Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
This picture of Pond Cypress was taken behind my house yesterday during a break in the rain. Their striking winter forms reminded me of walking through Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Last week, I took some visitors from the frigid regions up north to the boardwalk over there. The rain had subsided and it was a sunny but slightly cool day.
I like to give people a backdoor tour of the sanctuary. That is, I like to enter the exit and exit the entrance. That way we can experience walking through the uplands with the pines and saw palmettos and walk down through the wet prairie. Then we have a moment to pause and look up at the “doorway” of Pond Cypress looking down to greet us. For me that is a magical moment before we enter a different world, similar to walking in a redwood forest. We are now inside. Our personal space is gone. I love that feeling. The sounds were enhanced and sky was visible from in between the branches of the leafless cypress. Visitors are often surprised that the cypress tree is deciduous. I know that I was when I first arrived. When you are driving along the edge of the swamp, they look dead against the bright green of the cabbage palms that have grown in between them. But they are very much alive and for a short period of time before the new leaves appear you can look carefully at the branches and the ecosystem that depends on them.
My friends were intrigued with the boardwalk and I boasted that it was built around the trees as was the visitor’s center. Not one tree was cut down to build the boardwalk or the visitor’s center! The floor boards, I explained, were made from sustainably harvested Ipe wood. My friend, Ted, pointed out how beautifully the boardwalk was camouflaged against the surrounding cypress. His wife, Linda, was also intrigued with the beauty of the lichens that surrounded us on the bark of trees and on the railings. Shades of red, orange, green and white, these organisms, a symbiotic partnership of fungus and alga, were spectacular and Linda couldn't take enough pictures. As we walked down into the swamp the Bald Cypress loomed overhead. Seeing those trees it’s easy to see where perhaps the inspiration for Avatar came from.
We tried to identify the bird calls and the sightings of different woodpeckers. I finally got a close up of the Yellow Bellied Woodpecker! That sighting was confirmed by one the many knowledgeable volunteers who pointed out to me that the species living in Florida does not have the red on the head but does have the striking white wing bar that gives it away. We even saw a red-shouldered hawk down by the lettuce lakes swoop down on a log and shred a mouse with that specialized beak of his. As we continued our walk we saw a flock of Ibis or swamp chickens as they are sometimes affectionately called, a black crowned night heron taking a nap, some Great Egrets and a few anhinga birds spreading their wings and swimming for crayfish. The Pileated Woodpecker put in quite a few appearances as well. As we finished our walk we were also fortunate enough to get a good close up view of the painted buntings at the bird feeder near the visitor’s center. We spent over two hours on the board walk but we could have been there longer if they weren’t closing at 5:30. We had a wonderful time. No matter what time of day I go to the swamp I have a different experience. Now, I’m ready to go at night!
For those of you interested please click on the link to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary website and remember to go prepared. Bring a hat, sunscreen and always a bottle of water. Binoculars and a field guide or two can also come in handy. Food is not allowed on the boardwalk but if you bring a lunch or snack for later there are picnic areas in a landscaped area next to the parking lot and a lovely café inside.