D28. J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Nearest City: Sanibel
Phone Number: 239-472-1100
Amenities: Restrooms, Entrance fee required, Good for beginners, Birding by car, Birding by boat, Birding by foot/hiking, Birding by bicycle, Best time of day: All day, Recommended length of visit: all day br>
Habitats: Mangrove Swamp, River/Stream/Spring/Canal, Lake/Pond/Impoundment, Hardwoods/Mixed Forest, Marine/Bay, Mudflats
This refuge on Sanibel Island is an internationally renowned birding destination, and for good reason – it is one of the finest wildlife refuges in the country. The Wildlife Drive will take visitors on an introductory tour of the impoundment system that makes the refuge famous, with incredible views of herons, egrets, ibises, storks and spoonbills, and shorebirds during drawdowns in spring and fall. Drive the 4-mile road slowly, or bike this same road along with several spur trails for a slower, more intimate view of the mangrove estuaries. Listen for mangrove cuckoos as you go! Put in your own canoe or kayak at one of the two unimproved ramps off Wildlife Drive for a tour of the mangrove wilderness area (no motors), or ask at the visitor center about the possibility of renting a boat or joining a boat tour. The Bailey Tract is a separate site that offers different habitat but still excellent birding. This dry barrier island interior property has a trail system that will take you through upland habitat and past freshwater inholdings that are frequented by ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, blackbirds and warblers! This is an excellent place to start or end the day, watching the flyover of larger birds between the ocean and the sound.
Directions: (A): Visitor center: cross the causeway (SR 867, $6 toll) onto Sanibel Island and turn right at the 4-way stop at Periwinkle Way. Drive 2.4 mi. and bear right onto Palm Ridge Rd. The refuge entrance is 2.3 mi. on the right (N). (B): Bailey Tract: at intersection with Palm Ridge Rd., stay straight on Periwinkle Rd., drive 0.2 mi. and turn left (S) on Tarpon Bay Rd. The entrance is 0.3 mi. on the right.
Open all year. Visitor Center: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., May to Dec. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jan. to Mar.; Wildlife Drive: 7:30 a.m. to sunset, CLOSED FRIDAYS; Bailey Tract: dawn to dusk.