One of the lesser-known trails at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at the Bailey Tract, separate from the other nature trails that are found along its main Wildlife Drive location. This separate tract of the refuge is closer to the Gulf of Mexico and includes a series of impoundments that make for excellent early morning birding. Since the entrance to the Bailey Tract is off Tarpon Bay Road, this tract, unlike Wildlife Drive, is open on Fridays. The trail system, a favorite among our guests, offers loops of 0.3 mile to 1.1 miles and is open every day from dawn to dusk.
Thanks to our friends at Ding for some really interesting tidbits about the Bailey Tract:
- The 100 acres of the Bailey Tract were first owned by Frank P. Bailey, whose descendants own Bailey’s Store on Tarpon Bay Road.
- The tract was originally pristine spartina marsh, with cordgrass and sawgrass. Today, cattails have replaced much of the spartina, due to the human impact of nutrient runoff. The refuge hopes to restore the tract to its original spartina marsh habitat and continue to protect the native plant and animal species that occur here.
- The dikes which visitors walk on were built to create open water in order to attract waterfowl. The airplane canal, along the southern edge of the tract, is connected to the Sanibel River, into which freshwater drains off the island.
- The first refuge manager, Tommy Wood, used the canal as a take-off and landing strip for the sea plane from which he conducted wildlife surveys.
Wading birds like White Ibis, egrets and herons are common in the Bailey Tract, and Osprey are frequent, but the freshwater environment offers a habitat for different birds that avoid the salty mangrove habitat Species of ducks, bitterns, rails, Common Moorhen, Common Snipe, American Kestrel and others are sometimes found here. Songbirds like warblers and sparrows are more likely to be found in the Bailey Tract, especially during the migration season when the freshwater habitat provides an important stopover site.
In terms of reptiles, alligators can frequently be seen basking on a sunny bank, often accompanied by turtles. Snakes, lizards and frogs can also be found but are less likely to be seen.
River otters, bobcats and armadillos are present in the Bailey Tract, but are rarely seen. Raccoons, marsh rabbits and opossum are other mammals of this habitat. Finding a spot to sit and watch quietly is often the best way to get a look at these shy creatures.
Visitor tips: Bring water, sunscreen, hat and insect repellent. Binoculars will come in handy. Last but not least, keep a respectful distance from all wildlife and please leave all natural artifacts in place!