A Sojourners Ramble

Short visits to memorable places!


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Corkscrew Sanctuary – Morning in the Swamp

_MG_6310-1_edited-1At approximately the halfway point of the boardwalk it branches off to a viewing platform overlooking marsh. Volunteers were available with a spotting scope showing a rookery of WOOD STORKS. The volunteers shared their keen knowledge of WOOD STORK nesting habits. This amazing bird is another reason Corkscrew was created and considered by renowned ornithologist Thomas Gilbert Pearson to be the most important nesting area for wading birds in Florida. A volunteer informed me that WOOD STORKS had not nested at this site for 4 years due to their precise needs of very specific water levels containing food sources necessary to raise their young. Excitement was evident amongst all volunteers knowing the WOOD STORKS had returned! WOOD STORKS are currently classified as “endangered” but may well be upgraded to “threatened” status due to establishing nesting areas within Georgia and South Carolina.

I continued my trek along the boardwalk arriving at a viewing area overlooking a small pond where there were benches to sit and observe the activity before you. Present among the trees was the ubiquitous ANHINGA also known as the snake bird for its ability to swim under water and revealing only its head and neck when coming to the surface for air. I continued to observe the bushes around the pond and discovered to my surprise 3 YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERONS blending in perfectly to the surroundings. Another species for my life list!

Purple Gallinule-1A very short distance from the pond area was a marshy spot that was drawing an interest from other visitors. It took a few seconds to realize the interest was directed at a PURPLE GALLINULE foraging through the marsh for food. These usually secretive birds are difficult to view at any time but this one could be viewed and photographed with ease.

This area is known as Lettuce Lakes given the swamp lettuce growing in the waters.  The final body of water along the boardwalk showed views of WHITE IBIS, ANHINGA, LITTLE BLUE HERON, BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERON, BELTED KINGFISHER and GREAT EGRET.  In addition to the birds, an AMERICAN ALLIGATOR was sunning himself conveniently draped over a small island.

Barred Owl-1I was told of a resident BARRED OWL by volunteers who suggested it was best viewed early in the morning. I returned the following day and sure enough 15 minutes into my walk I heard its call “who cooks for you”. I was in the vicinity of Lettuce Lakes when I noticed another visitor taking photographs next to the boardwalk. Upon my approach I couldn’t believe it the BARRED OWL was posing for photos and appeared comfortable to be around people. I took my photos and left the owl to continue on with its day.

One of the most interesting plants of the swamp is the GHOST ORCHID.  This is an endangered and protected species native to southwest Florida and Cuba.  The plant received its name because it has no leaves and when seen in full bloom appears to be hanging in midair. The GHOST ORCHID can be very difficult to see as it usually grows on the trunks of Cypress Trees located in hardwood hammocks, sloughs and cypress domes, up to 50 feet off the ground. Lastly, the GHOST ORCHID is pollinated by the giant Sphinx moth, the only insect with a proboscis long enough.

There are many interesting species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles found in the swamp including white-tailed deer, raccoon, gray squirrels, river otters, green and brown anoles, turtles such as the red-bellied, peninsula ribbon snake as well as the pig and green tree frog.

White Eyed Vireo-1The Corkscrew Sanctuary resource management practices include prescribed fire. Prescribed fires have many benefits such as controlling disease in young pine trees, reduction of hazardous fuel and improve the habitat quality for wildlife. In addition to this Corkscrew has developed a sustainable practice of managing waste water.

Corkscrew has far too much diversity to cover in one blog posting. I witnessed visitors of all ages walking through the Sanctuary for many different reasons. The one visitor that stood out the most was one who may have had it right. He simply sat at a bench and took in the experience as a matter of his daily routine revealing the days awakening of sounds that feed the soul.

In a free publication offered in the book shop, the front cover had a quote from John Muir (Scottish- American Naturalist and Founder of the Sierra Club) “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”. I feel this is a very accurate statement when you visit this important sanctuary because you want to stick around awhile!


