelin Cafe. Kelli had a tuna salad with craisens and apples on a croissant. I had the chicken souvlaki platter and Mark the matza ball soup and French dip. Dessert was chocolate and chocolate mint icecream

Tuesday April 12
We had an easy 10 am flight back to Westchester.

Thanks for reading!

Michael and Kelli

Read our other trip reports at Kelli and Mike's Adventures