Day 8: Corkscrew swamp 04/03/2016

Temperature: Max 23C66

On this day we visited Corkscrew Swamp, although while exploring this swamp we managed to keep our feet dry thanks to the boardwalk.

Corkscrew swamp background

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a 13, 000 acre area within the Western Everglades. The primary habitat is wetlands which boast the largest remaining area of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) forest in the world. Some trees are thought to be ~800 years old.

Corkscrew like many wetlands in Florida was exploited for its heron and egret populations by plume hunters in the 1900’s. This lead to the organising of wardens by the National Audubon Society to protect Corkscrews bird populations.

Areas around the site had a history of logging following WWII  due to the size, pest, fire and rot resistance of the cypress trees. In order to protect Corkscrew from this fate  the National Audubon Society and other organisations purchased the land in 1954 (what is now the sanctuary).

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Alligator flag in bald cypress swamp

As we entered the visitor centre we had a short talk with a warden and caught a glimpse of an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) on a feeder.

Walking along the boardwalk we came across the different community types that made up the sanctuary. These included; bald cypress, pond cypress, pine flatwood, marsh and wet prairie. These habitats varied due to small changes in topography were compiled of a wide variety of species which we were able to see as we walked along the boardwalk.

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Downpour in bald cypress swamp

As we reached the bald cypress swamp there was a sudden blackening of the sky and we had our only experience of Floridian rain. During this downpour we had a chance to sense a different side to the swamp. This also gave a close up encounter with a raccoon (Procyon lotor) which sauntered along the boardwalk near to where we were sheltering and climbed up a tree.

Once the rain had eased off we continued along the boardwalk, looking out for the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) which we found out was not in flower this time of the year. Despite this we were told by one of the rangers that there was an orchid which was in flower.  We did manage to find this although we were unable to identify it through the binoculars.

 

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Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) “resurrecting” on branch

As a result of the rain we were also able to see the resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)  in its greener “resurrected” form.  Another plant we got up close with was the strangler fig (Ficus aurea) surrounding a cypress tree. This was rather impressive as both were massive plants reaching incredible heights.

While walking through the cypress forest we came across a group of green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) which made a change to the invasive brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) which we had mainly seen throughout the trip. Within this group one was displaying territorial behaviour bobbing its head and extending its red dewlap. In addition to this we also witness one anole changing from the bright green colour to  a dark brown colour. I was unaware that this colour change was exhibited by the green anole.

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Strangler fig (Ficus aurea)

A behaviour that I had hoped to witness since the visit to Merritt Island was an Anhinga fishing. Despite a large group of school children we witnessed  an Anhinga fully submerge itself under the water only to re-emerge with just its head. While seeing this you could really understand the reason behind its name the “snake bird” (especially after a child exclaimed “ahh it’s a snake”).

We had time for lunch at the sanctuary which allowed us to observe the birds on the bird-feeder for a while longer, despite this the painted bunting (Passerina ciris) evaded me.

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Barefoot Beach

Barefoot Beach

We then headed to Barefoot Beach which is located near to the field station. This is a preserve of 342 acres which is one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on the southwest coast of Florida.

We had an opportunity to swim in the sea where we witnessed brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) and osprey (Pandion haliaetus) diving into the sea to catch fish.  This was an incredible behaviour to witness, let alone witness while in the water. We later came across an osprey sitting on a nest when another flew in with a fish it had caught.

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Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

After swimming we explored the boardwalk and came across a few gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) both in and around their burrows. These are the state tortoise of Florida and an important keystone species because of it digs burrows. These are used by other species including gopher frogs (Rana capito) and burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) for feeding, protection from temperature extremes and predators.

Gopher tortoises are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN with habitat loss due to land development being a major factor.These tortoises require relatively large areas to occupy. Therefore it is likely problematic that the area surrounding Barefoot Beach is largely occupied by luxury accommodation. (Jeannine et al., 2003)

Reference:                                                                                                                                                                                                                           JEANNINE, O.E., MICHENER, W.K. and GUYER, C., 2003. Patterns of Movement and Burrow Use in a Population of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus). Herpetologica, 59(3), pp. 311-321.

 

 

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