By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: We are traveling to Fort Myers, Florida during the month of January. My partner is an avid birder and wildlife photographer. If you know of any good spots, we would appreciate the information.

A: Located in southwestern Florida, a part of Lee County, Fort Myers is surrounded by a variety of nature parks and natural preservation sites.

The height of manatee season is from October through March, so you'll be in perfect time to catch the endangered West Indian Manatee in action as they bob up and down at Lee County Manatee Park. The park is located on SR80, 1.5 miles east of I-75 at exit #25. There is a Manatee Viewing Update Line available at (941) 694-3537.

Located approximately 15 miles southwest of Ft. Myers on Sanibel Island, the J.N. "Ding" Darling, a national wildlife refuge covering over 5,000 acres is made up of several habitat types. Explore sea grass beds, mud flats and mangrove islands. You'll want to load up the film here since the park has approximately 238 bird species that have been identified as well as 51 species of reptiles and amphibians and 32 species of mammals.

So keep your eyes open for bald eagles, wood storks, Atlantic loggerhead turtles, and those snippy American alligators. The refuge operates on an "honour" entrance fee. To get around, visitors can use the hiking trails, a tram service, rent a bike or take a 5 mile auto tour. J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge's address is 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel Florida, 33957 or telephone 1.941.472.1100.

Another spot worth considering is the CREW Land & Water Trust. Open from sunrise to sunset, hikers can roam through five miles of free hiking trails that weave through pine flat woods, hardwood hammocks, and along the 5,000-acre Corkscrew Marsh. You might spot some animal tracks too. The trails are home to deer, raccoon, turkey, bobcats, the endangered Florida panther, and the threatened Florida black bear. Birdwatchers may spot hawks, egrets, swallow-tailed kites, or heron.

Your best chance to view wildlife is generally during the early morning. If you take Colonial Road to State Road 82 (east of I-75). Turn right on SR 82 (Immokalee Road). You'll pass Gateway and Lehigh Acres. After passing a large cellular tower on your left, begin looking for County Road 850 (Corkscrew Road). Turn right (it's a "T" intersection). Continue SW; the CREW Land & Water Trust entrance is about one and a half miles on the left. For more information, call the CREW Land & Water Trust at 1-941-332-7771.


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