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January 26, 2023

Save the Date: Sound of the Sands

As the Refuge struggles to recover and reopen after Hurricane Ian destroyed much of its habitat and infrastructure on September 28, DDWS, in partnership with Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager, present Sound of the Sands, Saturday, March 25.


The event will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Bell Tower shopping plaza in Fort Myers, featuring local, well-known musicians. Admission is open to the public free of charge.


“Ding” Darling will set up stations with nature games for families and information about the Refuge and its recovery and how to support DDWS in its efforts to help build back and reinforce its conservation education and wildlife and water-quality preservation and research missions. Suncoast Beverage Sales will sell beer, and other Bell Tower merchants will be participating. Keep your eyes open for more details in weeks to come.

Changing of the Guard

Earlier this month, DDWS Associate Executive Director Sierra Hoisington announced her resignation due to relocation to North Carolina following Hurricane Ian’s destruction of her island home. Her last day will be February 10, and the “Ding” team is already saddened to say farewell. Sierra took over that post early 2022 after six years with the organization.


“It seems like Sierra has been with us much longer than six years, as she immediately fit into our unique and special conservation team,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller. “She has been a true asset to our work with both the DDWS and the Refuge. She worked with us on a number of projects and programs, but her leadership role -- when working with the Refuge on our WoW (Wildlife on Wheels), the “Ding” Darling studio exhibit, and our efforts for urban outreach -- was outstanding.” She will be missed.


Sierra has accepted a position in the Asheville/Hendersonville area with a land conservation trust and will be using her passion for the conservation mission and the skills she gained at DDWS in promoting the importance of preserving and protecting lands there.


Ann-Marie Wildman, who currently serves as Development Impact Officer for DDWS, will step into Sierra’s position. She has been involved with the organization since both she and her late husband, Don, served as volunteers and on the Board of Directors in the mid to late 2010s. Since then, she has worked as Nature Store Manager and an all-around strong resource when it comes to anything art- or donor-related. “Ann-Marie brings so much compassion for the conservation mission and incredible people skills to the position,” said Birgie. “I’m thrilled to welcome her in this new role.”

Sierra Hoisington

Ann-Marie Wildman

Sweet Sanibel Moments

Those of you homesick for Sanibel Island -- the way it was and again someday will be -- have a watch of this VIDEO, which sets a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young classic to imagery of the Refuge, beach, and all we love about the island. We offer these Sanibel moments for your nostalgic enjoyment and in memory of a great American songwriter-singer, David Crosby, who passed away last week.

Hurricane Update

We will consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Please access those sites doing a better job with on-the-ground updates, such as the City of Sanibel. Please call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566.  

For residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Ian, here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few new links: 

  • Final hurricane debris collection - "The Sanibel City Council voted to establish February 20, 2023, as the last day residents may place Hurricane Ian generated debris on the City’s right of way for collection by the City’s debris management contractor."
  • News-Press: "Florida works to bring more temporary housing for Ian victims" article.
  • NBC2 News: "Collier County promotes underground power lines in high-risk flood areas" article.
  • ABC7 Southwest Florida: "Temporary post office trailers to Sanibel delayed" article.
  • Wink News: "Workers cleaning up SWFL’s Ian debris from community in Lee County" article.
  • News-Press: "Two Sanibel beaches to open in February; limited parking passes go on sale" article.
  • Tampa Bay Times: "Tampa Bay officials release plan for dealing with climate change" article.
  • Recreation Center Memberships - February 1, 2023, is the date when Recreation Center Memberships are needed to utilize the center’s facilities.
  • WGCU Water Quality Report
  • Gulfshore Business: "Hurricane Ian remains lingering threat to SWFL’s commercial fishing industry" article.
  • WUSF Public Media: "Florida mail-in voters need to apply for new ballots" article. Sanibel City Council will be discussing this issue in March.
  • News-Press: "Rebuilding after Ian: Here's how much Florida spent on the Sanibel Causeway, Matlacha Pass Bridge" article.
  • News-Press: "Temporary post office for Fort Myers Beach opens Monday; Sanibel's next month" article.

