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April 27, 2023

May 3-9: Free Nature Wellness Week

Highlights of the second annual Nature Wellness Week will range from nature-healing lectures by nationally noted speakers and a Food Forest Wellness Fest at FGCU, to mindfulness walks on Wildlife Drive and Boot Camp. Guest lecturers include Dr. Geraldine V. Oades-Sese, child resilience psychologist, and Dr. Joe Blanda, healing-through-nature advocate. The schedule is listed on the Wellness web page and at, where you can register free-of-charge for the events.


Retired surgeon Dr. Blanda kicks off the week on May 3 with his lecture “The Nature Prescription: Simple Strategies for Healing in Nature on Sanibel” starting at noon in the Visitor & Education Center.

New Refuge Urban Ranger

The Refuge recently welcomed new Urban Ranger Yvette Carrasco to fill a vacancy in its Community Outreach efforts. Yvette hails from Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in Spanish at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

She comes to the Refuge from Mound House on Fort Myers Beach, where she served as environmental educator, informing the public about the Calusa culture and natural history of the site. Prior to that, she worked seven years with CROW on Sanibel Island. There, she shared her knowledge as a Certified Florida Master Naturalist with the community by doing weekly presentations about the importance of local wildlife.


“Sanibel is very special to me,” Yvette said. “I have worked and lived on the island, which allowed me the opportunity to build relationships with many people and organizations. My favorite memories were the rescues and releases that took place at ‘Ding’ Darling when I worked at CROW. It’s very beautiful to see organizations collaborate on Sanibel for the same goal of preserving the island and protecting wildlife.


At “Ding” Darling, Yvette will be assisting with the WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) mobile classroom and other community outreach programs to spread the Refuge conservation message. She actively collaborates with the Farmworkers Association of Florida in Immokalee, where she uses her bilingual skills to make visible the reality of a commonly undervalued community.


“Her broad connections within the local community and the summary of her educational skills will help us maximize the overall experience with WoW and our other outreach programs,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland.


“I look forward to educating in Spanish,” Yvette said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to reach the Spanish-speaking community and educate about the importance of the environment and its wildlife.”

TODAY, April 27: Burn Plan Meeting

Refuge staff invites the public to an informational meeting on Thursday, April 27, starting at 5:30 p.m. to discuss upcoming island burn plans and address any questions or concerns. The meeting will be held at the Refuge Visitor & Education Center.


This year’s fire season may be more active on Sanibel Island due to damage caused by Hurricane Ian. The increased amount of dead vegetation on the ground and in debris piles across the island, as well as the decreased rainfall this time of year, pose a higher threat for wildfire. Members of the Sanibel Prescribed Fire Task Force are planning to conduct prescribed burning in natural areas to remove dead vegetation and replenish nutrients in the soil. These prescribed burns reduce the risk READ MORE

Welcome DDWS Impact Officer

D’Ann Miller steps into her new position, which was vacated earlier this year when Ann-Marie Wildman accepted a promotion to associate executive director for DDWS. A Kansas City, Missouri, native, D’Ann graduated from Park University in Parkville, Missouri.


“She brings a unique skill set to the table with background and experience in communications and marketing, fundraising, budgeting, management, education, and community outreach, plus 19 years of nonprofit experience,” said Executive Director Birgie Miller Gresham. “She wraps it all together with a passion for conservation.” 


After visiting the islands and “Ding” Darling for many years, D’Ann fell in love with their conservation ethic. Three years ago, she made the conscious decision to move to the island and become a part of the community. Most recently, she served as a regional hotel operator on Sanibel and before that as executive director of Montessori School of Innovative Learning in Kansas City.


In the position of Impact Officer, D'Ann will use her skills in strengthening and enhancing the relationships with donors, volunteers, and community partners, as well as cultivating new emerging donors because of hurricane-related changes in homeowner status both on and off the island.  


“I look forward to Sanibel’s rebuild within the ‘Ding’ Darling Refuge,” said D’Ann. “What I enjoy most about ‘Ding’ is the joy and smiles it brings to all ages – through nature.”

May 3: Islands Night Free Baseball Tickets

“Ding” Darling and Tarpon Bay Explorers are sponsoring this year’s Islands Night at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Celebrating 30 years of the island tradition, SanCap Chamber has set the 2023 date for Wednesday, May 3. Tickets to the festivities and game – the Mighty Mussels vs. the Dunedin Blue Jay – are free and available for pickup at the Refuge Nature Store, open Saturday through Thursday in the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center. Look for us at Islands Night!

April Biology Highlights

Refuge Biological Science Technician Avery Renshaw reports on Refuge biology activities for the month. The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society supports her position.


