Tag Archives: J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge

Is part of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex along with the

  • Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge
  • Island Bay National Wildlife Refuge

1 Wildlife Drive in Sanibel, Florida

The entire complex is approx. 8,000 acres. The majority of the lands in these refuges are nesting and roosting islands. The Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. “The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.”

“Jay Norwood Darling was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. At Darling’s urging, President Harry S. Truman signed an Executive Order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945.”

Wildlife and Habitat

Teeming With Life! “The refuge contains some of the most nutritionally rich habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals in an intricate food web.”

ALL Animals in the Refuge are WILD!

  • Respect the animals. Can potentially cause harm.
  • To be safe, do not interact with or feed the wildlife (avoid dangerous situations).
  • Keep your distance. If you approach and the animals change their behavior then you are too close.

  • Birds – over 245 different species of birds that call the refuge home, especially its spectacular migratory bird populations. The “Big 5”:  American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and Yellow Crowned Night Heron. Wading Birds to Seabirds to Shorebirds to Raptors to Song Birds to Waterfowl to Marsh Birds
  • Mammals – Manatee to Bobcat to River Otter to Raccoon to Marsh Rabbitt to Sanibel Island Rice Rat.
  • Reptiles – Crocodilians to Lizards to Snakes to Turtles and Tortoises. Reptiles are great at camouflage and can be very sneaky too.
  • Amphibians – Frogs to Toads.
  • Fish – Seagrass beds and mangrove forests serve as shelter, nursery and feeding areas. Mullet to Red Drum (Redfish) to Sheepshead to Snook to Spotted Seatrout (Speckled Trout) to Tarpon.
  • Invertebrates – Arachnids to Butterflies to Crustaceans to Mollusks.
  • Endangered Species – protect endangered and threatened species. Loggerhead Sea Turtle to Smalltooth Sawfish to West Indian Manatee to Wood Stork.
  • Habitats – the refuge is located within an estuary. Freshwater Marsh to Mangrove Forests and Swamps to Open Water to Seagrass Beds to Tidal Flats and Mudflats to Tropical Hardwood Hammock.
  • Invasive and Non-Native Species – a plant or animal that is not native to an ecosystem (likely to cause harmful effects to the environment or even humans)

The Seasons

January to March

  • Adult Spoonbills leave the Refuge to head to nesting grounds in March.
  • Alligators can be seen basking in the sun on cold mornings.
  • One of the best times of the year for birding, especially migratory birds.
  • Osprey nesting peaks in March.

April to June

  • Adult Spoonbills return slowly in June.
  • Male alligators may be heard bellowing to attract a mate. Female alligators begin to lay eggs in June.
  • Manatees can be seen mating at area beaches in April and May.
  • Sea turtles nest on Sanibel beaches from May to October.
  • Wading bird nesting peaks in April.
  • Yellow Crowned Night Herons nest near the exit of Wildlife Drive from April to June.

July to September

  • Alligators present and often visible at dawn and dusk.
  • Early migrant birds arrive in August.
  • Sea turtle hatchlings start to emerge from the nests in August.

October to December

  • Annual Christmas Bird Count takes place.
  • Birding improves during December.
  • Migratory birds arrive in more numbers.
  • Shorebird migration in October.

Visitor and Education Center

Check Out the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Website!

Open Monday – Sunday. Jan. 1 – Apr. 30 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. May 1 – Dec. 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Holiday Closures:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day


  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • President’s Day

Wildlife Drive

Closed on ALL Fridays (Wildlife can have the refuge to themselves)! Open ALL Holidays unless the Holiday falls on a Friday.


  • $5 per vehicle
  • $1 per pedestrian
  • $1 per bicycle


  • January – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • February – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • March – 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • April – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • May – 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • June – 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • July – 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • August – 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • September – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • October – 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • November – 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • December – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Drove through five miles of mangrove tree forests and tidal flats. Saw the island’s native vegetation, but the wildlife was elusive.

(Photos by RSheridan)

Here’s to Exploring the Natural (at times WILD) Side!!!

The Islands

Sanibel Island

A city in Lee County on Sanibel Island. A barrier island. In late 2007, a new, higher bridge was completed with no drawbridge. There is a $6 toll. There needs to be that balance between preservation and development.

The easy causeway access makes Sanibel a popular tourist destination! Shell beaches and wildlife refuges. The largest wildlife refuge is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The main thoroughfare is Periwinkle Way (stores and restaurants). The Gulf Drives; East, Middle and West have most of the accommodations.

A short bridge over Blind Pass links Sanibel to the town of Captiva on Captiva Island. In 1926, a hurricane’s storm surge severed Captiva Island from Sanibel Island and created a new channel; Blind Pass.

Captiva & Captiva Island

Captiva is a barrier island to Pine Island. Captiva Island is north of Sanibel Island and located offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Roosevelt Channel on the east side of the island is named for Theodore Roosevelt who fished there.

Robert Rauschenberg was one of the largest landowners. His 35-acres with studio is intact on Captiva’s northern end.

Heading Over the Bridge

15 Miles of Beaches, 250 Kinds of Shells, 50 Kinds of Fish,

25 Miles of Bike Paths, 230 Kinds of Birds, & ZERO Traffic Lights.

Sanibel Lighthouse

aka the Sanibel Island Light or Point Ybel Light.

Located on the eastern end of the island and was built to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay. The 98-foot tall lighthouse was first lit on August 20, 1884.

Interesting Fact: The ship bringing ironwork for the tower sank two miles from Sanibel Island. A crew of hard-hat divers from Key West recovered all but two of the pieces for the tower.

Punta Rassa became an important port in the 1830’s up to the Spanish-American War. The port was primarily used to ship cattle from Florida to Cuba.


Beautiful Blue Waters

Love This Sign

Can you imagine having to answer the phone throughout the day and state “She Sells Sea Shells” – ha! A true tongue twister and a great play on words!

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the study of shells.

  • Bivalves
  • Coquinas
  • Gastropods
  • Mollusks
  • Sand Dollars
  • Scallops
  • Whelks

The Gulf side beaches on both Sanibel and Captiva have a variety of seashells as well as large quantities of seashells. This is due to Sanibel being a barrier island, which is part of a large plateau that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico. This plateau acts like a shelf for seashells to gather.

There is the Sanibel Shell Fair in early March.

The “Sanibel Stoop” is people bending down as they look for seashells!

Here’s to Doing the “Sanibel Stoop” – Happy Seashell Hunting!

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