Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary Surprises

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.


  1. Florida is not on our agenda for the foreseeable future, so thanks for showing us that special part of the state. Great bird pics!


  2. I guess the strangler figs in a cypress refuge are a bit like fire in a wilderness forest. "Let it burn" as it would naturally is sometimes really hard to take, especially last year as we watched the fires burn irreplaceable old growth. Still, if those figs are native, the cypress trees have learned to co exist with them till now, and who knows what confusion could result if we interfered. Maybe the old growth cypress have lived their cycle? Maybe nothing, even old growth cypress in the south or cedar, redwood, and hemlock in the west have an infinite lifespan. Nature is wonderful, but sometimes looks fairly awful to our short term eyes. Keep hugging those trees, Sherry.

  3. I love the painted buntings for some reason. They came to my feeder when I lived in NC, and I always enjoyed them.

  4. Great pics of the Hawk and Buntings, I know they do not pose on command.

  5. Thank you. Another enjoyable read

  6. We will definitely make a visit to Corkscrew...we've been there twice but never saw the painted buntings, another one of my very favorite birds! Glad to see them today...nice commentary on the Corkscrew!

  7. Great Post and wonderful photos of the birds. You may not have seen too many, but the ones you saw you captured with great photos!! The hawk was a real treat:o))

  8. A very enjoyable swamp walk. Doing it in person will be a while since we have no plans to spend any appreciable amount of town in FL in the near future so a virtual visit has to make do.

    1. I don't understand that sanctuary's management. No food allowed in to protect it, but they allow those strangler figs to kill the old growth cypress trees. Where is the common sense in that?

  9. We've never seen a painted bunting. So colorful!
    I'm working on getting Jim to agree to a winter in Florida. There are so many places in the state we missed even though we lived there for many years.

  10. What a bonanza of beauty! We have the red shouldered hawk in the west and it sure is a beauty!

  11. I'm surprised that no one spotted the Ghost Orchid before with all those large blooms showing. Strange! I went to Google Images and there are many beautiful photos of that Ghost Orchid blooming. Interesting that there isn't greenery just flowers.

    What a neat place! That rattlesnake was really hiding but he was very visible if you were looking for him. Love the Great Egret reflection photos:) How nice to end with the Painted Buntings, one of the few small birds I would like to see. Thanks for sharing the swamp. They are always dark and a little eerie:)

  12. It's been about 35 years since I've been to Corkscrew, and I doubt I'll ever get back there. Thanks for the tour. You know, the figs were there back then too.

  13. A very appealing place for a hike... the hawk and the snake are my favourites.

  14. The wood stork statue is so pretty, what a nice way to start a beautiful day in the swamp. So glad you asked, and found the magnificent rattler to share! Anhingas are becoming a favorite, they are so majestic and gorgeous!! How nice the hawk hung out with you for a while. Not like Dave to miss ANYthing nearby :-) The vines make it hard for me to breathe when I look at them wrapped around the old trees - but their relationship is like so much in nature. I always want to save the seal, but I don't want the shark to die. The Ghost Orchid is just Wow.

  15. What a fabulous place -- it's been years since I've been there, and Eric has never been. We definitely need to remedy that! Thanks for taking us there since we might not make it until next year (those darned state park reservations, as you know!!). I would so love to see a Ghost Orchid, but I'm not sure if I'm up for July in Florida -- although our December in the Keys felt like July, so maybe I could do it! And you saw Painted Buntings!! Great photos. :-)

  16. I am with John & Pam in not understanding how the orchid was not discovered on that tree before 2007 with all the birders and their binoculars and so many flowers in a season. There must be more to this story that doesn't or didn't meet the eye. Favorite picture is the long-stretch cypress hug - wonderful!

  17. Whenever there are birds in your post Sherry, Im always gaga over it. This time the Painted Bunting made me smile. I was so thrilled to see them the first time in Dauphin Island, and they are just colorful and adorable. And the red shoulder hawk usually poses for you for a moment then flies away.
    If we ever come back to FL the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will surely high on my list.
    PS. I sent you email about mapping.

  18. I would love to hug a 600 year old tree, but not like the strangler fig. That Ghost Orchid is a wild shape. How marvelous it would be to see the blooming. Yet the hawk was an equally awesome sighting. How do you get those great close up shots?

  19. Great pictures - those painted buntings are beautiful! How lovely to see the old trees - it looks like nature is left to 'do its thing' and strangler figs are part of that for better or worse. The orchid was a special find, although, I too wonder why it took that many years if it has really been around that long. The hawk pictures are tremendous - what a neat, neat sighting!

  20. What a wonderful day for you! Beautiful shots of the red shouldered and the painted buntings. And I agree with you about the figs. I, too, wish that at least some of the trees could be spared their fate.

    What follows is a true story. I was last in Corkscrew in 1997 with my husband and my father. We walked through while waiting for a group with whom we were going to paddle part of the 10,000 islands. It was an early spring day and the there were birds literally everywhere. At one point we were standing looking at a active rookery when a very nasal voiced woman pronounced quite loudly that she felt gypped, that she hadn't seen a single bird all day. My father, the very proper, highly educated physician, quickly stated "You have to be s.....ting me lady, look over your head." I blushed, my husband laughed, and the woman looked quite chagrined. Unfortunately, that event is what I remember most about our walk through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

  21. Oh my gosh! Those painted buntings are gorgeous! I'm still fascinated by the anhingas- they almost look prehistoric. It would be cool to see those orchids in bloom- they look ethereal, so graceful. Love the red shouldered hawk. What a fun walk! You got a pretty good shot of the rattlesnake. We are due to get 18-24 inches of snow tomorrow. Woo Hoo! I'm excited! xxxooo


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!