Roseate Spoonbills, a 'Ding' Darling specialty and a must for visiting birdwatchers. SC photo by Dorothy Wallace
Roseate Spoonbills, a 'Ding' Darling specialty and a must for visiting birdwatchers. SC photo by Dorothy Wallace

Top 10 Best Florida Attractions. It's tiring just thinking about such a daunting list of candidates. USA Today has narrowed it down to a star-studded 20 and 'Ding' Darling is among them.

Voting for 'Ding' Darling (or, heaven forbid, any of the other 19) is under way at 10best.com and continues through Jan 15. The winner will be announced on Jan. 19. Prejudice aside, no other state with the possible exception of California, can throw out a crusher of a list like this one. It's led by Disney, the New York Yankees of theme parkdom. The listis diverse as well as amazing, from the remote Dry Tortugas to the Kennedy Space Center.

We learned of this popularity contest not from USA Today but from a Chamber of Commerce email. The Chamber said 'Ding' was No. 1 at the time. When I checked in Saturday morning, the refuge was nestled at No. 5. So it's a fluid thing with many precincts left to report.

Here is the running order as of Saturday morning:

1. Clearwater Beach

2. Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Panhandle

3. Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off Key West

4. Crystal River Complex

5. J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge

6. Walt Disney World

7. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral

8. St. Augustine Historic District

9. Old Town Key West

10. Everglades National Park

The contest is one of many conducted by USA Today as part of its Readers' Choice program. Here's what the contest has to say about 'Ding' Darling:

Although most equate the large and lovely roseate spoonbill with “Ding” Darling, serious birders come to look for the elusive mangrove cuckoo. The 4-mile Wildlife Drive and its spur trails allow nature watchers to come quite close to the cuckoos, plus the refuge’s American alligators, Florida manatees and nearly 250 species of birds. Its recreation concession offers rentals, lessons and tours by kayak, tram, boat and paddleboard.”

All that is true, although local birdwatchers will raise an eyebrow over the part about the Mangrove Cuckoo. While all birders are looking for it, it is almost never seen. It hangs deep in the mangroves and requires a big stroke of luck. That aside, how can we argue with 'Ding' Darling being a top 10 attraction in the Sunshine State? No way. We voted.