J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
President Harry S. Truman is probably most known for his role in ending World War II in the Pacific Theatre by authorizing the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, there was a little less known bomb he dropped. That was on a group of developers on Sanibel Island, Florida, preventing them from building on a parcel of land. This parcel of land would become the J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1967 the wildlife refuge was named after the two time Pulitzer prize winner, cartoonist, conservationist Jay Norwood Darling who played a significant role in conservation and was appointed head of U.S Biological Survey by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The U.S. Biological Survey would later turn into the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
For the Birds
The 6,400 plus acre refuge is home for over 245 species of birds as well as a sanctuary for vulnerable and endangered species like the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, and the West Indian Manatee. So it makes the perfect place for those northern flocks of birders to shake the snow off their shoes and get some quality birding time in while soaking up some Florida sunshine.
There are several options to traverse the refuge. You can drive, walk, or paddle. This flightless snowbird would explore the refuge by foot. There is a lot of ground to cover through the mangroves if you decide to walk, but I have always thought, that I won’t miss any of the action that one might miss, if they are at the mercy of a combustion engine to guide them through the wildlife viewing.
I highly recommend if you are the flip-flop, sandal wearing individual be sure to give your your toes and other exposed areas a heavy coating of sun-screen. I didn’t. The other bit of recommendation is to be observant of your surroundings. You never know what can be lurking just yards away from you. I did.
The refuge has quite a large list of what species of birds, mammals, and reptiles the visitor may encounter. For the birder though, J.N. “Ding” Darling touts the “Big Five.” They are: the Roseate Spoonbill, the White Pelican, the Reddish Egret, the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, and the Mangrove Cuckoo. I had no luck spotting the cuckoo (yeah, yeah.. I can hear what sarcastic comment most of you are saying about who the real cuckoo is). I was able to see plenty of spoonbills, but they were to far away from me to get a decent shot, or what I call a “Kodak Moment.”
Aside from the wildlife refuge, Sanibel Island offers quite a few other amenities as well. Some of those highlights for me were the conch fritters that can be found at most the fine dining establishments, and not so fine dining establishments throughout the island. For those of you who have read my Ten Days in Ireland you learned about my obsession for that Celtic culinary chowder. Well it was no different on Sanibel. I had to have my conch fritters daily.
You can also hop on a boat to go look for dolphins while enjoying frozen margaritas! However, one of the BIG things to do on Sanibel, is shelling on the seashore for shells… on the shore, from the sea, on the seashore….
200 on the NotSoNomad Scale of Libation of One to Ten…
So cross another one off for the birding bucket list. If you do decide to spend some time on Sanibel, plan well in advance. The hotels are usually fully booked throughout the year, but you can find a room. However they will cost a bit more if you wait to the last minute. So cliche, but I just have to say it, “the early bird gets the worm.”