Florida- a place I had never been before and someplace I only knew from stereotypes and jokes- retirees, oranges, heat, humidity, big bugs, presidential election snafus. Earlier this July, I had my first opportunity to visit the Sunshine State. My girlfriend’s family was having a family reunion of sorts during the July 4th week and they picked Sanibel Island for the location. The island is located off the coast of Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast and is connected to the mainland via bridge. The island has a bit of an interesting history and is fairly progressive in terms of recognizing the value of balancing development and natural spaces. The history is nicely recapped in the guidebook Living Sanibel (Amazon link), which I would highly recommend if you’re considering a trip to the area.
As I tend to do before any trip, I spent some time before the trip researching and trying to figure out where and what to photograph. Our flight to Florida was through Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic side so a we would be traveling through the Everglades on our way to Sanibel. Once in the Sanibel area, a trip to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was a given. In addition to Ding, the Audubon Society has preserved a huge Cypress swamp called the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary which is located back on the mainland in nearby Collier County. Outside of that, sunrises and sunsets would be a given!
Obviously, wildlife photography would be a major part of my photographic journeys but that posed a bit of a gear dilemma for me since I would be flying to Florida. I would be bringing my “Bigma” lens but that is too heavy to use well with a normal tripod. I have a very sturdy Induro tripod with matching gimbal head but that would present a packing challenge for my luggage. After thinking about it, I decided to gamble on another solution- a monopod. I picked up a Manfrotto 681B with a matching Manfrotto 234RC tilting head a week before our trip. Unlike the Induro option, I didn’t have to disassemble anything to fit it into my luggage. I had never used a monopod before so I was nervous and hoped it would work out.
Fast forward a couple days and I found myself trying to get out of the general Miami-Dade area (I managed to leave my Garmin Nav at home. Doh!) Rather than take I-75 for the quick trip through Alligator Alley, we opted for the more southern and scenic US Route 41 (also known as the Tamiami Trail). That route offers a number of airboat tours and we decided to stop at one called Gator Park. The tours are about 20-30 minutes long and reservations didn’t seem needed. Our airboat operator was easy going and was knowledgeable. It was a good value and I was able to get a great, close photo of a juvenile green heron. FYI- be prepared to get a little wet (so have a water resistant cover handy for your camera) because the 360 degree spins during the “high speed” part of your tour will throw up some water!
Continuing our push west, I had hoped to take the Loop Road located in Big Cypress National Preserve but the Loop Road is a nearly 30 mile drive on a slow speed dirt road. It would have to wait for another day. A nearby attraction that was a quick visit was the Kirby Storter Roadside Park. It’s cross between a rest stop and interpretive trail. The latter takes the form of a half mile elevated boardwalk that ends in a mature Cypress forest (This page provides a nice description of the trail). I found it to be quite nice, save for the humidity and mosquitoes. Probably owing to the fact that it does look just like a rest stop, we had the whole boardwalk all to ourselves during our visit. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife but I realize that this may be due to the time of year of our visit (the wet season).
Afternoon showers threatened during our brief stay at Kirby Storer but stayed away. After a long travel day (including a red eye flight), we finally headed west to our eventual destination for the week: Sanibel Island. This is just the start to all the photos from my trip so look for even more in a couple future blog posts!