Thursday, June 21: CREW Bird Rookery Swamp

The trails opened at the end of last week after the second of three stages of the boardwalk replacement was completed.

We hiked about eight miles and were a little surprised that there wasn't more water since our walks through CREW's Cypress Dome trails always involved wading through shallow water. But the trails at Bird Rookery Swamp are completely dry and were not even muddy in the section that we covered.

We didn't begin to see real water in the swales until we passed the two-mile mark. By the end of our walk, we did count 41 gators, so they are returning. In some of the shallower sections, we also observed quite a few Florida Gar, Brown Bullhead, and Spotted Tilapia, so some of the larger fish have already repopulated the place and will become a good prey base.

One of the birds watching for prey in the water was the Barred Owl at the right. It was perched above a still isolated puddle and looking down to see what it might be able to catch. It was one of two owls that we observed.

The most frequently observed birds were Black Vultures. The snag that they used to use as a nighttime roost was blown over during Hurricane Irma, but they're beginning to get used to perching in several of the live cypress trees in the same area.

After the Black Vultures, the most often seen birds, in descending order, were Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos, and Carolina Wrens. All of the regular suspects!

Of the 25 species of birds identified, the only unexpected ones were Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Several cypress trees were showing Fall Webworm caterpillar nests, so the cuckoos may be coming in anticipating a feast yet to come.

While Wood Ducks are not uncommon, we didn't see any today. Instead, there were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The two at the top of the page were peacefully perched in one cypress as we passed by.

We only saw eight Swallow-tailed Kites along and over the trails, although at one of their pre-migration roosts just to the east, 14 more were perched in trees.

The kite at the right was directly over the trail. It looks as though it should be yelling, "I AM KITE; HEAR ME ROAR!" but in reality, it was just yawning as it preened and got ready to fly off and forage.

In addition to a fair number of bird species for the summer, we were able to identify 13 species of butterflies. There were others that were either too fast or too far away to make positive identifications. The most common that we saw were Viceroys and Palamedes Swallowtails. White Peacocks, Phaon Crescents, Tiger Swallowtails, and Ruddy Daggerwings were close behind in individual numbers.

Other nice species were Least Skippers, Common Buckeyes, a Red Admiral, and Tropical Checkers.

Many of the swallowtails were "puddling" at damp spots along the sides of the trail, taking in minerals to supplement their diets. At one spot, we had three Tiger Swallowtails and five Palamedes Swallowtails all jostling for position in the same patch.

After the gators, Green Treefrogs were the most often seen and heard herps. Choruses began to sing during a brief rain shower late in the morning. Pig Frogs also began to call with the rain.

The Southern Leopard Frog at the right was in the middle of the trail. Because they are aquatic frogs, it may have been crossing the trail to get to a deeper spot.

Only six species of dragonflies were seen, and for a change, Eastern Pondhawks were the most common. Today the Blue Dashers were much more visible. Other nice sightings were Carolina Saddlebags, Eastern Amberwings, Band-winged Dragonlets, and Halloween Pennants.

Friday, June 22: Corkscrew

Wading birds were mostly absent again this week. The Limpkin at the left was foraging behind the open bench at the south lake, one Green Heron was active between the two lakes, one Little Blue Heron flew over, and one Great Egret was in the shallow water. That was it. The only other "water" birds were one female Anhinga that was in the north lake, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that flew overhead.

Even gators were harder to find. Several small ones were basking on the north lake island in the late morning, and one larger one swam across the south lake earlier, but that was it.

Frogs and treefrogs, on the other hand, were quite vocal and the Pig Frogs were easy to pick out. Many of them were smaller than adult size and their colors ranged from dark like the one at the right which was by the start of the observation platform spur to a bright yellow-green. Several of those were in the north lake.

Larger fish are also returning to Corkscrew as well. Gar were spotted at the start of the shortcut trail and also in the north lake.

Although the varieties of colorful plant species in bloom was not overwhelming, the ones that were present were very attractive. Swamp Lilies and buds of lilies-to-be graced the cypress forest while Coreopsis, dayflower, and Pennyroyal were in the prairies, and Beggar Ticks brightened the drier pine flatwood. Firebush dominated the xeriscape garden and around the Blair Center.

Both Scarlet Hibiscus and Swamp Hibiscus were blooming, mostly around the spur leading to the Plume Hunter shelter. The Swamp Hibiscus at the left was about half way to the shelter. Scarlet Hibiscus had one bloom open a little past the start of the spur, but there were several plants with buds that were growing behind it.

One Clamshell Orchid had its first blooms although most were still in the bud or spike stage. The Polystachya orchids were sending out bloom spikes but none were budding yet.

The Ghost Orchid had several buds visible through the camera lens although they were still too small to be seen with binoculars. They are not ready to bloom in the immediate future, but it should be a good show when they do. Seven buds are circled in red in the photo below.