Kayaking Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island

I spent this morning kayaking the winding water trails and lagoons at the western end of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on Sanibel Island. Once on the water I did not see another human being for the entire paddle—it seemed almost primeval. It was, however, lively. Fish were jumping all around me. Most, I believe, were sea trout, but some had a black dot on the tail, which means redfish. I had stuffed my little Canon G12 point-and-shoot in the dry bag (not wanting to risk dropping my 5D in the water), just in case, and it paid off—got one quick snap of an osprey (see below) searching for breakfast from his dead-limb perch. Ospreys have been on the Florida Fish and Wildlife’s “Species of Special Concern” list for quite some time, but populations here are reportedly on the increase. Their common name is fish hawk, because that’s almost all they eat. I read an interesting bit of trivia about them that speaks to their intelligence and adaptability. Right after they snatch a fish out of the water, they spin it around between their claws so that the fish’s head faces forward for aerodynamic advantage (or maybe they just want the fish to see where it is going).

So what the heck is a Ding Darling? It’s not a “what”. It’s a “who”.

(Excerpted from Visiting Small-Town Florida, Third Edition): The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is named after political cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. Darling won a Pulitzer Prize in 1924 and 1943, and later was head of the U.S. Biological Survey. He was also founder of the National Wildlife Foundation. Darling spent his winters on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and championed the cause of conservation and wildlife preservation here, long before it was fashionable. As far back as the 1920s, Darling’s cartoons reflected his concerns about conservation. It was his efforts that led to Sanibel and Captiva being declared wildlife sanctuaries by the State of Florida in 1948.

Bruce Hunt

Postscript, May 17, 2011: I discussed the jumping fish in Ding Darling, the other night, with a fishing-expert friend, Michael Poole, and he tells me that, “Redfish don’t jump.” It’s most likely that most of the fish I saw were mullet. The black dot on the tail of a few that I saw remains a mystery, however–if anyone can identify it, please let mew know. My curiosity is piqued.  Bruce Hunt

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