BEST BIRDWATCHING DAY TRIP Miami 2003 - J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
A two-and-a-half-hour trip across the Everglades (take Interstate 75 for the fast trip; Tamiami Trail for the scenic ride) gets you to Lee County and Sanibel Island. There you'll find the 6000-acre refuge, named in honor of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and pioneer conservationist Jay Norwood Darling. The mixed estuarine habitat includes open water, mangrove islands, mud flats, freshwater ponds, and hardwood hammocks. It can be explored by canoe and kayak (rental information: 941-472-8900), foot, or to a lesser degree car. The refuge will not disappoint birders, amateur or otherwise. In addition to the more common roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons, egrets, ospreys, and hawks, threatened birds such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and wood storks are also at home here. Many others pass through during spring and fall migrations, attracting birdwatchers from far and wide. (Roughly 238 species have been counted.) In the water you can spy alligators, American crocodiles, loggerhead turtles, manatees, and more -- 32 species of mammals and 51 of reptiles and amphibians. All of it well worth the drive from Miami.