Tuesday January 5, 2016 Most Recent Posts:
Koreshan State Historic Site Moving to Koreshan State Historic Site
Estero, Florida Tree Snail Hammock Trail on the Loop Road
Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary has been on my list for this area every time we’ve been here and we’ve never made it for one reason or another. So today is the day.
Corkscrew Swamp is part of a freshwater swamp system that covers 315 square miles of southwest Florida. Like Big Cypress, it is fed solely by rain that falls throughout the watershed. In late spring, they say the swamp can be completely dry. Wonder what it will be like this year after all the unusual winter rains.
Corkscrew Swamp contains the largest stand of virgin cypress in the world. Some of the trees here are 500 to 600 years old. We’re pretty excited to see those. We’ve heard from many people that this is just a gorgeous place so although today is not perhaps the ideal weather day, No matter, this time we are going.
The sanctuary has a beautiful boardwalk leading up to the Visitor Center. There is information on the Cypress Trees and on Audubon’s major role in saving the wading birds of South Florida from “the plume trade”. I won’t go into detail here about that since I’ve done it so many other times before. Suffice it to say that a pound of egret feathers could earn a man more money in one transaction than he would make in 5 or 10 years of working at another trade. Feathers were all the fashion in ladies hats in the Victorian Era. The story of the hard work of the Audubon wardens who protected the birds is an important one in environmental history.
This sanctuary in particular was created not only to protect the Virgin Cypress but also to protect nesting habitat for the threatned wood stork for whom there is a beautiful bronze piece in front of the Blair Audubon Center building which has a small food court, a nice gift shop and information about the saving of this piece of the swampland of Southwestern Florida
Inside we use our $2.00 coupons to reduce the adult admission to $12.00. Only college students and young children get regular discounts. If you are an Audubon member you get the $2.00 off without a coupon.
The map of the Sanctuary shows us the areas we will see but they don’t have one you can take with you which I think is a real shame. I’d like to know where I am as I’m walking. I see numbered posts and expect to see similar numbers on posts on the trail but when we are out there I don’t. There are information signs along the way but they aren’t numbered.
No food is allowed in the sanctuary and we’ve brought our lunch. We don’t want to be rushed as we walk due to hunger so we just sit down in front of their birdfeeders on the deck before we head out on the walk and eat it now.
Look who is at the feeders. Beautiful painted buntings.
The male is the multi colored one and the female is the yellow and green.
At the very beginning of the swamp boardwalk is this chalk board with a list of what people have seen here lately. Based on the time we are here, I don’t think these could all have been today but maybe they were. I’m excited to see the river otter listed. Boy would I love to see one of those. Lots of birds. Someone has good eyes to see the blue gray gnatchatcher and the great crested flycatcher.
I am sorry to hear that they neither allow kayaking nor do they do swamp walks in this wonderful swamp.
It does seem a bit strange to me to see all the bare cypress and so much water in the swamp at the same time.
Looks like they haven’t had as much rain lately since you can clearly see two water line marks on the cypress.
The largest virgin cypress have all been named after important people in the national and local environmental movements and there are information boards near them. We pass John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. This one is named for Aldo Leopold.
I am shocked to see that nearly all of these venerable old beauties have strangler figs growing on them. Strangler figs are native to Florida but they absolutely do cause the death of their host trees. I am shocked that the sanctuary is going to allow them to ultimately take out these virgin trees. Native or not they are invasive and in my opinion need, in some important cases, to be controlled.
This tree is named for Rhett Green, an audubon warden
hired in 1912 to protect the plume birds.
This one is named for Leonardo DaVinci. Both trees are being over taken
This idea preys on my mind as I walk along. It makes me sad.
On our way to an area that was once a Plum hunter’s camp someone before us is stooped way down taking a photograph between the boards of the boardwalk railing. When I ask what they have seen, they say it’s a sleeping diamond back rattlesnake. I had a hard time seeing him at first. He’s well camouflaged. Do you see him?
