Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Thursday January 7, 2016                                                                 Most Recent Posts:
Koreshan State Historic Site                                                              Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary SurprisesEstero, Florida                                                                                  Moving to Koreshan State Historic Site

Today we are driving to Sanibel Island, 28 miles away, for a return visit to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This is a trip we make every time we come to stay at Koreshan. I’ve done much more detailed posts on it previously so I won’t be repeating all the history of this important place saved largely through the efforts of Jay Norwood Darling, a popular cartoonist who won the Pulitzer Prize twice. Some of his great conservation cartoons are on display in the VC along with the details of his life and efforts to save this land. I’ll list links to my previous posts at the end of this one.  As you will see, this post is pictures of the wonders we saw.

Ding Darling Map
This time we save the visitor center for last and hop on our bikes to ride the Wildlife Drive.  The drive is open every day from 7:00 to 5:30 for the months of December, January and February and stays open later as sunset retreats later in the year.  Admission is $5 per vehicle, $1 for pedestrians and bicyclists and free if you have the National Parks pass.   They also have a guided tram open air bus tour which I believe is $14 a person.  At one point a tour stopped where I was and the guide spotted two things I didn’t see and one I wouldn’t have been able to identify.  So perhaps, one day, like in Shark Valley, we will take the tour just for the guide.


The drive is closed to all traffic on Fridays to give the birds and animals a break from all the people.   But on those Fridays, you can, hike or bike the Indigo Trail along a dike parallel to the drive.  The refuge also has an interesting lecture series each Friday.  The visitor center is always free.
Biking in the refuge is not exercise really because you have to stop and get off your bike so often.  There are things to stop and see constantly.  At the first area we find a darling little grebe.  I think they are the cutest of ducks.

The refuge is the winter home of many white pelicans who look wonderful in flight with their black wing tips and under feathers.

It’s pretty hard to get a decent picture of the mottled ducks since their heads are nearly always under water.

I’m thinking this is an immature red breasted merganzer hopefully Judy will let me know for sure. Don’t you love his wet head and the look on his face?

The blue wings don’t show up on this Blue Winged teal.  The patterns of the feathers on both of their  backs are just remarkable. 

On along the drive we go.  Again we have a gray kind of looks like it’s going to rain day.   Most of the birds are far from shore and David uses the bike rack to steady his camera.  Lots of serious birders are here with scopes.  So far today to get pictures you have to have a pretty good zoom lens.


At the next spot some fishermen are trying their luck.  This snowy egret is walking from one side of the rocks to the other checking to make sure none of them has any scraps for him.  I think these two pictures demonstrate fairly well how different egrets and herons can look depending on whether they have their necks “hunkered down” or not.  Love his striking golden slippers.  I sure hope I’ll get to see him in full breeding plumage this year.  I can see the wispy feathers just starting on the back of his head.




We are off of our bikes as much as we are on them but still I would not want to walk this drive since if you do all 4 miles, you will have to walk the return on the bike path on the road for 4 more miles.  You can also do only half the drive and cut back on the Indigo Trail for a total of 4 rather than the full 8..

The white pelican is so striking after seeing only brown pelicans for most of the year in Florida.  Here you can just barely see the hint of the black feathers.


So many different kinds of birds are here all hanging out together.  I hear this osprey cry and when I look up, he flies in. I think he’s going fishing but he just lands in the water and takes a bath.  What fun watching him splash around.  Someone remarked that he’s washing up after a messy lunch.




I’ve kind of been keeping my eye out for the roseate spoonbill today since this refuge is one of the places I have seen them previously.  I spot one lone spoonbill resting on one leg.  Both the shape of their bill and their color make them particularly unique.

You can see him on the left in this picture.  The groups on the right remind me of “birds of a feather”.

A late arrival for the gathering.

There are several osprey platforms along the drive.  This one seems to have the beginnings of a nest but no occupants.


There are also several trails into the mangroves along the drive.  We stop to walk out this first one and find the mangrove crabs everywhere we look.


Looks like gumbo limbo but it’s the red mangrove.


The more crabs we see, the more we see. Sort of like any time you notice anything.  When you buy a new car, you start to see that car everywhere, when you are pregnant you notice all the other pregnant women and in the mangrove, once you see the crabs, they start to appear in multiples.


