Monday, April 3, 2017

CREW Marsh Trail

Time goes by sooooo fast when you're having fun. If you're wondering what has happened to us, we have been gone from Florida for well over a couple of months. I thought it was time to get my butt in gear and start blogging again. Before I talk about our recent adventures here is one hiking trip I participated in back in January. I just have to talk about this one. 

It was a gorgeous sunny warm Tuesday morning around 9 when I made my way to CREW Marsh Trail in Immokalee. I was meeting up with a CREW member, and I gathered others as well, to hike one of 4 areas owned by CREW. So far all is well. I arrived in time, about 15 hikers were present, the CREW member was present, and our hiking guide has arrived. So away we go.
Dr David Cooper,Volunteer
& Master Naturalist

The trails offer over five miles of hiking through pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, a pop ash slough, and sawgrass marsh. The trails are home to native wildflowers and plants, birds, deer, turkey, the endangered Florida panther, snakes, and Florida black bear.
The trails are open seven days a week sunrise to sunset and are free of charge. Brochures are available for self-guided hikes.
Nice wide trail

First of all what is CREW? CREW is 60,000 acres of watershed that spans Lee and Collier Counties in South Florida. Like a giant sponge, watershed is an area of land that absorbs rain and ground water and then sheds it into a wetland. This wetland area is called the CREW Marsh. This 5,000 acre Marsh holds the water it receives, protecting downstream areas from flooding during rains and stores water during a drought. The plants in the marsh filter the water, removing pesticides and other substances harmful to humans. After it is cleaned the slow moving water sinks into the ground, recharging the underground aquifer that is the source of drinking water for this part of Florida. The entire watershed also creates a habitat for plants ad animal. The Crew Land & Water Trust was formed in 1989 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the water resources in and around Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW). In December 1990 the CREW Marsh Trail was opened. This 5,000 acre sawgrass marsh is the headwaters of the Imperial River. This expanse of land holds water until it flows southwest and south, eventually ending up in Estero Bay or the Everglades.

Observation Tower
Looking out over 5,000 acres of sawgrass marsh
The aquifer is a layer of porous limestone rock that holds water in its numerous crevices. Most of the 55 inches of annual rainfall the marsh receives comes in the summer and fall. This time of year the marsh is fairly dry.Water in this ditch comes from runoff along Corkscrew Road and flows south into the sawgrass marsh. 
Okay now comes the really interesting part. Usually when I am hiking with a group I'm out front with the guide listening to everything he or she is talking about. However, this time I was mid pack about to take a picture of some plants. Then I hear that adrenaline stimulating single word "snake". Yes, it was a snake and to be more precise it was an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. As you can see it was lying halfway across the path we wanted to hike.
This is my first eastern diamondback I have ever seen while hiking. What a thrill. These snakes are the largest venomous snake in North America. They can reach 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length and weigh up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilos). This guy was still partly in the brush so we couldn't see the entire body. What we did see was big.

These snakes are pit vipers and generally live in dry, pine flatwoods and coastal scrub habitats from southern North Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana. It seems I am in the perfect location. They are feared for being aggressive and deadly. In actuality they are highly averse to human contact and only attack in defense. Diamondbacks can strike up to one-third their body length. Their venom is a potent hemotoxin meaning it kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage. Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans. If cornered, the diamondback will feverishly shake their iconic tail as a last warning to back off. This one did not shake it's tail even when it went into strike mode.

Note the bluish colour to this diamondbacks eyes. He is getting ready to shed his skin which can occur several times a year. They add a new rattle segment each time they shed so loosing a rattle won't matter. 

So how did we get past his guy. Well,  at first we were going to take a very, very wide berth around him but when he reared back the CREW organizer put a stop to that. So we took another trail which lead to the spots we came to see. That was amazing. I can honestly say I would not have seen it if I was in the lead. I am always looking up or into the shrubbery not the ground I'm walking on. That was a good wake up call. Bye the way he never did rattle.

As we were getting close to the end of our hike we did come across the biggest grasshopper I have ever seen. This lubber grasshopper can reach 3 inches in length and are flightless. They move from place to place primarily by walking but are capable of jumping short distances. Another great find.
Lubber Grasshopper

What an amazing day, thank-you CREW.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Koreshan State Historic Site

Several communal societies were established in the United State at the turn of the century. The Shakers built communities based on celibacy and communal property before 1800. Joseph Smith led the Mormons to Utah in the mid 19th century. George Rapp founded the Harmonists in Pennsylvania. The common denominator was the search for the ideal. Florida has seen it's fair share of early pioneers from far and wide but none as unusual as Dr Cyrus Reed Teed. Situated on the grounds of Koreshan State Park is the historic settlement Teed founded known as "The Koreshan Unity".

