Wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida

As we enjoyed the sun and heat of February in Florida, we were on a perpetual quest to find friendly places where we could bring Skye-dog and allow her to walk with us without the fear of poison ivy, sand burrs, crazy oblivious tourist drivers and those with dog phobias.

We, like many others before us, made our pilgrimage to Sanibel Island (off the coast from Fort Myers on Florida’s gulf side), which is known for unparalleled shelling, white beaches and being friendly to visiting dogs.

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Causeway to Sanibel Island (beware the afternoon rush hour!)

But we didn’t really care to spend much time on the beaches; temperatures in the 80s and all that made trekking in the hot sun brutal!  Especially with a black dog…

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Miles of sand on Captiva Island, just north of Sanibel – doggie prints with dragging leash…shhh!

…and with no shade, unless you owned one of the mega-homes on either island and could sit on your covered porch, sipping a gin and tonic, you were on your own.

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Come on in! Not.

Our destination ended up being the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises over 6000 acres on the northern half of Sanibel Island.  Yes, the entire northern half of the island has remained free from builders!

This parcel of land, wetland, inlets, mud flats and mangrove was saved from development when conservationist, angler and hunter Jay Norwood Darling (who also happened to be a well-known political cartoonist) convinced President Harry Truman to ensure its protection.  Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 and in 1967, five years after Darling’s death, it was re-named the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge — ‘Ding’ was his ‘nom de plume’ (leaving off the ‘arl’ in his name).  Darling had twice won a Pulitzer Prize for his inspirational editorial cartoons (in 1924 and 1942) and in 1934, then president Franklin Roosevelt rewarded him by appointing him Director of the U.S. Biological Survey, the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Darling designed the national symbol for the refuge system called the Blue Goose, which Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring, conservationist, environmentalist and scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1932 to 1952) referenced here:

“Wherever you meet this sign, respect it.  It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”

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Explore, discover and inspire!

The boardwalks here afford the visitor a view of the mangroves from above, a rare vantage point.  Entering the park, parking and walking along these peripheral trails is free — a bonus to entrance-fee weary travellers.

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Bird and beast watching

There are many birds to set your eyes on here:  pelicans, egret, ibis, herons and more…

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Handy identifier for folks like us, who haven’t a clue.

But what I really loved were the little suitcases placed along the handrails with what appeared to be life-like lumps of poo.

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“Excuse me. Someone pooped on your briefcase.”

Charming to both young and old, the handle beckons.  So you dutifully open and find this …

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AHA!  Scat.  Coyote poo.  This particular kind of thing will definitely come in handy.

And so you go along and make guesses.  What kind of poo is this?

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I’d guess it is something large…..

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Bingo!

What a wonderful interactive way of learning, for big and little kids.

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