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February 16, 2023

2022 Photo Contest Winners Announced

On February 6, DDWS held an official judging for its 30th annual “Ding” Darling Amateur Nature Photography Contest. The 2022 winners were to be announced in October at the Refuge’s inaugural Art in the Wild festival, but Hurricane Ian in September canceled the event and contest judging.


Judges selected three winners and 10 honorable mentions out of 140 entries from 22 states and three countries. All photograph entries were taken at the Refuge complex. “Despite the disruption from Hurricane Ian, the contest generated much excitement and nostalgia among READ MORE


View a slideshow of this year’s winners. 

Frank Brinker’s “Speedy” took first place.

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 30 tickets remain.


The event starts at 5:30 p.m. 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.

Hear from from Teddy Roosevelt reprisor Joe Weigand (below), who headlines the evening’s event, or visit our webpage.


Thanks to all our fabulous sponsors (see below). Learn more about supporting the event as a business or individual.

Join us for Go Bully for Ding on March 6th

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, Kay & John Morse

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

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: 

  • News-Press: " Paradise lost or island overcoming? Sanibel's recovery hits month five" article.
  • News-Press: "Lee school enrollment: What parents need to know about their choices" article.
  • DEP Announced the Florida Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program Application for coastal beach erosion Now Open.
  • News-Press: "Coastal businesses hit by Ian reopen inland; Capital Grille; and 'burdensome' Party City" article.
  • SCCF's "Rebuilding for Resilience: A Guide to Incentives." DDWS serves on the recently established SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future Consortium which is discussing these and other issues.
  • CNN: "FEMA delays leave many Hurricane Ian victims exasperated nearly five months after the disastrous storm" article.
  • News-Press: "Sanibel's Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum acquires world record-sized shell" article.
  • News-Press: "Discovering more victims of Hurricane Ian: Pine Island's namesake trees" article.
  • News-Press: "Sanibel firefighters to get temporary hub after Ian totaled fire station" article.
  • Fort Myers Florida Weekly: "Florida Prices to STAY HIGH" article.
  • NBC2 News: "Residents fighting back against major changes on Fort Myers Beach" article.
  • Boston Globe: "Red Sox facility was spared by Hurricane Ian last fall, but heartbreaking damage in the area remains" article.
  • Gulfshore Business: "FGCU researchers follow dead fish to track red tide on Sanibel" 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 counties with collective buying power to affordably convert to solar energy.


The co-op has scheduled one upcoming informational Zoom meeting and two in-person meetings in Fort Myers and on Sanibel. Attend any of the FREE events by clicking below to pre-register. Times for all of the meetings are 6 to 7:30 p.m.


ZOOM Informational MEETING:

Tuesday, February 28


IN-PERSON Informational MEETING:

Tuesday, March 14 at All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, 2756 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers


IN-PERSON Informational MEETING:

Wednesday, March 15 at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island

March 25: Sounds of the Sand to Support Refuge Recovery

To support Refuge recovery efforts and conservation outreach since Hurricane Ian destroyed much of its habitat and infrastructure, DDWS, in partnership with Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager, presents Sounds of the Sand, Saturday, March 25.


The free event will take place from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Bell Tower shopping plaza in Fort Myers, featuring popular Sanibel musician Danny Morgan and other local bands and entertainers.


The three-pronged partnership grew from a past relationship between Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager READ MORE


To become an event sponsor, please contact organizer April Boehnen 239-292-0566.

Soap Sales Benefit ‘Ding’


Back in 2016, we introduced Mary Klene, a then 8-year-old from Ohio, who was selling her handmade soaps to benefit “Ding” Darling. Since then, she has steadily been donating profits to the Refuge from selling her soaps.


“Even before I was making soaps, I did chores around the house to earn money to donate to ‘Ding,’” Mary writes. “I started selling my soaps after hearing about ‘Ding’ trying to buy land for the Refuge, and knew that if the land went to developers lots of the wildlife would be disturbed.”


Recently, we received another donation from Mary, now 16, who was heartbroken for the wildlife at the Refuge in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. She kicked her soapmaking into high gear, featuring seashells and dolphins, and found a lot of buyers eager to support the Refuge in these dire times.


Mary’s love for the Refuge and its inhabitants has not only benefited “Ding,” but also has led her down an environmental path to becoming a Green Ambassador and on her way to being a certified naturalist. Her story has touched the entire team at “Ding,” as have her words: “I hope you continue your mission of providing a space for hundreds of animals to live. If no effort was put into educating and protecting, many species would have disappeared and would have been forgotten. Thanks for all you do!

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.


