Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a beautiful and fascinating haven, sheltering the plants and animals of southwest Florida and the Everglades and providing visitors a unique chance to see important and threatened habitat.
The Audubon preserve, about 25 miles northeast of Naples, Florida, will be featured during a program March 2 at another wonderful sanctuary, the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve near Urbana. Photographer Bob Glotzhober will share his observations and photographs from many years exploring Corkscrew Swamp, famous as a nesting site for wood storks.
My family and I had the good fortune of exploring Corkscrew ourselves last month. We had visited Corkscrew once before and walked its famous and scenic 2.25-mile boardwalk. The boardwalk passes through a variety of habitats: Wet prairie, pinewoods, marshland and the largest old-growth baldcypress stand in North America. On some segments of the trail, quiet and shaded, with the mirror-like surface of slow-moving water reflecting the cypress roots and the rapid and haunting hammering of a pileated woodpecker sounding in the distance, it’s easy to imagine yourself in a primeval setting long before the Everglades began to fall to human development.
On this visit, we also were lucky enough to have our own guide, my nephew Lee Martin, a research technician at the preserve, who led us through a part of the sanctuary that’s usually open to visitors only during special programs.
Martin drove my family along dirt and gravel roads through a variety of habitats in the 13,000-acre preserve, seeing Florida like we’d never seen it before.
Along the way, we learned about the preserve’s important conservation programs and saw an amazing variety of wading birds, including wood storks, spoonbills, bitterns, egrets and herons of many varieties. We also spotted a limpkin, a "life bird" for all of us, and ran across (almost literally, in one instance) more alligators than I’ve ever encountered in one place before. In several cases, we had to inch up to gators lying across the road until they grudgingly gave way to the SUV.
We also heard how surprising it can be - to both species - when a human conducting swamp research steps on a submerged gator. (My nephew steps more carefully now, he said.)
My 13-year-old twins were surprised to see evidence of fire in the swamp and learn that it’s actually a good thing. Like the prairies of Ohio, some of the habitats in Corkscrew rely on fire. We learned about the controlled burns now used at the preserve to reduce or eliminate invasive species while encouraging native plants that have evolved to withstand or depend on periodic fires.
We did have the faint hope that we might spot the endangered Florida panther. My nephew has seen and photographed the rare creature in the preserve and taken marvelous casts of its paw prints. Alas, the elusive beast didn’t show during our visit, but one of the paw-print casts is now a prized treasure in the natural history display case in our living room at home in Ohio.
The Corkscrew Swamp program at Cedar Bog will begin at 10 a.m. March 2. Admission is $10. For more information, call 937-484-3744 or visit www.cedarbognp.org.
For more information about Corkscrew Swamp, visit corkscrew.audubon.org.
Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.