Florida Revisited: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

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A trip to true west coast (of Florida) would be incomplete without visiting Corkscrew Swamp, and perfect weather is providing us optimal birding. Sooney and I really enjoyed our visit last year, having explored the 2/1/4 mile boardwalk the better part of an afternoon. In fact, as the sun was finally dropping into Kodachrome range around 5 p.m., we struggled to make it through the entire walk for fear of being locked in (they close the gates at 5:30 sharp).

This year we arrived shortly after opening at 7 a.m. and enjoyed a different light. The birding was fair, the environment refreshingly crisp, and the pace our own. After our packed lunch, we learned that once a month the sanctuary is open until 9 p.m. so those lucky enough to attend will have an extra hour or 2 to capture that magical light filtering through the mangroves and ancient cypress. And, no, we didn’t spot the elusive Limpkin.

On the way home, we stopped at Tiger Tail park on Marco Island because all the birding books rave about the place. It was low tide and we were able to wade across the inlet. We continued on a well-worn path to the coast, and shortly arrived at our inaugural Florida beach experience—white sand mixed with crushed shells for miles in either direction. Populating the scene were occupants of those condos, walking up and down, iPods blazing, and working on their tans. Skirting in and out of the tiny waves were willets  and other shore birds that pretty much summed up our birding experience (Sooney later spied a Yellow-rumped Warbler and some Palm Warblers flitting around). Framing all this brightness were  massive condominiums towering one after the other down the coast, uniformly white to blend with the white white sand and topped with cobalt blue skies.

We didn’t see many birders, however, and periodically asked folks for information about the area. One told us that she’d just had the most amazing birding experience in her life, and that got our attention. Marco Island is in the south western section of Florida, south of Naples and the two highways that cross the state and separate the Everglades from the agricultural development that once was the Florida panhandle featured in A Land Remembered, Patrick D. Smith’s compelling book about post civil war cattlemen. She had driven east (toward Miami) on the smaller of the 2 highways (Hwy. 41 and locally known as the Tamiami Trail) and stopped at Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. The owner, Dick, poled her into the Everglades with the all the quiet and attention required of a nature photographer and she raved about their attention to details. We’ve made reservations to join them next Tuesday, so we’ll see.

Check out our gallery images from our trip to Corkscrew in 2012.

Bird sightings:

Pied-billed Grebe, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Common Grackle