Today we started out at an almost leisurely 8AM. It felt so decadent to be able to sleep until until 7AM or later for some of us. But the later start didn’t mean that we saw anything less. Today, we toured the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center. This amazing park was established to save the largest remaining stand of bald cypress in North American in 1954. Consisting of almost 6000 acres of wildlands, the main attraction is a 2.25 mile walk on a raised boardwalk through several different habitats; each one is important to wildlife and plants.
Professor Skean and Heather Nobert at the beginning of the trail in the Pine Flatwoods.
Davide Zailo looks through his binoculars, trying to spot the elusive snail kite with pond cypress in the background. Several swallowtail kites were seen in formation over the swamp.
Lannis Smith and Chris Wardlaw stop in the wet prairie to try to photograph a spider on its web.
Davide Zaile, Lacie Carter and Jordan Kus smile for the camera with the sawgrass in the background.
Trevor Floyd idles on the boardwalk past a stand of pond cypress. Even though the trees look dead, if you inspected the branches closely, you could see the needles starting to bud. With the cold that Florida experienced this winter, it seems like everything is taking a little longer than usual to green up.
The landscape slowly transitions from pond cypress to the larger bald cypress. The contrast of the landscape with what we saw on the Keys was quite striking. In the Keys, there were typically only a few species of plants that were highly specialized for their environment. In these swamp lands, it seems like you could count 50 different species of plant, just on one tree!
The standing water was deep and clear and, if you were still, you could watch the fish swim past.
Alison Gailey and Sam Yackel scan the undergrowth of the bald cypress swamp for birds and other critters.
As we were walking off the boardwalk, we passed through an area where a prescribed burn was taking place. The role of fire in maintaining certain habitats, especially pinelands, was discussed in class prior to the field trip. Corkscrew, a National Audubon Society sanctuary, has managed its wilderness areas through prescribed burns for decades. Witnessing a managed burn was demonstrable evidence for the students of the importance of this practice.
Even though we could have stayed in the sanctuary for a few more hours, all good things must come to an end. We left Corkscrew and made our way north to to Alva, one of the small farming communities just outside of LaBelle, where we had lunch with Lois and Leon White; Lois is a former mayor of Albion. Also at lunch was Elkin Isaac for whom the Elkin Isaac Research Symposium was named, and Albion College Trustee, Carolyn Aishton. We ate lunch in Leon and Lois’s wonderful backyard where we were invited to eat several types of citrus right off the trees. We were accompanied by an owl and numerous indigo and painted buntings, truly dressing up the afternoon!
Lacie Carter and Heather Nobert relax in the lounge chairs while digging into the juiciest grapefruit they have ever tasted.
Ashley Tewiliger, Alison Gailey and Sam Yackel sit in the front yard watching Lois’s bird feeders to see the cool birds including painted buntings, indigo buntings, and many types of warblers on their way north to Albion to herald the arrival of spring.
Trevor Fisher and Davide Zailo hunt among the leaves of an agave plant for a small green anole.
After a wonderfully relaxing lunch, we had to say good-bye to our newly-met Albion friends.
We continued our journey north to Lake Placid through the citrus groves and cattle pastures. It is amazing to think that only 150 years ago, this entire area once looked like Corkscrew does now. We arrived at the conference center at about 4:30PM, just in time for a friendly (and slightly competitive!) volleyball game on the shores of Lake Placid.
Trevor Floyd and Rachel Leads look on as Ashli Wilson puts up the ball.
Cynthia Hanson gets under the ball as Chris Wardlaw looks on.
Davide Zailo and Dan Klarr end up in the sand as Jordan Kus saves the point.
Holly Grand laughs as Rachel Leads and Ashli Wilson go for the save.
Cynthia Hanson at the net.
For some people, the volleyball game held little appeal.
After dinner, Professor Skean set up a tropical fruit tasting for us! We tried black sapote, eggfruit, granadilla, mango, sapodilla, tamarind, dessert bananas, several kinds of citrus and three different kinds of avocado. Most agreed that the ugli fruit was pretty good and we’d eat it again, but the black sapote was a definite bust.
Tomorrow, we are heading to Archbold Natural Station on the Lake Wales Ridge to see some of the last remaining plants of the disappearing Florida scrub. If we are lucky, we might see a Florida Scrub Jay while we are there!