Birding at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Birding at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

A birding hotspot located on beautiful Sanibel Island





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Bird Watching at J.N. "Ding" Darling
National Wildlife Refuge

With J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR ranked as one of the top ten birding sites in the U.S., you can be almost certain bird watching at this 6,354-acre preserve is among Florida's and the nation's best. Some of the best birding is also some of the easiest, accessible along the Wildlife Drive open daily except Fridays.

Best birding is from January through March Migratory waterfowl are particularly plentiful as are herons, egrets, plovers, and ibis as they stalk the mud flats in search of shrimp, marine worms, aquatic insects, and other tidbits. During the year, Ding Darling is visited by 238 bird species.

By far the best time for bird viewing is at low tide, when the mud flats are fully exposed. Local tide charts available here cover tide day by day, month by month, well in advance.

With 2,825 acres of the refuge (over a third) designated as a Wilderness Area, it’s not surprising this coastal refuge is so  wildlife rich. Alligators are present along with numerous other reptiles and 32 types of mammals.

For those preferring not to watch wildlife as part of a car parade, bikers and walkers have numerous opportunities to visit places not accessible to autos.

The Indigo Trail starts at the Education Center parking lot. The path moves onto a boardwalk penetrating a tropical hammock and then a mangrove forest. It also crosses the Wildlife Drive to a shell path following the top of a mosquito impoundment.

Shell Mound Trail is located on the left, near the end of the one-way Wildlife Drive. It winds through a hardwood hammock damaged by past storms. The hammock is atop a Calusa Indian shell mound, offering many tall examples of gumbo limbo, sea grape, sable palms and live oaks. The trail is largely boardwalk.

The Bailey Tract is located 2.2 miles from the other trails. Leaving the refuge, turn left and drive to the intersection with Tarpon Bay Road; turn right onto Tarpon Bay Road. Continue for about 0.7-miles until you see the pedestrian crossing sign. Entrance to the Bailey Tract will be on the right.

This 100-acre tract, protecting a freshwater marsh contains a series of  5 hiking/biking trails that thoroughly explore the area.  The trails are of varying length, from 1.1-miles to 0.25-miles. The following description covers the red 1.1-mile perimeter trail that provides easy access to the other paths.

Check here for the latest information on opening hours, which are seasonal and for visitor information. J.N. "Ding" Darling is located at 1 Wildlife Dr., Sanibel, FL 33957; Phone (239) 472-1100. This an excellent map but oversize.

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