Once we are out in the open again we look down into schools of fish.  Fishing is only allowed in certain areas of the refuge but there sure look like there are a lot of fish.

There are several trails into the mangrove along the drive but this is the only one we take because today the biting bugs are thick in the mangroves.  That hasn’t been true on previous trips.

We come to the Observation Tower, climb up to the top and have a great view of the cloudy skies. No bugs biting here.


But with our binoculars we ccam see WAY OVER THERE.  We like what we see. But we can’t see well enough from here so we go back down to the drive and head over closer.

Here’s what we hurry down to see.

Like at the earlier spot where there was only one spoonbill, here there is one reddish egret.

As you can see from all the following pictures, we spend a lot of time just watching them all fluff preen and rest.



There are 6 roeseates and one lone reddish egret.

He’s just beautiful.

But doesn’t he look a bit like a disgruntled ballet dancer in these two photos??  Look at those legs? What position is that?

I could definitely stay and watch these guys for hours or until they fly off but we’re only half way around the drive and it’s time for lunch.
From previous visits we know there are some benches along the half mile Wulfert Keys Trail out to the Hardworking Bay.   This is actually the power line as you can see.  David stops about half way down the trail at the first bench.  He’s here before me since I have a hard time leaving the egret and roseates.   I tell him I’ll go all the way out to the point since I’m pretty sure the bugs will be near the mangroves.   I think David is remembering when we previously ate lunch out there in about 18 mph winds and nearly froze.


Today the bench is empty and there’s only one fisherman around.  No bugs, no wind.  Perfect.

David comes and takes this picture of me in my just in case rain coat and my bike helmet.  He’s taken his off so he looks a bit more “normal”.


While he’s eating lunch, with his eagle eyes, he spots just that on the top of the first two poles.


At one point there is some sort of airborn scuffle going on.  Can’t tell for sure if there is an osprey they are trying to rob or if eagle #2 just wants the first pole but it’s too far away for pictures.

At this point we are fairly near the end of the drive and have seen no gators when we come upon two one right after the other.  I compare teeth to see if I can tell which one is older.  What do you think?

They always look like they are smiling to me.  A sort of “oh yes, you can trust me” snicker.


A bit of an over bite.

A bit of a shifty eye here.


Just on the edge of this lovely view is another osprey nest.

I don’t think there is any bird in it until ZOOM in flies this one.   She doesn’t stay long and then flies off again.  Take a look at that beak.



Off she goes.

When she leaves I’m getting back on my bike when I hear the clear and loud sound of the whining of a juvenile.  Once you’ve heard it you’ll always recognize it.  I look up and this hardly baby osprey pokes its head out.


He begins alternately whining and moving sticks around in the nest.


He sure looks big enough to bring in his own food to me but he keeps whining.


Not sure if he was making a ladder or what but he climbs out of a nest that hardly looks large enough to conceal a bird this big.   He keeps whining.


Then he flaps his wings and I think for a moment I may actually get to see him fledge.  But he’s just practicing the wing flapping which is cool enough.  Eventually he settles back down and I go on my way.


The drive has ended now and we are at the Calusa Shell Mound Trail.  I really would like to do this but it too is in a mangrove and I just can’t take the chance on getting covered in itching bites.  Maybe on a day with more wind.  We have done this trail before and I really do like it.  You can see it in the posts linked at the end if you like.
So now it’s time for the straight no stops 4 mile ride back along the road.  Not too bad.  Not too many cars.


We go into the visitor center and watch the film again.  We check out some of the amazing photography and children’s bird art contest winners.

The wildlife refuge is a fair distance from the causeway back to the mainland.  Last time we were here in 2015 and stayed at the refuge until closing at 5:30, we found ourselves in a traffic back up that took over an hour.,  So today we decide to leave at 4:00 and after looking at the refuge’s island map, we think we will go down to the end near the causeway and stop at the lighthouse and the beach around it before leaving the island.


When we get there, we find parking is $4.  We don’t have even two hours until dark so we just drive back to the lighthouse to take a look.  I can see a bird is up near the light so I look through my binoculars.

It’s an osprey. He’s got his fish but he isn’t eating it.  He’s just sitting with it.

I watch him for a while.   He doesn’t do anything but move his head looking around.  Good thing there isn’t an eagle nearby.  Or maybe that’s what he’s looking for.  Is he the osprey we might have seen back in the refuge where the two eagles were perched?  Nah, what are the chances of that?