His arrow shaped head shows up pretty well here.
The trail wanders through four or five different habitats. In addition to the bald cypress, there is the wet prairie and the pine flatwoods here.
In addition to the Virgin Tree information signs and other identification signs, there are signs with other information that I find very interesting. Check out your state. Looking at this map I wonder if all states have or at one time had wetlands.
Despite the leafless cypress the swamp looks very fecund. I think there would not be this much green during a typical dry winter.
I remind myself to look up as well as out and down. Beauty is everywhere.
Some of the trees are near enough to hug with a little stretch.
The egrets definitely stand out in this darker environment.
I can see he’s starting to get his breeding plumage. These are especially the feathers the plume hunters sought.
Some trees require more stretch than others.
What a suprise. I didn’t know there was a Ghost Orchid here until we come to the Ghost Orchid tree. It’s not in bloom and if it were there would be hundreds of people here to see it. The Ghost Orchid is a leafless epiphytic orchid and is an endangered species protected by both federal and state laws. It grows only in Southwest Florida and in Cuba.
Corkscrew’s orchid is growing about 60 feet up on a 400-500 year old bald cypress tree. Although it was only discovered in 2007, it is estimated that this orchid is 40 to 60 years old. It is the largest, highest growing, most flower producing Ghost Orchid that has ever been found. Or so the sign tells us.
When Ghost Orchids bloom they open their buds in succession usually 1 or 2 at a time. Each individual flower lasts about 2 weeks and can be up to 12 cm long. From June until October of 2007 and each flowering season since, this orchid has produced over 20 flowers each year. In 2014 it produced over 40 flowers. The heaviest flowering period has been in July with sometimes up to 18 orchids open at once.
Its flowers are fragrant at night which attracts its only pollinator, the Giant Sphynx moth, a highly specialized polinator which also polinates the Moon Vine.
I am just so sorry we didn’t know this the one summer we spent in Florida when David was getting his stem cell transplant in 2012. It would have cheered him immensely to see such a magnificent one of nature’s marvels. I’d even brave the summer mosquitoes to get a look at it live. Today we can only see its roots. it has no leaves.
Here is a picture of a black and white picture Clyde Butcher took in the Fakahatchee Strand area of Big Cypress Swamp. It’s from his book Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades. He has said that when they sway in a breeze they look as though they are dancing.
How many other Cypress might have Ghost Orchids now or in the future? How will they if they are covered over and ultimately killed by Strangler Figs?
Although we’ve heard many birds, the calls of some of whom I recognize, the Great Egret is the only one we’ve seen so far.
And then this anhinga flies in.
We’ve seen them perching on narrow branches and even wires with these feet. Amazing!
He’s perched in lettuce lake. This is the “lettuce”. Probably not great for a sandwich.
And then,as I approach this tree just beyond the lake, a red shouldered hawk flies in right next to the boardwalk. He’s no more than 20’ from me. Another surprise! My grin spreads from ear to ear as I snap picture after picture of him. He poses for three of us who are here and then after he has looked all around flies right off down the boardwalk. He’s so silent and so swift that David neither sees nor hears him as he flies right by him while David is a bit further down the boardwalk looking the other way.
I didn’t get to see the Ghost Orchid but this hawk, this close, for this long, what a thrill!!
As I walk on after the hawk has left, on the other side of the boardwalk from the hawk, someone has spotted these two yellow crowned night herons far back so that picture taking is difficult.
We are seeing all these birds near the end of our hike I beleive because it is later in the day, around 4:00.
We arrive back at the beginning and end our hike the same way it began, at the bird feeders, with the Painted Buntings. Hope you enjoy seeing them as much as we do.
If you are in this area, be sure to spend a day at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. You can bet we’ll be back on our next trip. If you live here year round (Jeannie and Eldy, Paula, Olivia and Robert) make a special trip down to see the Ghost Orchids in July.