Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was an accomplished man; he won two Pulitzers for his editorial cartoons, founded the National Wildlife Federation, and came up with the idea for duck stamps. So it’s appropriate that he’s honored in the name of Sanibel Island’s famed mangrove-swamp preserve.

Still, I have to admit that his loopy signature is an odd logo to see as you drive into a national wildlife refuge; it looks more theme-parky than park parky, if you know what I mean. Or maybe that’s just the fact that I have a typical North American brain that was colonized by Walt Disney at an early age talking.

If that seems like an odd thing to criticize, just take it as a sign that I found nothing else to complain about while I was at Ding Darling, except that my time there was far, far too short. We needed to pick the Inimitable In-laws up at the mall in Sarasota (oh joy!) at noon. We left our host’s house with hope in our hearts and biscuits with sausage gravy in our stomachs (it’s the south, y’know?) around 7:30. The little sliver of time in between had to contain the return trip from Fort Meyers to Sarasota as well as my exploration of the fabled refuge.

In light of this, we decided to do the Wildlife Drive, a loop that takes you past otherwise inaccessible mangroves, shallow watery pans, creeks and woods. There are plenty of places to stop and get out along the way, which is a good thing, because there were a ton of things I wanted to get out and look at….

Things like a kettle of Magnificent Frigatebirds circling over the road and graciously providing much better views than my rain-soaked life Frigatebird back in March. Things like White AND Brown Pelicans floating leisurely like enormous bathtub toys. Things like flocks of Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the glittering distance, and a lone raccoon foraging on the mudflats among Little Blue Herons and assorted Egrets. Things like my life Reddish Egret.

The mangroves themselves were really neat; this is one of those ecosystems that you hear so much about, that is so evocative, that finally experiencing it can be a bit overwhelming. If you’ve never seen a mangrove, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. If you’ve been, but were tragically dragged away before you could fully explore its wonders, well, you’ll just have to go back.

Trip list on Birdstack

Coming up next… meme-age and Florida odds-n-ends….

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