Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
By Rachelle Siegrist
During our week long vacation of enjoying fun in the sun, last Thursday we went to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Even though I personally lived only a couple of hours away from this beautiful place for 30 years, I along with Wes had never been there, so we were very anxious to visit! It was yet another beautiful day as we started our walking journey around the 2.25 mile boardwalk trail. Before entering the dense cypress hammock area, you walk over what appears to be a wide river of grass, before coming to the first of many beautiful large Pond Cypress Trees.
The tender new leaves on the Pond Cypress were so incredibly soft to the touch and appear much different than Bald Cypress needles. Since Corkscrew Swamp occupies about 13,000 acres, upon entering this gem of Southwest FL, you hear only the sounds of life inhabiting the swamp . . . nothing else. The “rap…tap..tap” of the Red-bellied and Piliated Woodpeckers filled the air, echoing deep into the swamp, as well as the calls of the Great Crested Flycatchers, Ospreys, White-eyed Vireo and so many more.
Being late spring and a much dryer season, the water was reduced to a couple of small ponds, or gator holes, where the last remaining gators work while swimming around and around to deepen an area in the mud, thus forcing the water to concentrate there, as well as the remaining fish. With no escape, the fish become a smorgasbord for the gator lording over its prized hole! As one gator was slowly making his way over to its hole, an immature Little Blue Heron was following precariously close to the big gator, either checking it out or hoping to catch small fish scared by the gators movements. Regardless of its intentions, I could hear the couple of people standing nearby saying “Oh No . . . don’t’ do it!” which was exactly what I was thinking myself!
We sat for quite sometime at the medium sized hole, while watching the gator wriggling along, with its body going sideways to work the fish over to the waters edge, where it would then raise it’s head, quickly lowering it with jaws wide open, sending a big splash into the air and grabbing whatever came its way! It did this time and time again, making short work of its catch each time afterwards. You could almost see it grow bigger as time passed and it ate more and more fish!
There were a few other birds at this hole as well, including a Barred Owl, who sat quietly in a tree directly above. Although he mostly slept, he would occasionally open his large eyes, peering down below to watch the gator and all that was happening in the pond. Sitting there and just relaxing, time seemed to stand still and it felt like we had slipped several hundred years back in time, to a simpler place and time.
Walking along, I noticed several Bromeliads blooming bringing a splash of red with touches of purple to an otherwise very green canvas.
Button Bushes were also blooming, and I had to stop and smell them each time we passed, as they offered a delightfully sweet fragrance!
Although the Cuban Anolis were everywhere, we occasionally spotted a beautiful native Green Anole perfectly matching its background each time. When we spotted one that had just moved to a new location, it would quickly change and match its surroundings before our very eyes!
Walking deeper into the woods, we found ourselves standing in the largest remaining virgin Bald Cypress forest in the world, and amongst trees that are over 500 years old! Being among these beautiful old giants truly makes one feel a sense of reverence!
Many of them had the tightly clinging trunks of Strangler Figs wrapping around them, spiraling their way around the trunk as they went up. Even though their name suggests they strangle the host tree, in reality they do no such thing, but instead grow up to the top where they spread out a large canopy and steal the sunlight from their poor host.
For someone who is a lover of ferns, such as myself, this is a paradise, as there are a variety of large ferns practically covering the forest floor! I loved the abundant Strap Ferns, most of whom appeared to prefer growing out of the top of the huge Cypress Knees!
We never knew what we were going to see next, and enjoyed watching several raccoons at different times, with one in particular being great fun to watch, as he slowly made his way through a shallow pond, working with his paws just below the water’s surface, trying to find edible treats.
We couldn’t believe it when at one point a Red-shouldered Hawk caught a crawfish, and flew to the handrail of the boardwalk nearby, where he sat and ate his prized catch as if he were the only one in the swamp!
In the same pond which provided the hawks tasty snack, a Great White Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Great Blue Heron all patiently watched, waiting for the precise moment to strike with lightening speed, grabbing a morsel to eat with their long pointed beaks!
It was an amazing day to say the least and if you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend a visit to this place of natural beauty! More to come on Sunday’s post . . . fun in the sun at Lovers Key State Park with my family!
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Until next time . . .