homepage logo

Ding offers plenty to do, activities include lectures and tours that mostly free

By Staff | Jan 14, 2015

Tammy McQuade (left), David McQuade, Lillian Stokes, Don Stokes and Karl Werner headlined the opening l­ecture series at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The series on Fridays explores wildlife and the outdoors, and in March will feature the grand-daughter of Ansel Adams. CRAIG GARRETT

Don’t fret, there’s plenty to do in the islands this week and in the coming months.

A chief resource for entertainment and discovery is the popular J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which has dozens of weekly and daily activities for returning islanders, locals and visitors. Some require a Wildlife Drive entry fee, many are free. And the Ding is particularly beautiful in the winter, with a quiet morning walk along Wildlife Drive as impossibly calming.

Three meaningful activities at the Ding continue this week, including the 2015 Ding Lecture Series on Fridays that started with a look at social media to track and discover birds. The first lecture featured Don and Lillian Stokes, writer/photographers of a birding guidebooks with followers around the world. The pair return Feb. 13 to present photos and information about birds in Sanibel. The couple attract a large following.

Other daily programs at the Ding started Jan. 6 with a bird tour. Dozens of birders trailed around with experienced guides. Daily programs run through mid-April. Outside programs start at 8:30 a.m. at the guest parking flagpole. And the annual Wednesday film series kicked off with a look a Cuba. Ding volunteers were giddy with the visitor turnout for the film, with the numbers well above previous years, one official said.

But it’s the lecture series that gets seasonal programing in gear. The program started almost accidentally, with a volunteer searching for a way to bring visitors (and volunteers) back to the Ding following Hurricane Charley, the storm in 2004 that went over Sanibel and Captiva like a bowling ball. The lecture series has morphed to Fridays, mostly because Wildlife Drive is closed, said Lise Bryant, manager of the Ding gift shop and staffer who launched the lecture series in January 2005.

The series was slow in gaining a following, but quickly caught fire, said Bryant, who has a calendar of each year’s lecture guests in her gift shop office. The first lecture drew three dozen or so visitors.

“Each week it picked up,” she said. “I think (people) were looking for something normal, to get past Charley.”

Many Ding programs are free or reduced because island businesses have sponsored them. Sanibel Captiva Trust Co., the ‘Tween Waters Island Resort in Captiva, and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society are chiefly covering the costs.

Lillian Stokes, the bird-guide author and photographer, said the lecture series and other Ding programs have become destination events, that locals and visitors “look ahead with anticipation. It gets people here.”

Stokes expected a nice turnout for the social media lecture, as bird enthusiasts increasingly turn to phone apps and tablets to log sightings and to watch what others are posting.

“People are dropping everything to run to a rare sighting,” said Stokes, who has seven birding apps on her phone. “Things have changed dramatically in our field since we started 33 years ago. It’s fun.

Friday Lecture Series 2015

The free 2015 lectures will be held twice each Friday, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., except where noted. Book signings follow all of the starred (*) lectures. Seating for the lectures is limited and available on a first-come basis.

BIG thanks to the Sanibel Captiva Trust Co. for its generous sponsorship of the 2014 Lecture Series.

*January 16 – Speaker: Author Bill Belleville, The Peace of Blue

*January 23 – Speaker: Author/Photographer Mac Stone, Everglades: America’s Wetland

*January 30 – Speaker: Author Neville Williams, “Our Solar-Powered Future”

*February 6 – Speaker: Author Jeff Klinkenberg, Alligator in B Flat

*February 13 – Speakers: Authors Don and Lillian Stokes, “Beautiful Birds of Sanibel”

*February 20 – No Lecture – Volunteer Luncheon

*February 27 – Speaker: Author Gary Monroe, The Highwaymen

March 6 – Speaker: Sarah Adams, “Memories of My Grandfather, Ansel Adams”

*March 13 – Speaker: Author Frederick “Fritz” Davis, Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

*March 20 – Speaker: Author Marie Read, Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Birds

*March 27 – Speaker: Peggy Macdonald, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida Environment

April 3 – Speaker: Jeremy Conrad, “Sea Turtles”

April 10 – Speaker: Jerry Lorenz, “Roseate Spoonbills”

Ding things:

Free daily tours: Jan. 6 – April 12: All programs are at the Cross Dike Pavilion on Wildlife Drive unless otherwise stated. Entry fees apply. Visitors are encouraged to bring water and insect repellent to all outdoor tours, hikes, walks and programs.

