Saturday, February 26, 2022

2/25 Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

This is one of my favorite places in Florida and a place I try to go to at least a couple of times whenever I am in Florida.  It is an Audubon facility and has a 2.25 mile boardwalk through a 13,450 acres of wetlands and virgin bald cypress swamp.  There are usually lots of volunteers on the boardwalk that will point out birds and other wildlife for you.  I strongly suggest you not miss this if you are in Florida permanently or on vacation.  Here is their website for more information on visiting: 

This was probably not the best day to visit because temps were in the mid-80s.  I do not do well in the heat, but I did take two frozen bottles of water with me.  

The visitor center. 

And the beginning of the boardwalk.

There is a grassy marsh between the visitor center and the main bald cypress stand.

Lots of ferns and air plants.

And a very tiny lizard of some sort.  Note how long his tail is in relation to his body! 

By the way, the "swamp" has almost no mosquitos because there are a lot of little fish in the water that eat mosquito larvae.

And an amazing number of flowering plants, even this time of year when flowers are not at their most common.

The boardwalk is about 30 years old, so in places trees have grown around it in a "puddle" shape. 

This funny red-bellied woodpecker was practicing his acrobatics!

It is important as you walk on the boardwalk to be looking out for small things, as well as big things.  This little turtle was only about 3" long.  I think he was a baby mud turtle. 

The floating green stuff here is duckweed, not pond scum!! 

This is an anhinga, aka "snake bird."  He is called this because his feathers do not have an oily coating so when he swims, all you can see is his long, black neck that looks like a snake.

These next two photos show him drying his wings.  He cannot fly until they are dry.

These are two magnificent, very old bald cypress.  The one on the right lost its top decades ago, but has continued to grow.   


Just another photo of how beautiful this swamp is!  

Based on the stripe down his back, this might be a ground skink.

There is a family of white ibis on this branch.  The white bird on the right is the parent, and the others are juveniles. 

I swear that I have never seen a bird lay down on a branch for a nap with his wings hanging over!!  Maybe because they are still chicks?  Also, you can tell an ibis very easily because they are the only Florida bird with a downward curved long beak.

A great blue heron and a white heron fishing.  They will stare into the water and then jab at a passing fish. 

This is a baby alligator that was really only about a foot long.  I used a telephoto lens to get this photo.

And this "rock" is a turtle of some sort--probably a Florida soft-shell because his shell is flat. Can't see his neck or face, however.

 Heading back to the visitor center.

I surprised a deer, but this was the best photo I got of him/her.

On the road home, I took this photo to show the tall, barbed-wire fences on both sides of the highway.  These are panther fences and are intended to keep them from crossing the road and getting hit by cars. On the far right, you can see a tunnel that they can use to go underneath the roadway.

A closeup of how the panther fence wraps around to guide the animals, especially panthers, underneath the roadway.  There is also a small creek here, but lots of room on either side for animals to walk.  Not the best photo, but best I could do while driving.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

2/23 Ortona Lock & Dam Campground

Ortona South Campground is one of my favorite places in Florida because there is always something to watch here.  It is located east of LaBelle, Florida, on the Caloosahatchee Canal, which goes from Lake Okeechobee to Ft Meyers.  The water level on Lake Okeechobee was raised 20' many years ago to provide more irrigation water for southern Florida, especially for the sugar cane and other farmland.  The higher water level required the whole lake to have dams built around it and to have dams and locks built on both sides of the navigable rivers that resulted.

Ortona Lock & Dam is about 15 miles west of the lake and about 8 miles east of the small town of LaBelle, FL.  The dam raises the water level about 7-8 feet so a lock is required for the many recreational boats that cruise from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico via the river and Fort Myers.  (There is another lock and dam, plus campground on the river west of here and one east of the lake. Those dams keep the water in the lake raised to a total of about 20 feet.) It is nice to watch the boats on the river enter the lock and leave it. 

Anyway, there is a small stream that empties into the river through the campground, so it attracts a lot of birds.  It used to have a resident family of river otters, but unfortunately their den is no longer there, so they have probably moved downstream.  Darn!  I used to really enjoy watching them much on fish.  

I have a site that is close to the dam so it is only a very short walk there.  And because the campground is about a mile from the highway, it is quiet here.  Nice, paved spots with water and electric hookups available.  And today, temps were in the 80s!  Not bad for winter. 


The lock  is on the far side of the dam and can be viewed by walking over the dam until the lock closes at 4:00 pm.  

A couple of anhingas were drying their wings on these buoys.  They dive for fish, but are not ducks, so they have to dry out before they can fly. 

Two of the four dam gates were open, resulting is a rush of water and a lot of noise. 

It is interesting to be able walk across the top of a dam and see all the mechanism. 

Here is a video of the water coming through the dam:

I saw this sunken boat downstream, but I need to find out why it sunk and when. 

The lock is big enough for quite a few smaller boats or a large dredge or similar.

The east gate was open about a foot to let water in so it took a lot of time.   

About 200' downstream from the dam and lock, there is a small, but fast-moving stream that drains land south of the campground.  It has fish it in so it attracts a lot of birds.  This view is looking upstream.

Somebody has been eating a lot of shellfish and leaving the remains on rocks!

And this is the shellfish eater--a limpkin.   The bird books say he/she catches shellfish and opens them by cutting the muscle holding the shell shut with his sharp beak.  I have never seen that happen, unfortunately.


You can identify this snowy egret by his being a white bird with a black beak, black legs, and orange feet.  He eats small fish by staring at the water and grabbing them as the swim by, so he can most often be found in shallow ponds and streams.  


And this is a green heron.  He is much shorter than other herons, but he is an excellent diver and fish catcher.  


And this is a little blue heron.  He is smaller than the great blue heron and has a very sharp bill for catching fish.  He is about the same size as the snowy egret and eats small fish and small crustaceans including crabs and crayfish, although he also eats things like tadpoles, frogs, and insects. 

Just to the right and beneath this palm tree where the stream dumps into the larger river is where the otters used to live in a large burrow.  It looks like it has collapsed or somehow been destroyed.  A family lived here for quite a few years and were fun to watch, but I assume they moved downstream.

Also at the entrance of the small stream is a large fishing pier which is nearly always busy.  It is also just a nice place to sit and enjoy the breeze and the view.

At the entrance of the stream I also found this softshell turtle of some sort.  If it is a Florida softshell, it has a long neck but is keeping it in today. 

The next two photos were taken from the bridge upstream, and I am pretty sure this is a great blue heron, although the view was not the best.  Not sure what the little guy is standing behind him, but enlarging the photo shows it might have a curved beak, as an ibis does, but ibis in Florida are white.  

This looks more like a great blue heron.

I am at this campground for the next 11 days, so will be taking more bird photos as I go.