"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 or hike 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 paddlecraft or joining a paddle or boat tour at Tarpon Bay from the refuge’s recreation concession. The Bailey Tract is a separate site that offers different, freshwater 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 marsh that is frequented by ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and ospreys. This is an excellent place to start or end the day, watching the flyover of larger birds between the gulf and the bay."
1 Wildlife Dr., Sanibel, FL 33957
While reading about Roseate Spoonbills in Southwest Florida I learned of J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge as a nationally recognized and top visited refuge for seeing spoonbills. As a location close to some of my wife's favorite shelling beaches I had passed it a number of times when spending a day on Sanibel and Captiva and decided to take a look. I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of spoonbills on this first visit. It's also where I first spotted a variety of additional species.