Baby Birds and Caterpillars


Baby birds are back at “Ding!” Despite the destruction to mangroves caused by Hurricane Ian, colonial wading and water birds have begun their nesting season in southwest Florida. On the most recent monthly mangrove island rookery nesting survey, “Ding” staff, in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and SCCF, monitored many rookery islands in Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass with multi-species nesting activity and chicks. They observed fluffy Little Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets, to name a few. Green Heron chicks recently hatched at the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, too. It will take some time before we can begin to understand what impacts Hurricane Ian had and will continue to have on regional mangrove populations and rookery nesting, but it is certainly a welcome sight to see nesting once more. 


Recently, we’ve seen a large number of caterpillars crawling around and cocoons READ MORE

Donate to support Avery’s position and biological research at the Refuge. 

Photo caption: Refuge, state, and SCCF staff monitor a historical mangrove rookery island that experienced major defoliation from Hurricane Ian.

Looking for Interns

The Refuge and DDWS are calling for intern applications to fill the following positions for fall:


Philanthropy (DDWS)

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) Education

Visitor Services

Environmental Education


Visit our internships page for more information.

Refuge interns help with education, visitor services, and philanthropic efforts.

Click cartoon to see it enlarged.

Cartoon of the Month

As we’ve witnessed spring migration and fallout these past weeks, this cartoon, penned in 1925 by Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, has special meaning. A conservationist and artist, Darling championed the plight of migrating birds. Thanks to the strength of his pen, we have seen vast improvements in “migratory birds’ tourist maps.” Titled “The Lame Ducks (and a Killyloo Bird or two) picking out a nice, quiet route for next season's travels,” this editorial cartoon preceded important preservation measures Darling put into effect. One such measure, the Federal Duck Stamp Program, raises funds to preserve wetlands for safe landings as birds migrate.

Naturally Fun: ‘Ding’ Darling Day Conservation Carnival

The Refuge celebrated its 34th annual “Ding” Darling Day jointly with Earth Day at Lakes Park in Fort Myers Sunday, April 22. The event filled the park with families, tree-planters, nature-lovers, and Conservation Carnival games.


“How satisfying it was to connect with members of the greater Southwest Florida community and see their excitement for learning about ‘Ding’ Darling,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who heads the “Ding” Darling Day team. “This is our second year at Lakes Park, and it couldn’t have been more successful!”

 Thanks to our generous sponsors who make this free event possible:

Great Egret Sponsors: The Jenni & Kyle Foundation

Reddish Egret SponsorsBank of the Islands

Snowy Egret SponsorsGretchen Banks, The Gresham Family, The Dawg PoundWheel Fun Rentals

WoW Update: A Thank You from Sunshine Elementary

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) wowed students and administration at Title-1 Sunshine Elementary in Lehigh Acres during its recent four-week stay. This week, it lands at Lehigh Senior High April 24 to 28.


Read this thank-you letter from Sunshine Elementary’s assistant principal.


Donate today to support the upkeep and staffing for WoW. That outreach effort alone reaches 7,000 students a year at a cost of about $25 per student. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities, so they, too, can experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

Remember, profits from all Nature Store sales go directly to the Refuge for educational programs, wildlife research, and overall conservation efforts.

Spotlight: Friends Rebuilding

As a regular feature, “Ding” on the Wing spotlights a business on the islands that has strongly supported the Refuge in the past and now needs us all to rally behind it as it navigates the road to recovery.


VIP Realty Group has long and often supported the Refuge as sponsor for various events. Managing Partner Jim Hall donated his time for several years as a DDWS Board Member and consultant on important real estate issues we have faced.


“As a former board member, I understand how important it is to support island businesses and nonprofits,” Jim said. “’Ding’ Darling brings lots of tourists to Sanibel and Captiva. The good news is that vacationers are still falling in love with our islands, and the real estate market remains strong.”


The firm suffered damage in all four of its island offices with up to eight feet in some.


“We had our main office up and running within four months,” said Jim. “The Captiva office is almost finished, and our rental office is about two weeks out from being done.”

Florida Right to Clean Water

Signatures are being collected to place a constitiutional amendment on the Novermber 2024 Florida ballot to establish a right to clean and health waters for all Floridians. Please support the ballot initiative by signing the petition. 891,589 signatures are needed. This will allow Floridians to vote directly for a right to clean water and give each resident a tool to protect our water. To sign the petition, and learn more

Resilient Lee

Participate in Town Hall Meetings and have your voice heard. Sanibel Meeting is May 1 at 6:00 p.m. Big Arts

Refuge Programming & Events

  • Learn more about upcoming island prescribed burns at an informational meeting April 27 at the Refuge.