Solar Co-op Meetings


DDWS is partnering with Solar United Neighbors (SUN), a non-profit co-op whose purpose is to provide residents and businesses in Lee and Collier County with collective buying power to affordably convert to solar energy.


The co-op has scheduled two upcoming informational Zoom meetings, each running from 6 to 7:30 p.m. You will learn all about solar energy and its benefits for your home or small business, including the technology, economics, financing, and more.


Click on the dates below to register for the solar energy informational meeting, and you will receive a link to the virtual meeting.


Monday, January 30


Tuesday, February 28

Congrats to Our Community Connector

Congratulations to Maria Santiago, our Tice Community Connector resource, for her selection by the Lee County School District as a “Teacher of Distinction.” She will be recognized at the 36th Annual Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Banquet in April.


Maria holds a position of high respect and trust in the Tice community of Fort Myers. Besides serving as the cultural studies teacher at the elementary school, the Puerto Rican native has worked with "Ding" Darling in developing working and personal relationships with local churches, daycare and community centers, and surrounding businesses.


As a knowledgeable and active community member, Maria has facilitated the formation of a community action team (CAT) to determine future projects the Refuge and WoW team plan to support Tice Elementary, a Title 1 school, in terms of conservation and community needs. Philanthropy has helped fund her part-time position with the DDWS and we are proud of her many accomplishments in this role. She truly deserves the title Teacher of Distinction.

Reservations for Annual Fundraiser Filling Fast

Reservations for DDWS’ annual fundraiser Go Bully for “Ding” – An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt are open and selling out quickly. Only 100 tickets remain.


The event takes place Monday, March 6, at Broadway Palm in Fort Myers. In consideration of the hardships many island residents and business owners have suffered since the hurricane in September, DDWS has lowered the price of tickets to $75 per person this year. Thanks to all our fabulous sponsors (see below). Learn more about supporting the event as a business or individual.

Current sponsors:

Call of the Wild Sponsors: Gretchen Banks, Jim & Liz Birmingham, The Bluedorn Family, Jim & Patty Sprankle

Champion Sponsors: Wayne & Linda Boyd, Bill & Laurie Harkey, Jo Smith, In Memory of Boomer Duvin

Guardian Sponsors: Milestone Auctions, Willam & Barbara Millar, Bill & Heather O'Keefe, Doug & Sherry Gentry, Sue & Bob Thoreson

Protector Sponsors: Mike & Terry Baldwin, Tiffani Kaliko & John Silvia

Defender Sponsors: A Friend of the Refuge, HighTower Advisors Fort Myers, Chip & Nancy Roach, Hank & Linda Spire, The Gresham Family, Bob & Kathy Wiesemann, Sanibel Captiva Islander

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.


Sanibel Captiva Community Bank never really closed after Hurricane Ian; it only suspended banking services for seven days. By October 11, it had reopened in the Sanibel main office parking lot under a tent with limited cash services and access to safe deposit boxes. For the next seven weeks, bank staff was on the island several days a week, opening its renovated boardroom on November 7 as a temporary branch until the rest of the building gets completed.

During the days and months following the storm, the bank supported the community in a number of ways. It ran boat trips to the island while the causeway was closed to help employees and customers start the rebuilding process. Staff immediately began working on forbearance requests for loan customers affected by the hurricane.  

The bank donated $100,000 to 13 nonprofit organizations to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts. Employees have volunteered at various nonprofits, including cleaning up at “Ding” Darling. They served more than 1,500 hot dogs and hamburgers, often jumping in a bank truck to deliver them all over the island to residents, business owners, and recovery workers.

Last week, the organization reopened the seventh of its eight banking branches at the McGregor location in Fort Myers. The only one that remains closed, the Sanibel East End branch, received the most severe damage.

