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If RumShopRyan’s Captiva Island Inn story enticed you to just go, I know a place you’ll definitely want to check out while you’re on Sanibel and Captiva – J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

Ding Darling wild life refuge, Captiva, Sanibel

Ding Darling Map, Captiva, Sanibel

Drive, walk or bike 4.25 miles through a mangrove ecosystem to see some of the best wildlife Southwest Florida has to offer. You’ll see things that fly, swim, run, slither, crawl, and bite! Just don’t get too close to the ones that bite!

american crocodile, ding darling, captiva, sanibel

With the diverse amount of species that call Ding Darling home, it’s a nature photographer’s dream. That’s why I love it so much!

I have to admit, when I visit the park, I get lens envy. It’s easy to feel a little ill-equipped when standing next to a photographer with a mega 600mm telephoto lens. Maybe Santa *cough* RumShopRyan will buy me one for Christmas.

Anyways, enough about me — Back to the animals!

One species that calls Ding Darling home is the American White Pelican. Just like our other “snowbirds” these birds are only in town during the winter months and leave by spring. This amazing bird has the second largest average wingspan of any North American bird, after the California condor.

Great White Pelican, Bird, Ding Darling, Captiva, Sanibel

The best time to observe these magnificent animals is at low tide around sunrise and sunset.

Be certain that they won’t be alone. Many other species will be interacting and sharing the marshy wetlands with them such as Roseate Spoonbills, Herons, Egrets, the American Alligator and the rare American Crocodile.

american white pelican, Ding Darling, Captiva, Sanibel

Roseate Spoonbill, Egret, Birds, Ding Darling, Captiva, Sanibel

Another reason why I love this preserve is because you can take your time and get lost in nature. Just don’t get too lost, remember some critters can bite!

If you’re driving through, you can park on the right side of the road and get out of the car whenever you want to get a better view of the wildlife around you. For only $5 you get access to the refuge all day so don’t fear missing out on the perfect photo! There are also several trails to hike off the main road.

Trail, Ding Darling, Indian Mound Trail, Captiva, Sanibel

Every day is different at Ding Darling so keep your eyes peeled. You never know what bird, mammal or reptile will cross your path.

Check it out and don’t forget to bring your camera!

Never Stop Exploring

Castaway Crystal

P.S. – Leaving soon? These recommended links below will help you save money and book your trip:

We use all the companies listed here or on the resource page. By booking through these links, the small commission we earn helps us bring you more Caribbean content so that you can save money and have a better island vacation. Crystal and I greatly appreciate any support!

About the Author: Castaway Crystal

I'm a beach bunny hopping from island to island with camera in hand. I love experiencing all the Caribbean has to offer and sharing it with you! Conch fritter connoisseur, animal and nature lover, and RumShopRyan’s salty first mate. To learn more, visit our About Us Page.