Home to birds, mammals, reptiles, and very nice people—Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has it all. Last winter I made my second visit there, five years after the first. It may have been snowing at home in Colorado, but southern Florida was supposed to be warm—wasn’t it? The day before had been lovely, but this morning dawned damp and gray, with tendrils of fog creeping over the wetlands. I arrived at 7, just as the admissions office opened, knowing I had to be done to meet Pete for lunch. Well, a late lunch, at least! I wanted to make the most of my time as I walked the 2.25 mile boardwalk.
I don’t mind fog, as it transforms a place into mysterious, and offers a myriad of photo ops. Droplets of water highlighted the spider webs, the birds were still mostly asleep, and a subtle drip, drip broke the silence.
Then, slowly, the fog burned off, the sun came out, and the swamp was open for business! My first stop was the feeding station, where Painted Buntings, Northern Cardinals, and an Ovenbird poked the weeds for breakfast. A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird drank nectar from the feeder. Being from the western half of the country, I was thrilled to be seeing eastern birds, even the common ones.
More people arrived, and we began helping each other see and identify the birds, such as this Blue-headed Vireo. There was a common purpose, and I appreciated hanging out with other birders, especially those more familiar with the local species than I am.
Slowly, we walked the boardwalk. I tend to lag behind, as I’m focused as much on my photography as I am on the birds. One by one, I checked my sightings off the checklist provided at the entrance.
As the morning brightened, the birds became more and more active. At times, I hardly knew where to look—at the Gray Catbird in that tree, or the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher overhead… or maybe that sparrow—which one was it?—on the fence in front of me. It was wonderfully overwhelming.
Of course, the swamp holds more than birds. Green and brown anoles scampered up and down the tree trunks. Eastern Gray Squirrels skittered along the branches, turtles lined up on fallen logs, and of course there was the obligatory alligator, lurking in the dark water. At one point, a young raccoon bolted from his hiding place in the crown of a palm tree and adeptly ran down the trunk and into the underbrush. In fact, the 13,000 acre property is home to 34 species of mammal, including armadillos, foxes, opossums, bears, and the Florida Panther!
Even the plants are fascinating. Strangler Figs live up to their name. Bromeliads line branches, flowers bloom even in winter, and the sanctuary protects the endangered Ghost Orchid. In addition, the swamp includes the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.
Both of my visits have been in the winter, although there was a marked difference between early January and mid-February. My first trip happened to coincide with a drought and a sudden cold spell—although it had been in the 90s the day before, the day of my visit was only one degree above freezing! Much of the swamp was dry, with the bald cypress standing in cracked mud instead of water.
This time, the weather was perfect. Some early migrants had already arrived; I was thrilled to see this Short-tailed Hawk, a lifer, soaring overhead.
However, if you go during the warmer months, beware. There are biting flies present from March to November (and worst from April through June), and they aren’t deterred by repellants, including DEET. No thank you!
The sanctuary is open every day unless closed by extreme weather (this is Florida, after all, and hurricanes are possible). The abundance of wildlife is well worth the price of admission ($14 at this time; cheaper for Audubon members, students, and youth).