The bank has been a constant friend of the Refuge, sponsoring the "Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tourney since it started in 2012. Former president and current Board Chair Craig Albert has served on the DDWS board of directors as has Senior Vice President of Residential Mortgage Lending David Wright.

“SanCap Bank has made it a priority to support ‘Ding’ Darling since we opened in 2003,” said current President and CEO Kyle DeCicco. “It’s a treasured Sanibel institution and attraction to thousands of visitors as well as Sanibel and Lee County residents. Wildlife is one of the things that makes Sanibel and Captiva so special, and as a Sanibel-born business, we feel it’s our obligation to support ‘Ding’ Darling’s mission.”

Photo caption: Two weeks after the storm, SanCap Bank was doing business in its parking lot.

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

WoW Update: All Hands on Learning

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) is all about involving kids’ senses in learning about wildlife and nature. Here are a couple of shots of hands-on activities from last week’s visit to G. Weaver Hipps Elementary, a Title-1 school in Lehigh Acres. This week, WoW moves on to Orange River Elementary in Fort Myers through February 2. Other upcoming scheduled visits:


February 6-16: Harns Marsh Elementary in Lehigh Acres


February 21-March 16: Oak Hammock Middle School in Fort Myers (Tice)


March 20-24: Spring Break


WoW, currently the Refuge’s primary education tool while the Visitor & Education Center is closed, operates with a reduced team because of the hurricane’s impact on staffing. Now, more than ever, Refuge community outreach needs your help. Donate today to support the upkeep and programming for WoW efforts. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities to experience and appreciate the wonder of nature.

Refuge Programming & Events


The Visitor & Education Center and Wildlife Drive remain closed due to hurricane damage until further notice. Consequently, many programs and events have been canceled. Read DOTW for news of activities still being planned.


Photo caption: Join Mindful Meditation every Wednesday.

Show Us Your #DingStrong Merch

Thank you to everyone who has purchased their #DingStrong merch. For a chance to be highlighted in "Ding" on the Wing, send in a photo of yourself wearing your #DingStrong merch to April Boehnen. Our "Ding" family is all around the world and we thank everyone for their love of the Refuge and our natural world.

Laura and Court Treuth

From Severna Park, Maryland

Amy Gilliland

From Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Cartoon of the Month

In 1962, this farewell cartoon, penned earlier by Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who passed away at age 86, appeared on the front page of the February 13 edition of the Des Moines Register, in the very place his cartoons had appeared daily for 50 years. Titled “’Bye now – it’s been wonderful knowing you,” it depicts him exiting his studio in Iowa. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which Darling created as the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945, pays homage to the staunch conservationist and his legacy. Learn more about his accomplishments.

Click cartoon to see it enlarged.

Feel-Good Finds

If you have a photo, poem, video, or other feel-good find and you'd like the chance to be highlighted in our "Ding" on the Wing, please email it to April Boehnen.

A Poem by Meghan Prindle

Pennsylvania Keystone

A stone that connects one side with the other;

spanning both arc and time,

it seeks to defy and utilize 

opposing forces 

to unify.

John Maclennan representing "Ding" in Buenos Aires!

Wellness Tip

Hang up the Phone


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


What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up? If you’re like many of us, you check your phone. Our phones wake us up in the morning, occupy much of our attention throughout the day, and are often the last things we place our eyes on before bed.


The tip this week: Try to go screen-free for the first and last hour of your day. After your alarm goes off, avoid checking emails or messages first thing. Perhaps you engage in a simple stretching practice, take a short walk, or make yourself breakfast or a cup of tea. However you spend that hour, try to ignore your phone. Challenge yourself to do the same in the evening with the intention to wind down. Perhaps you cozy up a book, do a short relaxing meditation, or engage longer in self-care. Let us know if you try this and how you feel.

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!


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by April Boehnen.

Darling Dose of "Ding"

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