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Live wildlife presentations, python talk and more for ‘Ding’ Darling Day

October 9, 2019
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

As the 75th anniversary celebration at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel kicks in, staff has planned a "Ding" Darling Day for Oct. 20 that will concentrate all the best traditions of the eco-festival into one day of family-oriented and conservation art activities, tours and programs.

Guided tours and a 9 a.m. Girl Scout Troop 874 flag-raising start the day. The refuge will hand out free reusable shopping bags made from recycled water bottles to the first 300 guests as it celebrates the birthday of its namesake - Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling - with birthday cookies.

Wildlife presentations outside under the "big top" showcase snakes and animal ambassadors from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. Celebrity Burmese python hunter Dusty "Wildman" Crum and biologist Mike Kirkland will talk about the havoc the species is wreaking on the Everglades; there will be no live snakes at the presentation in the Visitor & Education Center auditorium.

Article Photos

“Snakes Alive!” is one of the day’s wildlife presentations.

Other highlights include all-free narrated Tarpon Bay Explorers tram tours of Wildlife Drive (based on availability), archery skills clinics (for ages 10 and older), a butterfly house, chalk drawing, wildlife origami, nature sketching, hot dogs and live music by the Americana Community Music Association.

"We estimate the value of this free event to be up to $75 for a family of four," Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, the 'Ding' Days Committee chair, said. "But the value of family- and nature-bonding? You just can't put a price tag on that."

Continuous free shuttle service will run from the refuge's Tram Parking Lot on Sanibel-Captiva Road and Tarpon Bay Explorers.

The entire day's schedule is as follows:

- 8 a.m.: Birding tour with Senior Refuge Biologist Jeremy Conrad, meet at EC flagpole

- 9 a.m.: Flag-Raising at EC flagpole, followed by "Ding" Birthday Celebration in the event tent

- 9 a.m. to noon: Free stand-up paddleboard clinic, TBE

- 9:30 a.m.: Guided Bike the Refuge tour (four miles), meet at EC flagpole

- 10 a.m.: Guided nature hike on Indigo Trail in Spanish, meet at EC flagpole

- 10 a.m.: "Ding" Darling Day Amateur Photo Contest awards, EC auditorium

- 10 a.m.: Live animals presentation by CROW, event tent

- 10 a.m.: Nature sketching on Indigo Trail (limited to 40), meet at EC flagpole

- 10 a.m.: Wildlife yoga by Ambu Yoga, EC classroom

- 10 a.m.: 25 percent off guided Commodore Creek Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

- 11 a.m.: Python talk, EC auditorium

- 11 a.m.: Puppet show by Littleton Elementary, EC classroom

- 11 a.m.: Guided nature hike on Indigo Trail in English, meet at EC flagpole

- 11 a.m.: 25 percent off Nature & Sealife Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

- Noon: Kids canvas painting (limited to 20), EC classroom

- Noon: Grades 5-8 Cartoon Contest awards, EC auditorium

- 1 p.m.: Federal and Junior Duck Stamp presentation, EC auditorium

- 1 p.m.: Wildlife origami, EC classroom

- 1 p.m.: 25 percent off guided Commodore Creek Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

- 1:30 p.m.: 25 percent off Nature & Sealife Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

- 2 p.m.: Snakes Alive! presentation, event tent

- 2 p.m.: Puppet show by Littleton Elementary, EC classroom

- 3 p.m.: Live animals presentation by CROW, event tent

- 5 p.m.: 25 percent off Evening Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

- 5 p.m.: 25 percent off Sunset Rookery Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

*EC = "Ding" Darling Visitor & Education Center

*TBE = Tarpon Bay Explorers

In addition, the following are free and continuous throughout the day:

- Parking at Special Events Parking site and Tarpon Bay Explorers

- Shuttle service

- Hourly Wildlife Drive tram tours, check in at Tram Booth

- Naturalist-narrated, 60-minute tram tours (check in at tram booth upon arrival)

- Plein-air artists on Wildlife Drive

- Face painting

- Chalk drawing

- Butterfly house

- Live music

- Hot dogs

- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emergency response vehicles and demonstrations

- Archery demonstrations, adjacent to overflow parking lot

- Fly-fishing demonstrations

- Fishing workshop

- Hands-on nature crafts

- Informational booths with giveaways

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and TBE co-present "Ding" Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

For more information, visit



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