Lecture series: Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Education Center.

Film series: Wednesdays at 2 p.m. in the Education Center. Held every other week.

Jan. 21, 2:30 p.m.: John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature

Feb. 4, 2:30 p.m.: The 11th Hour

Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m.: Sharkwater

March 4, 2:30 p.m.: Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?

March 18, 2:30 p.m.: Turtle: The Incredible Journey

March 25, 2:30 p.m.: The Gathering Swarms

April 15, 2:30 p.m.: A Chasing Ice

Biking the Refuge: Bike enthusiasts bring your bicycle and join a naturalist on the Wildlife Drive/Indigo Trail loop to learn about the refuge’s bird life and ecology. The Drive is paved while the Indigo Trail is hard-packed shell, so the tour is suitable for people of all abilities. Fun for all ages! Meet at the flagpole in front of the Education Center. 4 miles, 1.5 hours.

Birding the Refuge: Advanced birders delight! Meet at the flagpole in front of the Education Center to begin your bird identification tour. Follow a naturalist along Wildlife Drive while in the comfort of your car. 1.5 hours.

Birds & Wildlife Tour: Come along on a car caravan tour of the refuge. This tour highlights the fascinating natural wonders of this unique mangrove ecosystem and the wildlife that lives here. Meet at the flagpole. 1.5 hours.

Calusa Shell Mound Trail Tour: Meet naturalists with tales of the Calusa people’s history and teach you about native Florida plant life on this enchanting boardwalk trail. Meet at the Shell Mound Trail parking lot. 1/3 mile, 1-3 p.m. continuously.

Indigo Trail Hike: Naturalists lead a tour identifying and discussing the ecosystems plants, animals, birds, and reptiles. Fun for all ages! Meet at the flagpole in front of the Education Center. Approximately 2 miles, 1.5 hours.

Plants of the Bailey Tract Tour: Walk the trails of the Bailey Tract with a naturalist to learn about the plants and trees of this freshwater ecosystem of Southwest Florida. Meet at the Bailey Tract parking lot. Approximately 2 miles, 1.5 hours.

Birds of the Refuge: Not sure which feathery friends you are seeing through your binoculars? Learn interesting facts about birds and how to identify them in the estuary. Fun for all ages! 30 minutes.

Endangered Species: The habitats of animals throughout the world are disappearing, affecting species everywhere. Come discover endangered species of Southwest Florida and what you can do to help. 30 minutes.

Florida Manatees: Explore the world of one of America’s most endangered species, the Florida manatee, as it faces a challenging future. Find out what you can do to help save this species. 30 minutes.

Gators and Crocs: Is it an alligator or crocodile? Learn about the order Crocodilia, including crocodiles, gharials, alligators, and caimans. Learn how to identify families and local species in the refuge. Fun for all ages! 30 minutes.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Come and discover our under appreciated refuge residents: snakes, lizards, toads, frogs and anoles! 30 minutes

Family Craft & Story: Join a naturalist for story-time. Bring the family to hear an exciting wildlife themed story and make a craft about an animal in our estuarine ecosystem. Story-time is appropriate for pre-K through 6th, although everyone is welcome. 30 minutes inside the Education Center.

Florida’s Venomous Wildlife: Learn about the venomous wildlife that lives in southwest Florida. Learn to identify the animals and their habitats. 30 minutes inside the Education Center

Birds of Prey of Southwest Florida: Discover which birds of prey live in Southwest Florida and learn about their adaptations for survival. 30 minutes.

Nature Photography: Get back to nature! Learn the art of nature photography using basic equipment. 30 minutes inside the Education Center.

Details are at www.fws.gov/dingdarling