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Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge 
After the storm

I had planned on writing this article after Pam and I got back from Florida in late November. We had gone down to spend Thanksgiving with Pam's mother and family. While we didn't lug our camera equipment, I brought along the digital point-and-shoot to take some holiday pictures of the family and to take a few shots of the hurricane damage on the west coast of Florida, particularly our favorite wading and shore bird locations, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

Well time slipped by, the Christmas holiday season has come and gone, and I find myself right smack in the middle of January. I do feel however, that the information is still timely because so many photographers head down there in February and March to photograph the abundance of birds that grace the shores of this beautiful area. This was an area that was hit so hard by the hurricanes of the 2004 season. So I felt that it would make sense to check it out for future trips.

What I didn't plan on, and no one did for that matter, was what happened on the other side of the world, since that visit to Sanibel.

Please allow me to take a moment to express our thoughts and prayers to the now over 228,000 people killed and their families devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and many other areas of South East Asia. It was very sobering to watch this unbelievable natural disaster on the television, never mind experiencing it first hand.

Our little visit to Florida to see the damage from Hurricane Charley, paled by comparison, yet it provided Pam and I with a very real sense of just how fragile our earth is, and yet its amazing ability to regenerate. 


Little Blue Heron

In a way, it has changed, and perhaps placed, a higher value on the photographs we take. Obviously, not because we took them, but because we now have a much stronger appreciation of just how valuable those things we photograph in nature really are.

Some of the most amazing stories coming out of these natural disasters has to do with the survival of wildlife. It appears that through various means, animals sense the impending danger and either take flight or "hunker down" as one ranger at Ding Darling put it.

Hurricane Charley passed almost directly over the islands of Sanibel, Captiva and the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Winds of 145 mph and the severe tidal surge significantly damaged up to 75% of the homes and businesses on Sanibel and Captiva and about 70% of the trees. Most of the non-native vegetation is gone. 

Those tall beautiful Australian Pines that lined the road along Captiva are gone. I'm very pleased to say that, in spite of the obvious damage Hurricane Charley did to this Gulf Coast area, the wildlife is thriving. 

Ding Darling NWR survived very well. While there was obvious damage to the surrounding areas, we breathed a sigh of relief as we drove through the refuge. You could clearly see the effects of the hurricane. In places, the mangroves and other trees were heavily damaged, twisted and mangled. The taller tree canopy received significant damage as it was most exposed to the storm, and there is some concern this could allow more invasive plant life to take hold. Yet the wildlife was thriving.

We saw just about every species of bird in the refuge that we would normally see. Great Egret, Anhinga, Cormorant, Black Crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Roseate Spoonbill, White and Brown Pelicans, Ibis, Wood Storks, Little Blue Herons, and we saw a number of alligators. 

Word has it that two other very popular locations, Corkscrew NWR west of Naples and the Venice rookery in Venice, survived serious damage as well.

While I can't speak from the point of a naturalist, as a photographer things looked very good indeed. Much like the great Yellowstone fire of 1988 that burned about 45% of the park, nature has a way of righting itself, and coming out stronger than before.

At times like this we take stock of our place on this earth - as someone who appreciates nature and its wildlife, as someone who enjoys its endless beauty, and has the privilege of photographing it.

Captiva, where are the trees?

A lone survivor

There was once dense vegetation here


Black Crown Night Heron

Great Blue in Flight

Immature Ibis

An alligator eyes me, hmm a photographer for breakfast?



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