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

Henry David Thoreau

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Wednesday April 11, 2012
Koreshan State Historic Site


Today is a National Wildlife Refuge Day (for us that is)!

Our full timing life started with my desire to quit my job and kayak all the National Wildlife Refuges. I thought I would set out in Ruby with all my backpacking gear and land and/or kayak camp my way.  I started researching.  There are a LOT of National Wildlife Refuges.  I should have retired earlier.  More research…..  Most of them do not have campgrounds.  More research….they can’t all be kayaked.  More research…  which led to Winnona and to today.   SO anytime I am near a National Wildlife refuge I want to go there with or without kayak.  This is my first chance to go to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.


Sanibel Island 001


Gotta cross the Toll Bridge for entry.


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No trolls but in order to get onto Sanibel/Captiva island where the refuge is located, you have to fork over the $6 fee for driving over the causeway.  But at least they only charge you coming in, not going out too.  Wonder if the “residents” get a free pass??  Judging from the houses, they don’t need it.


I’ve heard a lot about Ding Darling.

Several of the blogs I read have talked about going to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island and how fabulous it is.  Darling was actually Jay N. “Ding” Darling a political cartoonist whose cartoons often had an environmental bent and are unfortunately as true today as when he first penned them 80 or so years ago.  Darling was also a serious environmentalist in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was so instrumental in getting the land set aside for the refuge that they eventually named it after him.


As always, we check out the Visitor’s center, now known as The Education Center.

This National Wildlife Refuge has a great “Education Center” with a short film and exhibits about the wildlife at the refuge and about Darling’s life and work.  There is a great deal of beautiful art work as well.

But I came to see the refuge so, after getting a map, we leave the center for later and set off to get our bikes.

I am concerned that we really are not coming to the refuge during its best time which is the winter when the birds are all around.  But we’ve lost our precious flexibility and this is the time we are near, so this is the time we are here.  After looking at the map, we decide to take the Indigo trail for hikers or bikers up to where it intersects with the Wildlife Drive and then continue on the drive.


Uh Oh :-(  Today’s Mistake #1

When we get out to the car to take the bikes off, neither of us has the key for the lock. :-(   So there sit our bikes, well actually there hang our bikes, locked on the back of the car while we set off on foot in the 80+ degree heat.

Mistake #2  - because we had to come a distance to get to the refuge and did not make a serious effort to get an early start, it is approaching mid afternoon on a warm day when we start walking.   Not many birds here because of the time of year and additionally the time of day.


One of the best things about getting older is that pass.

It is $2.00 to walk or bike the drive or trail and $5 per car.  BUT again our National Parks pass gains us free entry.  VERY NICE.   

Here is who was around on the 2 mile Indigo trail today.

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Not many people either.

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There are too few clouds in the sky to block the sun but there is a silver lining.

It is a hot walk but there are so few birds that we would have missed them had we been on our bikes.  So I end up being glad we couldn’t take them.  We cut the walk short because of the heat and the few birds.  We head back to the Education Center where we watch the film, cool off, have a bite to eat and look at the exhibits.

We get in our air conditioned car and head onto the 4 mile wildlife drive.  Free with our old folks pass!


We stop for what I think is a gathering of forty or fifty Godwits and Willets.  Am I right here  Judy?

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Sanibel Island 026


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And then again for this gorgeous reddish egret.  Sorry for so many pictures, I just couldn’t pick my favorite

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Of course Florida waters=osprey.

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I think this young one was looking every direction for a parent with incoming dinner.


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At the end of the drive is the Calusa Shell Mound Trail.  

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The Shell Mound Trail is a quarter-mile-long, universally accessible, interpretive boardwalk which meanders through a hardwood hammock that has grown on top of ancient Calusa shell mounds (middens). It is an excellent short hike with informative signage about the lives of the original inhabitants of this area.



Shell Mound


The Trail’s signs provide a peek into the ancient history of Sanibel Island,  as the boardwalk circles around mounds left behind by the Calusa who once populated these barrier islands.

