JN ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Refuge in Florida, a nature lover’s delight

Sanibel, Florida – My family loves kayaking and bird watching, and there are few better places to do both – especially in the middle of winter – than in JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Reserve.

Sanibel Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast near Fort Myers, is perhaps best known for its world-class shelling. It is also a popular destination for visitors who enjoy excellent restaurants, shopping and low-rise resorts.

Sanibel is also a treat for nature lovers. About two-thirds of the narrow 12-mile-long island is preserved as a park or nature reserve.

Black History Month: Museum highlights African American history, art, including tribute to black women in Ohio

The Ding Darling Refuge encompasses approximately 5,500 acres of mangrove forests, swamps, and shallow bays along Pine Island Sound on the island’s north shore.

The shelter is named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Cheri. Darling was also a passionate conservationist who led the US Biological Survey, the precursor to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and helped establish the national network of wildlife refuges.

And Darling loved Sanibel and adjacent Captiva Island, where he had a winter home.

The refuge’s visitor center, with exhibits on the ecology and wildlife of the area, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. But even if you head out at dawn to look for early risers, you can still check the observation board outside the entrance to see what kind of wildlife has been hanging around recently.

Hotel Bottleworks: Travel: Indianapolis’ Bottleworks Hotel and nearby Arts and Entertainment District offer plenty of gems

Over 250 species of birds have been observed at Ding Darling. Frequent visitors or residents include white and brown pelicans, ospreys, bald eagles and an incredible variety of waders including roseate spoonbills, great snowy egrets and a rainbow of herons such as the big blue, the little blue, the green, the tricolor and the yellow-crowned night. herons.

Probably the best place for most visitors to see birds is along Wildlife Drive, a four-mile one-way through the heart of the refuge. The mangrove groves, shallow marshes and mudflats along both sides of the road provide the perfect feeding ground for many birds.

Drivers can stop at any point along the route to observe. Several boardwalks and a two-story viewing platform along the way also allow humans to get up close to the birdlife action. Admission to Wildlife Drive, which opens at 7 a.m., is $10 per motorized vehicle.

Visitors can also hike or bike, or buy a ticket on a convenient open-air guided tour tram that stops at many of the most popular and popular birding spots. productive. (Taking the tram also helps reduce traffic and exhaust fumes from private cars.) Tram tours cost $13, or $8 for children. Note that Wildlife Drive is closed to all vehicles on Fridays.

The refuge’s concessionaire, Tarpon Bay Explorers, operates the tourist trams, as well as a number of other tours and rentals from its center on the edge of Tarpon Bay, two miles from the visitor centre.

Over the years, my family has embarked on a number of Tarpon Bay excursions, including a guided pontoon boat ride. Visitors can also sign up for guided kayak tours.

But being old Sanibel hands, these days we prefer to go out alone.

Voice of America: A voice heard around the world: the Voice of America museum near Cincinnati, a historical marvel

The dealership rents out bicycles, motorized pontoon boats, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and fishing gear.

Kayaking in the shallow 930-acre bay, past the surrounding mangrove forests and through low islands and bay flats where interesting birds can frequently be seen, is great fun. But the best paddling is on the Commodore Creek Kayak Trail, a 2.5-mile loop that winds through quiet fish-filled canals and under secluded mangrove tunnels that seem 1,000 miles from the bustle of the main shopping thoroughfare and fine dining in Sanibel, Periwinkle Way.

At extreme low tide, the kayak trail may be too shallow to paddle. But my teens and I had no problems when we paddled the trail near low tide earlier this month. (In very low water, single kayaks can find the passage more easily than double kayaks.)

On the way back we had to fight off a bit of current from an ebb tide that was flowing out to the bay and into the sound beyond. Of course, that meant the current helped us on the way back, perfect after an hour of “upstream” paddling.

The birds we encountered seemed oblivious to us, with some allowing us to approach within a few feet of them in the narrow channels. Maybe they thought we were manatees or fish too big to eat.

At one point I had to practically paddle under a black-crowned night heron perched on a branch a few feet above my head. The heron just stared, appearing to lock eyes with the odd, harmlessly floating aquatic mammal, as the mammal shivered in the encounter – albeit without any sudden movements.

The same thing happened with a young white pelican, whose only reaction as I passed, a few arms away, was to cock its head coquettishly behind a sprig of mangrove. I felt spellbound, not so much by the bird as by the enduring magic of Sanibel’s wild places.

Sanibel Island is about a 40-minute drive from Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers and is connected to the mainland by causeway.

To learn more about the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling/ .

For more information on Sanibel and the area, visit www.visitfortmyers.com.

Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected]

About Thomas Thorton

Check Also

Public-private partnerships: Macao’s medicine against COVID-19

A study by an IFTM team sheds light on government efforts to protect the local …