<-- More Sanibel Island

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J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Accessible wildlife populate Sanibel and Captiva Islands. This is particularly true of the wildlife at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Amidst the seagrape, wax and salt myrtles, red mangrove, cabbage and sabal palms reside a large variety of animals. And you can see many of them on the five-mile scenic drive that winds through the refuge.

On our family's 5:00 p.m. tour, we saw many birds: double-crested cormorants on trees; great egrets, roseate spoonbills and white ibis in water; and a red-shouldered hawk on the wing. We also viewed blue crabs and a raccoon satisfying its curiosity about an item in the road.

But the highlight of the drive, was the sighting of an alligator- for there he was, unpenned, floating with nothing but part of his back and his beady eyes watching, watching. The refuge has various stops where you can read information or perhaps walk on boardwalks to get a closer look. At one such stop, we acquainted ourselves with an English family who informed us about their disappointment at not having yet seen an alligator. Indeed, the sighting of an alligator was one of the reasons for their journey to Florida. They left but as we stopped at another stop, we saw them again. They put their fingers to their lips to signal us to be quiet as we progressed toward them on a gravel-covered dike. As we came up to them, they whispered that they had spotted an alligator and pointed to his location.

Sure enough, as we squinted our eyes to concentrate on the span across the lagoon in front of us, we saw him, too. He was still, very still. It was thrilling, for he was a symbol of untamed nature and of an ancient species that had survived and in fact, was thriving. He swam for short distances and then resumed his waiting posture.
(Be aware that though alligators appear to be sluggish creatures, do not get close to them. On land, they can outrun humans for short distances).

If you go to the refuge, be sure to purchase the "Wildlife Drive Guide," which is available just inside the entrance. It is well worth the $1 donation asked, for with it, you can identify the many species of wildlife and plants you will encounter.

Located at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel Island, FL 33957, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is well worth the fees: $4 for car or $1 for walking or bicycling through. If you have any questions, call 239/472-1100.

C.R.O.W. (Care & Rehabilitation of Wildlife) Check out orphaned, injured and sick wildlife at C.R.O.W. (Care & Rehabilitation of Wildlife). Tours are conducted from Thanksgiving through Easter at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Adult tickets are $3, while children under 12 may enter without paying a fee.
C.R.O.W. is at 3883 Sanibel/Captiva Road (west of Rabbit Road), Sanibel, FL 33957. The phone number is 239/472-3644.

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Many aspects of nature may be explored at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. On its 1,100 acre site, the SCCF has a nature center, bookshop and native plants nursery. Visitors may hike trails to view wildlife habitats, climb an observation tower, enjoy a butterfly exhibit, and touch sealife in a live marine touch tank.

Hours of operation depend upon the season: April 15-November 14, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and November 15-April 14, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The admission is quite reasonable: $3 for adults and free for children 16 and under. SCCF is handicapped accessible and is at 333 Sanibel/Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, FL 33957, 239/472-2329.

Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum The shells found on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands are unsurpassed. Many are in one piece which is caused by the unusual direction Sanibel faces, east-west rather than northwest. The direction it faces causes the ocean to slow down, thereby leaving behind its shells in better condition. Says Florida's Fabulous Seashells' author Winston Williams, A brand new island has formed off North Captiva providing exciting and challenging adventures. Miniature sand dollars, as well as olives, naticas and small whelks are bountiful.

And those beautiful shells are found in the world's only sea shell museum located at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road on Sanibel. The sea's delicate beauties are marvelous to view and study in thematic groupings of ecological habitats ranging from FloridaÍs Southwest barrier islands to its Everglades.

This amazing museum is open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and is handicapped accessible. For adults admission is $5; youths 8-16, $3; and children 7 and under are free. For questions, call 239/395-2233.

Shelling Stores
For those who avoid the rigors of shelling, which result in what is called the "Sanibel Stoop" or "Captiva Crouch," there is always the option of purchasing shells. The following stores offer exotic shells, crafts constructed with shells, including shell jewelry:

She Sells Sea Shells, 1157 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, 239/472-6992 or
2422 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, 239/472-8080

Neptune's Treasures, 1101 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, 239/472-3132

The Sea and Me, 1700 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, 239/472-5636

Shell World of Sanibel, 2330 Palm Ridge Rd., Sanibel Island, 239/472-2391

Showcase Shells, 1614 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, 239/472-1971

Shelling Charters
Join shelling tours to see how the professionals do it! These charter boat operations take you on shelling tours of offshore barrier islands, including Cayo Costa State Island Preserve, a state park island preserve and shelling destination, and North Captiva Island.

A half day of shelling costs $180 or may be split up between six persons at a cost of $40 a piece. An added option are four-hour guided kayak tours of the Buck Key Nature Preserve for $35 per person. One location offering such charters is at 'Tween Waters Inn Marina, Captiva Road, Captiva Island, FL 33924, 239/472-5161.

Captiva Cruises
By riding the Andy Rosse , visitors can learn where the best shelling, bird watching and and hiking is on "old Florida" nature trails. These trips cost adults $35 and children, $15, and in "season" include a visit to Boca Grande, a charming seaside village.

The Andy Rosse on its Dolphin and Wildlife Adventure Cruises with the Sanibel/Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) last from 9-10 a.m., while its Sunset Serenade Cruises begin at 4 p.m. and run until 5 p.m. These cruises that depart from McCarthy's Marina on Captiva Island cost adults $17.50 and children $10; the morning cruises include a continental breakfast and the evening ones a call 239/472-5300.