The Unity was a religious Utopian community originally founded in upstate New York by Dr Cyrus Reed. Later, it was headquartered in Chicago before making it's permanent home south of Fort Myers in Estero, Florida, on 320 acres of land where Teed intended to find the "New Jerusalem". Among the most interesting beliefs of Koreshanity was cellular cosmogony, or the hollow earth. According to the cellular cosmogony, the earth was not a convex sphere but instead a hollow, concave cell containing the entire universe with the sun at its center and people living on Earth inside the hollow cell. I still don't understand the concept even though it was explained a few times. Koreshan's also believed that God was both male and female. They also believed in reincarnation and equality for both sexes.

The Koreshan Unity became well established by 1904 with the building of several buildings including residences, a bakery, a machine shop, a general store, a publishing house, a Planetary Court, a power plant that produced electricity not only for the Koreshan community but also parts of southwest Florida. The Bakery would produce 500-600 loaves of bread per day not only for members but to sell in the general store. The Art Hall famous for it's plays, concerts, lectures, and religious activities is where my tour started.
The Art Hall, note the lack of vegetation and no 6 lane Tamiami Trail (US 41) yet
The Art Hall today, US 41 is 200 ft to the left 
Shell pathways throughout the settlement were used for several reasons. Crushed shells reflected light in the evening making it easier to maneuver around the settlement. It also made for a firm walking surface. Approaching footsteps could be easily heard.

How did Cyrus Teed, also known as Koresh acquire the land in Estero? Teeds first trip to Florida in 1893 was a bust, the price of land was way too high. Before leaving he conducted a series of lectures and distributed pamphlets. A German immigrant, Gustave Damkohler whom homesteaded on the Estero River in 1882 became very interested in the Koreshan Unity. He believed that Koreshanity was the next great religion. He sold Teed 300 acres of undeveloped land for $200. By 1907 the Unity owned 6,000 acres in southwest Florida.
The only building on the 300 acres was Damkohler's house
Gustave Damkohler

Before the construction of the Tamiami Trail (US 41), the Estero River was the main means of transportation for goods and people. Bamboo Landing provided a formal landing to the Koreshan Unity world.
Bamboo Landing
Back in the day one would arrive at Bamboo Landing via the Estero River and walk directly to the Founders' House. This building is the oldest surviving structure on the settlement built by the Koreshans. It was also built using milled pine siding instead of logs. Pine shakes also replaced the palmetto thatch roof.
The Koreshans developed gardens for aesthetic purposes as well as a place to nourish the spirit and not the body. Exotic trees and plants were brought in from around the world.

Monkey Puzzle Tree native to 
Washingtonia Palms native to 
South America 

Tulip Tree
Sausage Tree native to Africa

Tulip Tree Flowering

The land was a wilderness in 1894 but the Koreshians were able to carve beautiful gardens through the thick mangroves, scrub oak, and saw palmettos. Trellises, gazebos, benches fountains, and bridges dotted the settlement landscape.
Once the tallest structure in Lee County, the Dining Hall was three stories tall. The upper floors were dormitories for women and children while the lower floor would accommodate everyone for meals. The building was demolished in 1949, all that remains today is the dinner bell.
Dining Hall
Dinner Bell

The day to day affairs of the Koreshan Unity was governed by a council of seven women. All lived under one roof called the Planetary Court. Each person had a separate room which could be accessed from a central hall or the outside porches.

The Planetary Court

The entire tour took about 1 1/2 hours and was well worth the $2. I only covered part of this very interesting society. Today, all that remains of the original Koreshan Unity is the College of Life Foundation in Estero. Their mission is to educate and preserve the history of southwest Florida. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Just a little catching up before I start talking about Ding Darling. Yes, we are still in Bonita Springs. Again, we cancelled some of our plans opting to stay in one place while the pups are young. They are doing great, growing like weeds.

Fortunately, I was able to get away for a day of exploring. This time I made my way to Sanibel Island where  the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located. As a barrier island it is fringed with shallow bays, white sandy beaches, and mangrove forests. For years the island was used by farmers but the hurricane of 1926 destroyed the agriculture industry. The building of the Sanibel Causeway in 1963 opened the flood doors for tourism.

As an avid hunter, fisherman, and political cartoonist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling became alarmed at the loss of wildlife habitat and the possible extinction of many species. Darling was instrumental in blocking the sale of environmentally sensitive land to developers on Sanibel Island by urging President Harry S. Truman to sign an Executive Order creating Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945The refuge was later renamed in 1967 to honor Darling.

The refuge consists of over 6,400 acres of mangroves, seagrass beds, and hardwood hammocks.
Approximately 2,800 acres of the refuge is designated as a Wilderness Area. Today, the refuge provides a safe habitat for wildlife as well as a feeding, nesting, and roosting area for migratory birds. At different times of the year there are over 220 species of birds that call the refuge home.

