Spring Break Place: J.N Ding Darling Widlife Refuge

Over spring break, I had the opportunity to stay in Sanibel in Southwest Florida, and chose to use Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge as my place away from Oakledge.

The park was established by Jay Norwood Darling,  in an effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. At Darling’s urging, President Harry S. Truman signed an Executive Order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. Currently, approximately 2,800 acres of the refuge are designated by Congress as a Federal Wilderness Area.

The refuge was renamed in 1967 in honor of the pioneer conservationist. The refuge consists of extensive mangrove forests, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks.

The refuge was created to safeguard and enhance the pristine wildlife habitat of Sanibel Island, to protect endangered and threatened species, and to provide feeding, nesting, and roosting areas for migratory birds. During my visit, I had the chance to see several of these species such as crested cormorants, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets, etc.

Has Spring Sprung in Oakledge?

Since my last visit to Oakledge, the site has taken on a fresh, spring-like, look. Despite the brutally cold temperatures, Oakledge has appeared to endure the early stages of a seasonal shift. Song birds can now be heard in the tree tops as well as the occasional Koww of a crow. Also, much of the snow that coated the ground has receded, leaving the ground damp and saturated. Also, the Lake Champlain, directly adjacent to my place, has taken on a new look as there are remnants of ice that must have  formed in the bay however, that too is looking as though its deteriorated recently.

Oakledge, a Natural Community

After taking note of the natural communities mentioned it Wetlands, Woodlands, Wild lands I have come to better understand the type of ecosystem that would classify my place. Based on this information I believe that my place would fall under two distinct classifications. On one hand, it could be considered a hardwood based on the major deciduous trees present (sugar maple and red oak), as well as an abundance of evergreens (eastern white pines and northern white cedars). However, I have read extensively that is Oakledge is classified as a “cedar bluffs” region in Vermont, whereby the northern white cedars that border the lake’s edge are considered a significant environment as a habitat for wildlife such as song birds, grey squirrels, and eastern cottontails.

Evidence of Winter Wildlife

Gray Squirrel

Upon arriving at my place, I noted several tracks present in the little snow that was there. Predominantly, tracks from people as well as their dogs seemed to be throughout the trail leading to my place as well as other trails around Oakledge. However, I was able to document several sets of tracks from wild critters as well. The first were tracks made by a gray squirrel, based on the larger hind feet being placed in front of the smaller front feet. In addition, I also noted a set of hind tracks made by an eastern cottontail rabbit. Originally, I suspected these to be made by a snowshoe hare however, upon conducting a measurement of the depression concluded the size of the hind feet to be 3-3.5″, to short to be that of a hare and within the appropriate range to be that of an eastern cottontail.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Oakledge, Seasonal Changes

Returning to my spot at Oakledge for the first time since first semester, there were noticeable changes. For one, much of the rock escapements are coated in a thick layer of ice and the cliff face is adorned with substantial icicles and other ice formations along the waters edge. Also, there is a thin layer of snow present on the ground and many footprints reveal that even in the winter months, people frequent this trail. The only green present is on the moss found in the crevices and logs and the needles of the conifers present in my place; eastern white pines, and northern white cedars predominantly. In addition, there is also evidence of animal activity both of the
domesticated variety as well as wild.