  • Through May, a mini-exhibition of Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch’s Refuge-inspired work opens in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

  • Celebrate Islands Night baseball at Hammond Stadium along with “Ding” Darling on May 3. Tickets are available free-of-charge at the Refuge Nature Store

Hurricane (and Related Environmental) Update

We consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566. Here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few NEW links: 

  • TODAYLearn about upcoming prescribed burns and wildfire safety. The Sanibel Prescribed Fire Task Force invites the public to . 5:30 p.m. at the Visitor & Education Center at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Lee County Recovery Task Force Hosts: Resilient Lee Town Hall Meeting from 6-8 pm, May 1st at BIG ARTS

  • Florida Drought Index
  • The Sanibel Captiva Islander is back in print! Pick up a copy at these locations.
  • Growing your garden in the wake of Hurricane Ian
  • Sanibel Building Permit Fees Reduced by 50% through Sept. 30, 2023 and is retroactive to November 1, 2022. Call 239-472-4555 to learn more. 
  • St. Isabel Recovery article
  • Emergency Alerts. How to make sure you have what you need turned on
  • Crews lift 9,000-pound catamaran off St. James City home after Hurricane Ian
  • April showers send nutrients, other pollutants to coastal waters
  • Proposal Could Bring More Licensed Mold Specialists to Florida
  • FLDEM tells residents to plan ahead of hurricane season
  • Modern-day Thomas Edison': Babcock wins in epic Hurricane Ian battle
  • Race is on to clear stormwater pipes packed with debris from Hurricane Ian
  • Hurricane Ian: 'Resilient Lee' sets 16 meetings about rebuilding
  • Lee County Economic Development Director John Talmage talks about recovery after Hurricane Ian
  • FEMA Announces Transition of Disaster Recovery Centers to Community Recovery Centers
  • Sister Corps helps rebuild SWFL homes destroyed by Ian
  • Florida lawmakers take action to address state's insurance challenges
  • When Was the First Earth Day?
  • First sea turtle nest of 2023 spotted in Casey Key
  • Wading birds repopulating Everglades in near-record numbers
  • 'Broward Floods Hint at Threatened Infrastructure as Seas Rise, Experts Warn 
  • Rat poison could be killing burrowing owls in Cape Coral
  • Town leaders document concrete debris
  • Thousands of mosquitos being released to control invasive species population in Lee County
  • Two gators on Sanibel removed after attack
  • Sanibel considers incentivizing mixed-use projects for affordable, workforce housing

Where Are They Now?

In fall 2020, Hollis Hatfield arrived from North Carolina to take an intern position with DDWS, cheerfully helping with fundraising and various Refuge tasks. From here, she went to work as a cave guide for the National Park Service through AmeriCorps. Last September, she moved with AmeriCorps to De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida. In February, the National Park Service hired her as a permanent park guide. We send out our wildest congratulations, so happy to have her back in Southwest Florida.


“My role is to educate visitors on Hernando De Soto's expedition to La Florida and its lasting impact,” Hollis said. “In the winter months, I assist with living history programs and historic weapons demonstrations.” In the summer, Hollis gives guided kayak tours and operates junior ranger camps.


"’Ding’ is what originally brought me to Florida and made me originally fall in love with landscape and wildlife." Hollis said. "I am currently in the process of creating my own mangrove program, loosely based on what I learned while interning at ‘Ding’."



As part of our Nature Wellness Program for 2023, watch here for tips on how to center your mind and improve your wellbeing both outdoors and indoors.

Make May’s Focus on Mental Wellbeing


Many Americans don’t think twice about their need to schedule an annual physical exam with their physician, but are we equally focused on prioritizing our mental health?

With May as National Mental Health Month, it's time to put the stigma aside, look at the data, and find solutions to the nation’s mental health crisis. Mental Health America reports: “In 2019-2020, 20.78% of adults were experiencing a mental illness. That is equivalent to over 50 million Americans.”


This week’s tip: Try one new thing each week in May aimed toward benefiting your mental health.

The Refuge is hosting its second annual Wellness Week May 3-9. Sign up for a yoga or meditation program or a lecture to enhance your wellbeing. Take up a new hobby, reach out to a new friend to make plans, or go to a park that you’ve never visited before.

Wildlife Sightings & Tides

It's officially baby season at "Ding!" These baby Green Heron chicks recently hatched at the Refuge. While the chicks are tiny right now, their growth is rapid. Green Herons can reach adult weight in just two weeks after hatching and will leave the nest at three weeks old.

Photo by Jim Bennight

These are just snapshots of some of the things taking place at your Wildlife Refuge. Please check our website to learn more. Thank you for caring about the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by Ali Reece

Darling Dose of "Ding"

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