Birding Sanibel Island and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
A soft breeze was pushing across the shallow waters of the eastern impoundment of the tidal basins off Wildlife Drive in the Ding Darling NWR, ruffling our hair and providing cooling relief from the ever-strengthening sun overhead. It was quiet, and an adult and juvenile Pied-billed Grebe were bobbing and preening in the shallow saltwater tidal flats on the right side of the rode--the Pine Island Sound side. Matty and I were crouched in shaggy grass behind a small red mangrove stand watching the two birds, captivated by the baby as he dove every now and then under the water only to pop up nearby, water beading and dripping from his dull brown feathers (just like his mama!). Eventually, however, a bird on the other side of the drive--the eastern impoundment side, which is the brackish freshwater basin, stole our attention and pulled us across the road and into the breeze. "What is that bird doing?" Matty asked. "Dancing!" I told him, "...and fishing..." Matty had spotted one of the birds I wanted us to see most that day, a Reddish Egret (our rarest egret), and even better, the reddish-bluish bird with a half pink and half black bill was doing his famous dance!
...a Reddish Egret runs in circles and "dances" through the shallows of the eastern impoundment along Wildlife Drive at Ding Darling. He's not just having fun...or running away in terror from an alligator, he's employing the same foraging techniques used by his ancestors for centuries.
A Reddish Egret raises its wings to form a canopy over the water, casting a shadow that reduces the sun's glare, making it easier for the bird to see the fish in the water. The shadow also lures in small fish and frogs, tricking them into its "protective" shelter.
...prancing and hopping around in the shallow water with wings outstretched and flapping, running back and forth in his own ballet...all to drum up a little lunch!
...every now and then he pauses from the dance and assumes the canopy stance...luring in the unsuspecting prey churned up from his spastic movements. He also may shuffle his feet a bit to stir up the mud, releasing other tasty creatures.
...charging through the water... (These shots always make me laugh. It looks like he's shrieking in the stereotypical "I just saw a mouse" posture...or maybe the standard, "snake...")
Matty and I saw this bird on March 22, 2011. For last year's visit to Longboat Key, Florida, and another post on the Reddish Egret's fishing dance, click here.