Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ding Darling - Florida Day 4

Day Four saw us set off bright and early, very early, for the Ding Darling National Nature Reserve, and after surviving our drivers slight collision with a lovely floridian named lance, we made it.

Left and bottom right show the lagoon and mangrove habitat at
Ding Darling NNR. Top Right is a Duck stamp
 key to its conservation 
What is Ding Darling?

Ding Darling is located on Sanibel island on the south west coast.

The reserve was first created in 1945 when Jay Norwood Darling blocked the sale of the land to developers by urging his friend president truman to sign an order creating the ‘Sanibel island National wildlife refuge’

This was just one of many conservation successes for Jay Norwood or ‘Ding’ Darling. Darling was a political cartoonist and keen conservationist whose achievements ranged from leading the forerunner to the US Fish and Wildlife service (the US Biological survey) to the creation of the Duck Stamp, a hunting requirement that has the to the conservation of many wetland habitats among others.

The Sanibel Island National Nature reserve was later renamed in honor of Darling in 1967 and covers 6,400 acres of mangrove swamp, marsh and seagrass bed. Around 2,800 acres of that area is designated as ‘wilderness’ by US congress limiting human impact to a minimum.

Our Visit
We met our enthusiastic guide for the afternoon, Judy Davis. Judy was a fantastically knowledgeable lady who was a volunteer warden for the reserve but had been visiting it long before she joined its team.

We drove along the visitor tail stopping at Judys instruction to get the best views of the habitats and the wildlife they supported.

When i got out of the bus for the first time along the visitor trail the first thing that stuck me was the strong smell of sulphur coming from the dense mangrove swamps at either side of the road. I knew from our Biogeochemical modules this meant that A.) The soil was very reduced and anoxic and B.) There would be a plentiful supply of sulphur from the sea water meaning that redox would never get so low that the microbes would have to use carbon as an electron acceptor producing methane.

Left to Right - A Red Racer Snake (Masticophis) in among the mangrove roots. A conduit of open water in the Mangrove swamps. A Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) viviparous propagule.
Judy spoke a lot into the subject of how important the mangroves are in order to support the biodiversity at the site by providing nesting and roosting habitat for many of the bird species and nursery habitat for fish which later support the birds. Later we explored the mangroves for ourselves and came across a number of species including the mangrove tree crabs (Aratus pisonii) and a Red Racer snake (Masticophis flagellum)

As we traveled along Judy spoke about the water management of the reserve. In the past it was managed purely for hunting which for the most part meant supporting the migratory duck populations. This had led to the installation of water controlling features such as dams to keep the water level inside the bay high. However this created highly anoxic water which caused a decline in other biodiversity, mainly through its impact on the fish populations. Today only a small area of the reserve has its water level artificially raised and is closely monitored to ensure that the oxygen within the area does not drop dangerously low.

But what turned out to be the real highlight of the day was the reason why we left so early, seeing all the different bird feeding behaviours. I'm no animal behaviourist but it was still fascinating to watch. Examples of this include
-Different wading species working together to corner fish (communal feeding)
-Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) gliding over the water with their yellow legs breaking the surface to attract fish upwards
-White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in a small group herding fish across the water (Seen in Video)
- White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) Picking through the sediment to find invertebrates
-Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) diving and drying

One of our group spotted a number of Rosette spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in the distance, this led judy to regale a story from her earlier days where she failed a birding exam for stating that the pink colour of the spoonbill plumage was due to genetics unlike the flamingo, a fact that is true but unfortunately her examiner was misinformed.
Top Left to Right - A group of wading bird species fishing communally at the edge of the Lagoon, Group of Ring Necked Ducks (Aythya collaris). Bottom Left to Right - Some members of our group looking out across the lagoon, Adult and juvenile (Closer) White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) feeding.

We Concluded the Visit with a trip around the visitor center, taking some crayon rubbings in our field books  and a video on the history of the site before saying goodbye to our wonderful and knowledgeable guide

Species List


Common Name
Latin Name
Anhinga anhinga
Roseate Spoonbill
Platalea ajaja
Phalacrocorax carbo
Greater Yellow Legs
Tringa melanoleuca
White Ibis
Eudocimus albus
Royal Tern
Thalasseus maximus
Yellow-crowned night heron
Nyctanassa violacea
White Pelican
Pelecanus onocrotalus
Great White Egret
Ardea alba
Snowy Egret
Egretta thula
Tringa semipalmata
Ring Necked Ducks
Aythya collaris
Little Blue Heron
Egretta caerulea
Reddish Egret
Egretta rufescens
Pied-billed Grebes
Podilymbus podiceps


Common Name
Latin Name
Red Mangrove
Rhizophora mangle
Black Mangrove
Avicennia germinans
White Mangrove
Laguncularia racemosa


Common Name
Latin Name
Brown Anole
Anolis sagrei
Alligator mississippiensis
Red Racer Snake
Masticophis flagellum


Common Name
Latin Name
Mangrove Tree Crabs
Aratus pisonii
Fire Ants
Solenopsis invicta


Common Name
Latin Name
Mosquito Fish
Gambusia affinis
Mugil cephalus
Centropomus undecimalis

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