We got out of the car at the visitor center (closed, being a national observed holiday), and deposited our money in the entrance fee bucket and then HOLY SHIT THE BUGS OH MY GOD THE BUGS WERE EVERYWHERE AND BITING AND YOU COULDN’T SEE THE SUN.
Not really exaggerating there. Biting flies. Mosquitoes. Large bugs that I didn’t recognize, but that were huge, and left bleeding welts. A healthy dose of deep woods OFF made us smell nasty, but didn’t improve matters. These were bugs that were motivated, not discouraged, by DEET.
We got back into the car, and spent the next 15 minutes getting bugs out of the car. Then it was time to take off for a drive; the park, generally speaking, is not a walking park. It has several driving paths around it, and the occasional area to hike around for a short distance, or to stop the car and look around. It’s a little weird; it reminds me of the big parks in Utah but without the hiking trails. This isn’t to say there aren’t trails, but they will be maybe a few hundred feet. One or two loops were a couple miles.
We stopped at one of the tower stops and went through the woods to an elevated observation tower over the water. The trek through the woods, maybe two minutes long, was painful with the bugs. The blind was mercifully elevated and in the wind, and almost free of bugs. I could have stayed there all day, especially realizing how nasty it was going to be on the way back through the woods again.
After making it to the car alive, we drove around the rest of the park, stopping every so often when the scenery or conditions were good.
Overall, the park is a pretty amazing place for waterfowl. I learned a few important things: One, I suck at shooting birds in flight. Only after returning to the hotel did I realize I really should have been sticking to shutter priority; I ended up deleting about 20 gigs of worthless bird in flights. Two, I need longer glass. For some reason, I only packed the 70-200 and 1.4x extender, and left the 300/4 at home. The 300/4 with extender wouldn’t have had as much reach as I wanted, but it sure would have been better, and I was in a car, so there was no excuse not to bring it, I’m an idiot.
Saw a lot of people with professional gear in the park; many were shooting from the driver seat with netting and super-telephoto lenses; saw at least one Canon 500/4 mated to a 1D3, a 600/4, a 400/2.8 (Nikkor, that one struck me as a bit odd for birding, but whatever), and a 200-400 (Nikkor again, obviously). Probably a good place to visit with a rented 500, 600, or 800; since you’re going to be in a car or just off the road 90% of the time, there’s no reason not to take some big glass and a big tripod out.