Sanibel and Captiva are barrier islands that lie a few miles off the west coast of Fort Myers, Florida. My wife Lisa and I recently vacationed there and had a wonderful time. To the credit of the residents and friends of the island, they have protected the island from over-development and have kept it from becoming another high-rise, fast food tourist trap. About 45% of Sanibel has been set aside for the preservation of natural habitats by organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Over 5,000 acres on the bay side of the island is the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named in honor of the Pulitzer prize-winning political cartoonist and wildlife system pioneer Jay Norwood Darling. The rest of the island is privately owned but is subject to the laws of a strict Land Use Plan. With the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve less than a 2 hour drive from Sanibel, this whole area of southwestern Florida is a wildlife photographer’s dream! Add to this beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and shell covered beaches (the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are considered among the best shelling areas in the world) you’re in a photographer’s wonderland.
The week Lisa and I vacationed on the island just happened to coincide with a week of special events held annually at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge called “Ding Darling Days.” One of the special days closed the refuge to all vehicular traffic so you could walk or bike all the trails without any cars around. We took advantage of this opportunity and rode the 8-mile round-trip Wildlife Trail through the refuge. We saw numerous birds including the Roseate Spoonbill, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, and a Reddish Egret. We were amazed at how close we could get to the birds without them flying off. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron below was feeding along the edge of the water and we had just watched it eat a small tree crab. I was about 10 feet from it when I got this shot. Serious wildlife and bird photography usually requires a long telephoto lens in the range of 400mm – 800mm to properly fill the frame with often small and distant subjects. These lenses are very expensive so I was very happy that some of the birds let me get close since I was using a moderate telephoto Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens!
In addition to all the wildlife, the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular on Sanibel and Captiva. From where we were staying on the island, the sun rose directly behind the city of Fort Myers so all the buildings were silhouetted on the horizon and along with some nice clouds to reflect the beautiful light of the rising sun, the sunrises were wonderful. The image below was taken the morning of our last day on the island, and was the best sunrise of the week.
One final thought if you plan to visit the island….it’s a wonderful place to relax, enjoy the beach, bike, sightsee, and eat great food especially in mid-October after all the summer tourists have gone. However, there is a very tiny biting insect called a “no-see-um” that you need to know about. They are worst at dawn and dusk and their bites cause itchy red bumps that last for days. Lisa and I have been home almost a week and the itching has finally stopped and the bumps are starting to go away. We had some good insect spray which helped a little but wasn’t greatly effective. We found out too late from some local islanders that a coating of Avon Skin Soft applied to all exposed body parts will keep them from biting. Be sure to get some Benadryl spray or hydrocortisone cream, either will relieve the itching!
To see more of my photography of Sanibel and Captiva Islands as well as Everglades National Park, please visit my gallery here.
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