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Birding at its best

By Staff | Nov 29, 2017

Slots are still available for Don and Lillian Stokes’ annual private birding tram tours of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.

The tours, which have been offered for the last six years, originally started out as a one-time fundraising event.

“It turned out to be so effective and popular that it has become annual,” Lillian said.

The tours will be separated by two trams which will accommodate 60 people each. On Lillian’s tram, she will mainly focus on bird photography and camera tips.

“On my tram, we do bird photography but we also talk about identifying birds and how to use photography for identifying birds as well,” Lillian said. “We’re also lucky because we get to go in on (Wildlife Drive) on Friday when it’s closed so we have the whole place to ourselves. We’ll able to see the birds up close and personal,” she said.

Lillian will also share her knowledge of how to photograph birds without disturbing them.

“We always teach respect for birds and good ethics in terms of both photography and approaching birds and bird identification,” Lillian said. “Everyone comes away with wonderful photos because the birds are always performing and it’s so beautiful there.”

Lillian said her tram is open to photographers of all skill levels.

“Whoever you are and whatever your level of skill, you’re welcomed. Everybody will learn something,” she said.

Don’s tram on the other hand, will focus on bird identification.

“I really try to get people to open their eyes and see all of “Ding” Darling in a new way. They say that the true adventure in life is not finding new places, but having new eyes,” Don said.

Along the way, participants will be able to see some of the refuge’s iconic birds such as the American white pelicans, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, great egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, bald eagles and osprey.

Don said that many stops are made on Wildlife Drive.

“You’ll be amazed at what happens when you stop and look,” Don said.

All of the proceeds from the tour goes toward wildlife and education programs at the refuge.

“It’s important because the refuges need help and they need support. This is our way of giving back,” Lillian said. “We’re happy to do it.”

Aside from the tour, Don and Lillian are well-known for their Stokes Field Guides, all 30 of them, and their PBS TV series “Stokes Birds at Home.”

Both Don and Lillian have been birders for over 30 years.

“Our goal has always been to reach a lot of people and we’ve been fortunate, we’ve reached millions of people in our life and helped them enjoy, appreciate and understand birds,” Lillian said.

Tickets are $100 for the half-day tour. The tour includes coffee, continental breakfast and spotting scopes for Wildlife Drive. The Visitor & Education Center will open at 7 a.m., the tram will depart at 7:30 a.m. Reservations can be made at tinyurl.com/stokes18 or via email at sarah@dingdarlingsociety.org. Interested individuals may also call 239-472-1100 ext. 4. A non-refundable payment is required for reservations.