Seeing the refuge can be done by vehicle, guided tram, bicycle, or walking. I decided ahead of time that biking was the way to go. The one way 4 mile Wildlife Drive is open every day except Fridays. The entrance fee is $5.00 per vehicle or $1.00 per pedestrian/bicyclist 
My first stop was the mangrove forest where I was told to look for Mangrove Tree Crabs. Sure enough there were thousands of them just hanging out on the red mangrove trees.
Across the road I spotted a Snowy Egret waiting for a meal to swim by. He's not quite in breeding plumage yet.
 As I continued down the wildlife drive I couldn't help but wonder why people where driving so fast. With all this beauty it's hard not to just sit and take it all in. I sure did.
At the half way point there's an observation tower that overlooks the refuge estuary. Several shorebirds, herons, egrets, pelicans, and so on can be seen. This is by far the most popular spot along the drive.
There are three trails that can be accessed from the wildlife drive. Wulfert Keys Trail is a 1/4 mile long trail that leads to a view of Pine Island Sound. This is where I got my first taste of the dreaded no-see-ums. Man I hate those little critters. And yes I forgot my bug spray, so I was out of there real fast. No pictures. 

Closer to the end of the drive is the 1/4 mile long Shell Mound Trail. The boardwalk is a great opportunity to learn about the ancient Calusa Indians through interpretive panels.
Because the Wildlife Drive is 4 miles one way getting back is done via the 4 mile main bike path along Sanibel-Captiva Rd. A total of 8 miles got me back to my truck in time for some much needed lunch.

After lunch I still needed to see the Indigo Trail which is 4 miles round trip from the parking lot. Not being tooooo tired away I go. The Scat Education Bridge was 1/2 mile down the trail and yes it teaches you all about the scat found in the park. There's small boxes you flip open to tell which animal, bird, or reptile produced that scat. 

Continuing down the trail an otter crossed my path. It's pretty tough to stop the bike, grab my camera, and take a picture while the otter wants to get away as fast as possible. So of course no picture, again. But I did manage a new red mangrove tree.
My final picture of the day was a beautiful Yellow-Crowned Night Heron that was just yelling at me to take his picture.
All-in-all what a great day. The traffic was crazy trying to get back home but so worth the 5 hours I was exploring. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Six Mile Cypress Slough

I was having that overwhelming desire to explore and a need for peace and quiet, so I headed out to Six Mile Cypress Slough (pronounced "slew") in Fort Myers. Just 5 minutes from the I-75 Six Mile is a magnificent 1.2 mile long boardwalk that takes you through an unspoiled cypress swamp.

The greatest asset is the park is free. The only charge is $1.00 per hour for parking, maximum $5 all day. The interpretive center is a must either before or after your trip around the boardwalk. The building was designed to minimize its impact on the environment.
The slough is home to a widely diverse population of animals and plants. Luckily, I was on time to take a guided tour from one of the very knowledgeable slough volunteers, Kathleen. Our tour covered one of the 2 loops.

What is Six Mile Cypress Slough. First of all the slough consists of 3,420 acres of preserved wetland. It's 11 miles long and at it's widest is only 1/3 of a mile. The slough is a slow moving river or swamp that eventually empties into Estero Bay. During the wet season the slough has 2-3 feet of water making it look like a wide shallow stream. As the water moves slowly through the slough sediment and pollutants are absorbed by the plant life thereby cleaning the water. Because of the drought even the slough is dry by it's standards. The cypress trees in the below picture are at least 30 years of age. You can see old water levels on the trees.
Wild Iris
As we continued along the boardwalk we came to Gator Lake, which seems only fitting. This lake came about as a result of nearby road construction. They excavated material from the slough before it became a preserve to use as a base for roads. Yes there are gators but we also spotted anhingas, cormorants, turtles, herons and much more. There's also a beautiful outdoor amphitheater that faces the lake. It's so peaceful.

The slough has a wide variety ferns. We counted 11 different kinds. Here are just a few.
Virginia Chain Fern
Shoestring Fern

Another interesting fern we came across was the resurrection fern. This fern is a type of epiphytic fern meaning it grows on top of other plants or structures and it reproduces by spores, not seeds. Although resurrection fern grow on top of other plants, they do not steal nutrients or water from their host plant. It appears dead but it's not. During extreme drought they can lose up to 97 percent of their water content. When exposed to water it will come back to life, hence resurrection becoming green and healthy again.
Resurrection Fern during drought
As we continued around the boardwalk, Kathleen was able to point out many more interesting features. Here's just a few.
Strap Fern
Royal Fern

Mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant meaning it grows on the branches or trunk of a tree where it will send out roots stealing vital nutrients from that tree. Consequently, the branch first then the whole will die. Note the dead branch.

One especially interesting feature about this slough is the absence of mosquitoes. Say what, how come we all asked. It's because of a small 1" long fish called a Gambusia Fish. They apparently live in the preserve waters feeding on mosquito larvae. No pictures couldn't see any to photograph. So I didn't have to put repellent on after all.

I spotted this next guy sunning himself on the branch. What's travelling through a swamp without seeing a snake or two. To me it looked like a water moccasin, not 100 percent sure. Got to love it.
There were so many more wonderful things we saw in the preserve. But this blog is getting lengthy so time to show one more pic and call it enough. You get the idea of how beautiful it is.