after sanibel island's beautiful beaches the ding darling national wildlife refuge is one of the most visited attractions in sanibel. the refuge was created in 1945 and is named after j.n. "ding" darling who was instrumenal in saving this part of sanibel island from development. this 6,400 acre refuge has mangrove forest, cordgrass marsh, and hardwood hammock ecosystems. this refuge is an excellent place to bird watch.
You can take a driving trail through the park, or hike, bike, or boat (canoe, kayak, etc.). We did the drive because we were limited on time, but biking would be a great option. You can't take a scooter in, though. We got some great pictures of a blue heron and an alligator. They offer guided tours as well.
If you ever get the chance to go to the Ding Darling Refuge, especially during low tide, take it.
It offers: a Visitor Center, a 5-mile auto tour route, fresh and salt water fishing, hiking trails, tram service, canoe and kayak rentals, guided interpretive programs, a wildlife observation tower and tons of wildlife photography opportunities (there are plenty of places to stop and get out of your car to take pictures.) Be sure to take suntan lotion, bug repellant and some bottled water with you if you visit. There is a small fee for the 5-mile auto tour.
I had seen most, if not all, of the larger species of birds that inhabit south Florda--all, except for the rosette spoonbill. I desperately wanted to see the spoonbill. So I contacted my buddy Bob (tropicdiver) and asked where I was most likely to see the spoonbills. Bob said, without hesitation, "You are virtually guarenteed to see spoonbills at the Darling Preserve on Sanibel Island." So I went. And I did see spoonbills. They were all backlit by the setting sun, but I did see them. Hurrah.
Now this was our Mystery Bird for the day, since all we saw of it was the silhouette on a branch you are viewing here. Too big for a crow, tail too stubby for anything else we could think of. But finally we figured out that it's a Green Heron. What a relief!
J. N. "Ding" Darling was a Pullitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist from Iowa. But his most famous and lasting legacy was begun in the early 1940's, when he became the champion of Sanibel Island's natural treasures. Darling spearheaded the efforts of conservationists to save the fragile mangrove and estuarial habitats on the island from development. (Link for Ding Darling Refuge: http://www.ding-darling.org/wildlife.html)
He and his cohorts managed to make an arrangement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to lease 2200 acres of mangrove wetlands longterm, forming the Sanibel Island National Wildlife Refuge. Upon his death in 1962, trustees of the conservation foundation that had been formed in his name move to solidify their tenuous grip on these precious wetlands. Finally in 1967, the lands were placed under federal ownership, and thus was formed the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Today the refuge on Sanibel is over 5200 acres in size, and still supported by the volunteer organization, "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society. It receives over 1 million visitors per year, and is one of the most popular wildlife refuges in North America.
Small wonder, when you see the fantastic array of birds, from Roseate Spoonbills to Anhingas to Blue-Winged Teals to Ospreys, and all manner of Little Brown Birds besides! This shot captured an Immature Little Blue Heron, a Double-Crested Cormorant, a Willet & a Gull wading the mudflats in search of breakfast.
It's wonderfully accessible to all, no matter whether you can hike around or not. For those who are too tired or unable to hike it due to disabilites, you can ride the tramway and get a narrated tour. For the more audacious, you can rent a canoe or kayak from Tarpon Bay Explorers to paddle around the mangrove swamps. Drive the famous 5 mile Wildlife Drive, or bicycle it, or walk it, and take any number of side trail hikes if you wish. Search for the one resident American Crocodile (she has no mate, but comes here every year to lay her eggs).
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