We follow the boardwalk from the trailhead into a tropical hardwood hammock. Snake plants thrive under the gumbo-limbo trees. Tall sea grapes shade the trail.  I’d read that the “bug factor” was moderate to annoying.  In spite of the heat, we had no bug problem at all

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I love the redish paper bark.

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It was a very nice afternoon at a Wildlife Refuge I’d been wanting to see.  But I will definitely have to return with my kayak and during the winter season.


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I’ve always heard that Sanibel and Captiva were the islands of the wealthy and we did find a very ‘tasteful’ stop just before the causeway to take us off the island.  Great idea to close an overly warm April day even if $5.18 was THE MOST I’ve ever paid for a SMALL peanut butter cup blizzard in all my travels across the country.







Good bye to Ding Darling and Sanibel.


Sanibel Island 077A 

I’ll be back earlier in the year and earlier in the day  with my kayak and with time to see Captiva as well.


  1. Somewhere in a shoe box I have photos taken when we stayed on Sanibel Island some time back in the nineties. We were intrigued by the Cormorants, drying their wings. This was at the refuge of course. We walked.
    And yes, you have to pay every single time you go on that causeway. You don't want to forget anything if you've been out shopping that's for sure.

  2. Love Sanibel. I've been there a few times during the winter. The birding is incredible.

  3. Another nice park, and ending with a DQ Blizzard is the best :)

  4. That's a wonderful wildlife refuge. Bill and I biked it back in 2000 and it was 95 degrees...not a good idea back then either;o))

  5. Glad you got to visit Ding Darling. We were there last fall and made the mistake of taking the bus tour.

    When you get a chance go to Pelican Island NWR. It's near Sebastian Inlet and Orchid Beach. It is the very first National Wildlife Refuge and they have placards for each NWR. We thought it was pretty cool.

  6. We have visited Ding Darling twice. Both times, we were at little too early to see all the wildlife, but it is fun & beautiful nonetheless. Glad you had a good time!

  7. Thanks for taking us on your trip! I had been to Sanibel with my sister almost 20 years ago and it was expensive then, too! Have fun.

  8. Have to go there one day. Lived in FL for 30 years but never made it to Sanibel. You must have been really disappointed not to be able to ride the bikes. Sounds like something we would have done!

  9. Those all look like Marbled Godwits to me. However, I think that is probably an adult osprey watching for its mate. :)

    It seems to me most National Wildlife Refuges have a best time of the year to visit them. It's hard to be at the right refuge at the right time when you can't be "beamed" there by Scotty! :)

  10. Seems to be that you didn't make a mistake at all. Looks like you got to see some beautiful birds and a snake. Love you photos!

    Kevin and Ruth

  11. Page, you are the only one I can't find an email for. Where did you stay when you visited Ding Darling? I'm trying to find the closest RV camping without going to Periwinkle on the Island which is out of my price range.

  12. Great tour! We love our old people's pass too...best thing ever!

    BTW, did you know, that if you ask at DQ, they'll give you a senior discount? It's not much-I think 10%-but every little bit helps.

  13. At least you remembered your "Old Folks Pass"!

    Nice to see some wildlife and no people, seen enough "wildlife people" during spring break.

    Sorry to see that DQ put a "ding" in your wallet. ;c)

  14. Sometimes mistakes we turn out work out for the best ... in this case, you got to see more birds on foot than you might have on the bikes. But I sure wouldn't want to be doing either with temps like that.

  15. Thanks for the great tour and all those bird photos. Just another park to add to our list if we ever get down to Florida in our travels.

  16. Friends of mine spent a week at Sanibel a couple of years ago and loved it so. I do hope that y'all can make another trip when it's cooler. Loved the egret!

  17. What lovely birds - especially those with the long and colorful bills. Sounds like it was a hot day but pleasant none-the-less :)

  18. We just came across your journal and are thoroughly enjoying it! We are Canadians and did something similar (travelling across and exploring everything that your country has to offer from its natural to its historic sites.) We were fortunate to be at Ding Darling at the right time of year but we got such a chuckle when we read about your mistakes being that we made our share of them during our own travels. Looking forward to reading the rest of your incredibly interesting journal. :)


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