Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Stalking the Mangroves of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

©Bert Gildart: By my watch, the yellow-crowned night heron stood perfectly motionless for exactly 14 minutes, but then it suddenly performed a 45 degree left-face. Moments later, it began gyrating, snaking it head back and forth. Suddenly, the heron struck out, retrieving something small, perhaps a snail—something, at any rate that was much too tiny to see.

The bird was in a mangrove marsh, a vast area named after J. N. “Ding” Darling, one of the foremost conservationists of the 30s and 40s. Today, the refuge is called the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

I have become fascinated with the Yellow-crowned Night Heron found here, a bird that generally hunts at night. But often it searches for crustaceans during the day, and finds them here among all the mangroves. You can tell when it is hunting in earnest simply by studying the heron’s eye through the lens of your camera or binoculars. When it is relaxed, the eye almost appears glazed, but when it is truly hunting the eye assumes a look of intensity.

I stayed with this one for over an hour, watching as it moved through roots, raising one foot, and then with its foot poised several inches off the ground, watching as it froze, waiting for its meal. Sensing, apparently, a relaxation in its prey, the heron again stepped forward. Bracing itself, its head then begins to do all the work, inching forward.

And now the heron’s eye is focused to the extent it almost appears crazed. And this is when the head and neck start swaying back and forth, as though it is attempting to calm its prey through hypnotism.

Then it strikes, its long neck snapping forward—beak slamming into its prey.

ROSEATE SPOONBILL: Other birds also hunt the mangroves, and we spent time photographing the Roseate Spoonbill. With its spatula-shaped bill, the bird swings its head through the water, all the while opening and closing its mandibles. The mandibles are sensitized and grooved, and they clamp shut when they touch prey.

SNOWY EGRET Along the drive, just a little past the spoonbills, we also found several Snowy Egrets. During the breeding season, the plumage is resplendent, and because of its incredible beauty an entire industry grew up around the species.

During the early 1900s, manufacturers embellished women’s hats with the feathers of egrets, generally the Snowy. Though the industry was an unconscionable one, it flourished to such an extent that the species almost went the way of the passenger pigeon.

DING DARLING In part, because of the egret, Ding Darling worked his magic with his Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons and helped sway politicians to outlaw the killing of such birds. Though Darling was a hard-core Republican, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the man if he would serve as director of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, predecessor to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Darling’s accomplishments in the field of conservation were great, and in 1934, he initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program. In 1945 Darling helped establish the refuge that would one day bear his name.

Today, the refuge visitor center recalls the man with an elaborate interpretative replica of his desk and office in which he penned so many of his cartoons.

ALLIGATOR The refuge, of course, preserves more than just birds, and as we progressed along the drive we found an alligator, and although a small one, it intrigued not only a group on the park bus, but us as well. We listened as the driver/lecturer explained that the distance between the eyes and the tip of the gators snout was directly proportional to the length of the gator. For instance, if eye to snout is eight inches, the gator is eight feet. But the question that seems begging is how do you measure that snout to eyes distance?

WHITE PELICANS During our week at Sanibel, we drove through the refuge almost every day and, once, drove the road’s five mile length three times. No two drives were the same, for the refuge is a dynamic place with different species hunting at different times of the day and in different places. Our shortest drive took two hours, and that was the evening sunset drive, as I now knew the pelicans roosted on this small sand bar each evening and knew exactly what I was looking for. The longest drive took about four hours, and that was when we became so engrossed with the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

As should be obvious from our various postings (most recently one on Bosque), birding is one of our passions, and we feel competent to say that the Ding Darling Refuge provides an outlet for that passion. Certainly the refuge is one that enabled me to add considerably to my vast library of stock photos. With regret we leave today, heading to Big Cypress, where our friends Jack and Carla Rupert work as campground host and hostess.

Comments are closed.