You’ll frequently see the Ashton Kirchner Group of Keller Williams Realty listed among sponsors for fundraising and other DDWS events. In addition, Sarah Ashton, who co-owns the firm with Chris Kirchner, volunteers at the Refuge. She has been serving on the Board of Directors since 2014, and is currently Immediate Past President following her terms from January 2021 to December 2022.


Several inches of water had flooded the slightly raised real estate office at 2440 Palm Ridge Road #5, which first opened in September 2020. Fortunately, Chris was able to mitigate the damage days after Hurricane Ian hit, and the real estate office celebrated its reopening on December 1.


Real estate services are in demand since the hurricane, says Sarah. “Property owners are looking for guidance as to what are the options for them going forward,” she added. “We are getting a number of clients asking about the benefit of remodeling their property and then selling or just selling now. It is a very personal decision, and each situation is unique. This is going to take a long time to sort out and to put the pieces back together again, and we want to be able to help.


“Being out in nature and seeing the wildlife restores us from some of the emotional stress and damage we have all experienced since Ian arrived. Getting the Refuge back up and running will also be a key component in getting both our community and economy back on track. No matter how you look at it - the Refuge is part of the lifeblood of this island and we are happy to support it.”

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

WoW Update: Reaching Title-1 Schools

For the last couple of weeks, WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) has been turning students onto the wonders of nature at Harns Marsh Elementary School in Lehigh Acres, including a Valentine's Day show of love from the kids. On February 21, WoW heads to Oak Hammock Middle School in Tice through March 16.


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 wildlife and its habitat.

Endowed fund supports volunteer program at ‘Ding’ Darling

Second only to his wife and children, Sanibel Island resident Tom Edgar loved the “family” of volunteers he joined at the Refuge back in 2003, shortly after moving to the island. In appreciation for the happiness the Refuge and his work there brought Tom, his family has established the Tom Edgar Volunteer Fund.

“While he was attending Rollins College, he visited Sanibel Island and the Refuge and knew this would be a place he would one day live,” said his wife, Connie. “We eventually made that dream a reality when we moved to the island. He volunteered for several organizations after we moved here. However, it was his unique connection to ‘Ding’ Darling, its staff and volunteers that was closest to his heart.”

During his nearly 20 years at the Refuge, Tom volunteered at the Front Desk of the Visitor & Education Center and served on the Board of Directors for READ MORE

Tom Edgar

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: Ryan Mitchinson’s second-place winner in the 2022 “Ding Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest

Save the Date: ‘Ding’ Darling Day Conservation Carnival

“Ding” Darling returns to Lakes Park in Fort Myers for its 34th annual “Ding” Darling Day. Its Conservation Carnival takes place on Saturday, April 22, and also observes Earth Day and LeeTran’s Free Transportation Day.


WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) will be at the center of the free “Ding” Darling Day at Lakes Park. Besides tours of the mobile, interactive nature experience, the Refuge and DDWS have planned a full day of Conservation Carnival activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Special free outdoor activities include carnival games, prizes, archery, a dunk tank, Earth Day crafts, a rock climbing wall, artist-in-residence programs, guided bilingual birding walks, a biking tour, guided mindfulness programs, live music, food, and educational interactions with other local conservation organizations.


“Last year, we moved ‘Ding’ Day to Lakes Park for the first time, and it was a fabulous success,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who chairs the event. “We’re still ironing out the details for this year’s celebration, but you can expect more fun and enrichment for the entire family.” Watch for details as they unfold.


DDWS seeks sponsors for the event, which will be highly publicized throughout the Southwest Florida area. Contact April Boehnen at 239-292-0566 for more information.

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

Season 2, Episode 15


The humility to need

and to want;

the vulnerability to be

and to meet;

the because of

and the despite of;

the simple stupidity of love,

in a loft.

Sunrise at "Ding" in April 2018 photo by Peg d`Entremont

Unusual sunset on Captive photo by Wendy Childers

Wellness Tip

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.


Reach Out

If Hurricane Ian has proven one thing to be true, it is the importance of community. When is the last time you picked up your phone and called a friend just to check in and let him or her know that you love them?


The tip this week is to make at least one phone call to check in with a friend or family member. Perhaps there is someone you’ve been meaning to get in touch with for a while or someone who has been on your mind. By keeping our connections with our friends and family strong, we keep our community strong, as well as our relationship to ourselves. So, cozy up, grab a cup of coffee, and check in with friends and family members. They’ll appreciate it, and hopefully the connection will leave you feeling appreciated, too. 

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 Ali Reece.

Darling Dose of "Ding"

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