Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve - Take a drive through this refuge located on the beautiful island of Sanibel!
Started by cartoonist and conservationist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, the refuge was created by President Truman in 1945 to protect endangered species and also to provide a safe feeding, roosting, and nesting area to migrating birds.
It was originally called the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, but the name was changed in 1967 to honor Darling. The entire refuge is quite large at a total of about 8000 acres, with 2800 acres designated as a Wilderness Area.
These important estuary waters are home to about 272 different species of birds, along with 60 species of reptiles, 33 of mammals, and 102 species of fish. They support and contribute to the fabulous fishing that has made the Sanibel area famous for the sport.
We had been wanting to go for awhile and finally got it together. At the beginning of the refuge, before you drive through, is the education center.
For free, you can view interactive displays about migratory birds, including a children's hands-on section.
During the drive, we saw lots of birds ........ including the regal-looking white pelicans, plus anhingas, herons, egrets and pink spoonbills.
You may also be able to see typical wildlife in Florida such as dolphins, manatees ..... and maybe even alligators!
I've heard that it's better to go in the morning because you'll see more wildlife ...... we went in the afternoon and still saw lots of beautiful birds.
You basically drive through 4 miles of mangrove forests and stop at various stations located along the route.
Some of the stations are just a matter of parking along the road and walking over to the edge to see the wildlife. Don't forget to bring your camera!
Other stations are boardwalks leading further out into the water ..... this is where we saw jumping mullet!
On the way back, we noticed crabs scuttling up some of the trees. I'd never heard of tree-climbing crabs before!
As you drive further, there's even a 3-story lookout with binoculars to really see wildlife up close.
You can rent bikes, boats, or canoes and kayaks, use their hiking trails, fish, crab, take guided tours, or attend their educational programs.
The Wildlife Drive costs $5 to get in by car, and $1 by bike or by foot ....... and is open Saturday - Thursday. The Education Center is open January 1-April 30 from 9AM-5PM, and May 1-December 31 from 9AM-4PM, free of charge.
On the way out of the refuge, make a stop at the shell mound. The mound is basically a garbage heap made by the Calusas, Native Americans who lived on the island long ago.
Take the walk of the mound on a boardwalk that's about a third of a mile long and loops around through the woods.
As you walk, you'll notice shells scattered about on the ground mixed in amongst the dirt and leaves.
We were surprised to see there were cactuses in the brush ..... I wonder how they got there!
I would say that this is definitely one of the things to do in Sanibel that you absolutely must take the time out to see!
Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve
1 Wildlife Drive
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Updated January 2, 2020
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