Day 9 – 4 March – Corkscrew Swamp and Doc Ford’s again

A day out today. Corkscrew Swamp is a National Audubon Society preserve located inland between Fort Myers and Naples; it’s a place that any visitor with an interest in the environment should see and, for a birder, it’s an essential stop. This is what America does best. A huge tract of land has been set aside and conservation interests are managed alongside those of the average punter. As a consequence, serious observers looking to photograph Swallow-tailed Kites or Wood Storks rub shoulders with mums wheeling pushchairs and kids wanting to poke alligators. You never really get away from people but it works and I always come away with a longish list of birds. Today that included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, not often seen in winter in the eastern USA.

The preserve is huge – about 45 square kms – with a visitor centre, which seems to be the requirement these days, as well as an exciting 3km boardwalk through wetland and flatwood ecosystems. It’s possible to get very close to alligators and a huge variety of birds including Barred Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks. The swamp was initially protected in 1954 to preserve a remnant stand of Bald Cypress and has developed into a significant breeding sanctuary for the Storks. Strolling the boardwalk on a hot spring day, peering into lettuce lakes and through the overhanging canopy is, in my view, one of the high points of any trip to Florida. You need to be patient and quiet to get the best out of the place – qualities that seem to be lacking in most of the other visitors we met there. A lot of life passes a lot of people by. Sad, that.

The road out from Naples to Corkscrew has changed in the 14 or so years I’ve known it and now has a lot more development. East of I75 used to be farms and smallholdings but now the road is six lanes wide and there is major urban sprawl in the form of the famous gated communities, country clubs and shopping malls. Change must be inevitable but it’s sad nonetheless. I suspect that the manner in which suburban development creeps into the heartland of Florida is both insensitive and avaricious but I know I’m prejudiced when it comes to loss of natural areas. They have so much room here and so many people and I guess that’s a difficult marriage.

Back on the Island and up to a heaving Doc Ford’s for the local version of a fish supper. It comprised fish taco with black beans and rice for me and Anna had fish sandwich, which is actually some really excellent fish and a Kaiser roll. I don’t know why our colonial cousins are so obsessed with cold beer. The Key West Sunset Ale that I drink here is not a bad beer at all but it’s served up just this side of frozen to death. Aside from chilling the very marrow of your bones and numbing your mouth you can’t get the best of its flavour at that temperature. Burly American bartenders know best, of course; bitter experience has taught me not to try and convince them of the subtleties of warm beer so I put up with it.

Still windy and chilly today but the forecast for warmer days is holding. The possibility exists that we’ll be able to take the duvet off the bed.


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