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Southwest Florida Birding Trail

I visited Southwest Florida in January 2014 to experience some of the birding spots listed on the SW Florida Birding Trail and to escape the cold of winter at my home. I had visited Florida many times in the past but never took the opportunity to do any serious birding – this time was different!
My home base of Fort Myers gave me a great centralized location within one hour drive of more than 30 birding spots listed on the SW Florida Birding trail. Due to the number of sites listed, preference was given to range of habitat that increased my chances of viewing as many species of birds as possible but also to experience the uniqueness of the chosen spot.
Corkscrew Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center (Part 1)
Corkscrew-1I start with my absolute favorite spot in SW Florida, the Corkscrew Sanctuary managed by the Audubon Society. It is named for the Corkscrew River that begins within the sanctuary and was established on December 15, 1954. The Corkscrew Swamp was exploited in the early 1800’s for prized “plume” hunting of wading birds and in the 1950’s for logging of the Bald Cypress tree. The Audubon Society petitioned the US Government to declare the wetlands of south Florida sanctuaries thus allowing the wading bird rookeries to thrive and the Cypress to remain. It is a jewel in conservation and a must to experience.
I was out the door at 6:30am with hopes of arriving shortly after sunrise. Driving along Immokalee Road on the final few kilometers of the trip, I spotted a CRESTED CARACARA in the ditch beside the road. My thoughts of stopping were thwarted by traffic so I continued on to Corkscrew. Upon arrival, I followed the boardwalk into the pavilion that revealed a reception area, book store, auditorium and cafeteria. The walls of the pavilion are outfitted with the history, maps of the area and photography from local artists. I paid my entrance fee of $12 (good for 2 consecutive days) and continued out to the sanctuary.
Throughout the sanctuary are a dedicated group of volunteers available for any information about Corkscrew. Over the course of each day there are guided tours provided by volunteers pointing out bird species, historical information about Corkscrew or simply to answer any questions a visitor may have.
Outside the back doors of the pavilion, bird feeders were located on the right. My birding experience began right then when I spotted a male PAINTED BUNTING perched on a feeder. I spent 20 minutes observing the area around the bird feeders and discovered a female PAINTED BUNTING, INDIGO BUNTING (winter plumage), RED BELLIED WOODPECKER and the ever antagonizing GRACKLES. The PAINTED BUNTING was a “Bucket and Life list” species for me bringing back memories of the cover of my first Bird Guide.

Little Blue Heron-1Corkscrew has just over 2 miles of boardwalk through 6 different habitats and habitat transition areas with opportunities to view many species of birds. Habitats included Pine Flatwood, Wet Prairie, Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Marsh and Lettuce Lakes. Walking the boardwalk, the most evident bird song to me was that of the CAROLINA WREN. Big song from a small bird! The first 200 yards brought you through Pine Flatwood and into the Pond Cypress habitat showing views of PRAIRIE WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT WARBLER, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, BLUE GRAY GNATCATCHER and to everyone’s surprise (3) NORTHERN ORIOLES. There is one last bird feeder located within this area giving more views of PAINTED BUNTINGS, INDIGO BUNTING as well as WHITE EYED VIREOS, OVENBIRD, and MOURNING DOVE.
The boardwalk continued into the Pond Cypress and Wet Prairie with views of GREAT EGRET, WHITE IBIS, LITTLE BLUE HERON, YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER, CATBIRD, and NORTHERN CARDINAL. Winding its way through the CYPRESS TREES the boardwalk follows the edge of the Wet Prairie with views of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, PALM WARBLERS, BLACK AND WHITE WARBLERS, TUFTED TITMOUSE, and RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.

Red Bellied Woodpecker-1The boardwalk then enters the Bald Cypress habitat wrapping around huge Bald Cypress Trees, a legacy for all to experience. Swamp lettuce is predominant throughout the swamp and is poisonous for the inhabitants to eat but provides shelter and structure for the inhabitants of this ecosystem. The unmistakable call of the PILEATED WOODPECKER was heard throughout Corkscrew as I navigated the boardwalk. The boardwalk has many spots that branch out containing areas for observation, rest or just simple contemplation.

More to follow in Part 2!