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)
I 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.
Corkscrew 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.
The 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!