I can’t stay long though because David is waiting in a no parking zone for me to check out the beach to see if we might want to come back.


It turns out to be a cute little beach and if it were earlier in the day I might well stay an hour or two but the real way to see this entire island would be to bring Winnona and stay on the island in their only RV park and just bike everywhere. We even have a bike trailer to haul the chairs and other beach gear.  But the price, as you can imagine, is very steep.   Still I put the Periwinkle Park Campground on my list of places to look into for possibly a week reservation during a future winter.   Sanibel Island is my kind of place where it is small enough you can bike to everything.  There are other natural areas besides the refuge here but I could easily go to Ding Darling every day with no problem.


Bike down to the refuge in the morning, home for lunch, bike to the beach in the afternoon.   Sounding better and better.


But today we have to head back over the causeway to the mainland. 
They charge $6 to get on the island but getting off is free.
If you want to see more about Jay Darling and the refuge:



  1. What magnificent pictures of the spoonbill and other birds. You saw them all this day!

  2. Makes me want to go. This winter maybe. Great shots!

  3. What a fantastic day! I love it that you can take me to a tropical paradise full of wonderful creatures while I here in the west!

  4. Such a vast array of birds... the bathing osprey's my favourite in this series.

  5. Looks like a red-breasted to me as well.

  6. Oh-my-gosh ... I've never seen a spoonbill, their colors are more vibrant than the more famous flamingos. It'll go on my bucket list.

  7. A day filled with wildlife ... what fun.

  8. Love the spoonbills and the mangrove crabs. Nice tattoos on the crabs.

  9. I've never seen an Osprey taking a bath...great photos:o))

    Ding Darling is a marvelous place and you had a wonderful day!!!

  10. I think the Roseate Spoonbill is mis-named. It should be called the Jimmy Durante bird. :cD

    Amazing pix of the Osprey in the water, what a find!

  11. Ah spoonbills - I love them! :) So many neat sightings especially the eagle and the flegling osprey who might have been close to leaving the nest. So many birds - it's great to see. That meraganser's face - so funny! Another great blog :)

  12. Wonderful day for sure starting with that cute little grebe. Seems to have a large head & like an infant, it makes him/her a little more adorable. The innocent look works too. Many of these birds seem to be looking directly at you in your pictures. That really brings them more to life. Much better pictures than mine - great job and extra points for patience, it obviously pays off in this world.

  13. That young merganser has an I just got out of bed look. I've never seen an osprey actually in the water. A great day for seeing many of everything and all good sightings.


  14. As many times as we have been to Sanibel, we have never stopped here. It might be nice to ride our bikes around. The Roseate Spoonbills make me smile. They are my all time favorite:) You certainly had a great bird day:) Lucky you two!

  15. Ding Darling is one of my favorite stop in FL. And boy the birds were really showing themselves for you today and capture them doing their thing. I love the "birds of a feather pic" And the Spoonbills, I get mesmerized by them. Thanks for taking their poses, love it and missed them for sure. I never tire of your bird photos!

  16. To see all of these magnificent birds (and crab and gator too) in their natural habitat is so wonderful. The bathing osprey looks like he has fur rather than feathers - great shots! The spoonbill with his wings up is so beautiful, but I think the ballet dancer is my favorite - what a look! The first gator looks older to me although their teeth look similar (weird how white they are). A place like this could make me miss our trykes.

  17. Cute tushie on that roseate spoonbill!

  18. You sure saw a lot of wildlife. Love the spoonbills. I've seen a lot of osprey, but never one taking a bath. We have a large group of birds in the pond behind us. The females look similar to the merganser in your photo. I finally got a picture, so I need to look them up because I'm not sure what they are, but the males are have black and white heads.

  19. So glad you enjoyed your biking and birding adventure at Ding Darling! You got some fabulous photos -- your spoonbills are especially gorgeous. One of my all-time favorite birds. And yes, you definitely need to book at least a week on Sanibel -- you will love being able to bike to the refuge and the beaches anytime you want. It's pretty idyllic. :-)

  20. A wonderful foul kind of day!! You really have a gift for getting the wildlife shots and I agree with David....it really takes patience, waiting for the perfect shot. I so want to see the spoonbills. I surely hope I have the opportunity to see them one day.


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