Situated on Florida’s Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico lies the 6,400 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s northern part is where visitors can find the 2,619 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness. Both the national wildlife refuge and wilderness area are named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, for his extraordinary work in urging President Truman to create this refuge.
For visitors, this wilderness area is a mass of mangrove islands, which is part of a large mangrove system that still needs to be matured in the U.S. They can also see red mangroves, hardwood groves, seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammock.
J.N. “Ding” is home to American alligators, bobcats, river otters, snakes, turtles, armadillos, frogs, lizards, fish, and Northern raccoons. But what is truly spectacular and famous about this area is the variety of migrating birds present. The J.N. “Ding” Darling Wilderness serves as a shelter, where they can get food, raise their babies, and rest. Over 220 types of birds call this area home, including endangered and threatened ones that may be gone in the future. Some of the interesting birds to look out for are roseate spoonbills, which are bright pink birds with a spoon-shaped bill; egrets, white birds whose long feathers will puff out and down its back during breeding season; double crested cormorants, black birds whose feathers are not waterproof and so they are usually seen during the day standing on something with their wings spread wide; and recently endangered wood storks with their bare heads and long beaks.
To really get a good experience from this majestic wilderness area, visitors should definitely bring binoculars for bird watching when the tide is low, during this time what this area is famous for can truly be seen, hopefully, in its entirety.
-- by Fionna Poon