I decided to do a little camping last weekend, spur of the moment though I'd had this spot in mind for a long time. The only issue was that there is no camping allowed there ("there" being a site along the expansive Charlotte Harbor Preserve S.P.); but I had no fears. There are only two houses anywhere near the trailhead, and a convenient piece of undeveloped forested land right there, with a helpful two track trail heading in. So I just drove my truck a couple dozen yards down the track, past a bend where it'd be concealed, grabbed my pack, and hit the trail.
I walked quickly through the pine flatwoods, more eager to get to the shore than I was interested in present surroundings. Ten minutes later, almost there, I heard voices ahead, likely fishermen, and, wanting to maintain a low profile given the laws and regulations I was breaking, I jumped off-trail into the brushy meadow and proceeded via bushwhack. Now, the forest around here isn't forest like most people are used to. It's very sparse, technically savanna which is a wooded grassland whose canopy doesn't close. 'Round here, unlike the ones in Africa, they're often flooded with the summer rains, and fires are common in the dry spring. This all contributes to the open character.
So you'd think the hiking would be easy (indeed, such excursions are usually not problematic). But it just got worse and worse. There were no pig trails like I'm used to finding and following, and the vegetation just became a horrible tangle. There were random ditches running across my line of travel, and it seemed that on the other side a wall of brush would always rise against me, forcing me ever sideways, sort of like the Withywindle. I struggled through.
The last thirty yards were brutal. The resurrection ferns were chest high and dense, while the briars and thorns meshed together as a malicious screen. I should probably also mention that I was hiking barefoot. Just before reaching the band of mangroves, I came to the last check: brush piles from windblown mangroves, impossible to climb over or through. But you know how it is, you've come this far, and damned if you're going to swallow your pride, or let your previous efforts go to waste; you will push forward. This is why lost people die in the wilderness. This is also why we are loath to abandon our doomed 75 year project of suburbia, prating on about the non-negotiable American Dream. But I digress.
After ten minutes of aborted tries forward, I finally found a gap, not much of one but enough to squeeze through. With a sigh of relief and accomplishment, I hid my pack in the mangroves and stepped out onto the shore, picking the burrs from my clothing. The sun was still pretty high, leaving me a long afternoon of excellent bird watching. Unfortunately, I forgot I had a camera until much later, and anyways without telephoto lenses, bird photography for me is often sub-par. I have yet to invest in a high quality camera.
|Bobcat track, with a couple raccoon tracks at the top.|
I walked back and forth, soaking in the sun, feeling the cool wet sand under my feet, enjoying the quiet (save for the occasional boaters further out on the bay). I found tons of raccoon tracks on the sand, as well as a single bobcat heading south, which I followed for a good way. I didn't catch up with her, though; maybe someday i will find her at the end of her trail, standing in her tracks.
Finally the time came to find a campsite, so I poked around up the beach, looking for a break in the mangroves with a place to lay a sleeping bag. Finding it, I settled in, and soon had a fire going. I almost never make fires when stealth camping, but I needed it to cook, having opted to go old-school on this trip, and I felt safe enough in this rather isolated spot. If I'm being truthful, though, it's not that isolated: later that night I could hear strains of rock music drifting from the resort a bit to the north, and I really wasn't very far from the main trail to this shore.
|A friend said I looked sad in this picture. I was going for "contemplative"|
The whole place is rich. I am still amazed at how alive this place is, how productive a habitat, not to mention varied: you have the mudflats of the shore at low tide, the shallow estuary with varying salinity levels all the way down to the Gulf, the mangrove fringe, the pinewoods and prairie just inland... edge habitats often host more wildlife than the interiors of a given habitat, and here are about 5 different edges all in one place, with all kinds of microhabitats mixed in.
|At least 70 ibis in just this flock alone|
The hike out was pleasant as well, taking my time now through the pines. I kept seeing more and more species of birds; in the end, came to 28 species in less than 24 hrs, likely a new record, though I've never before kept track so specifically. Mourning doves, an eastern wood peewee, an eastern towhee, grey catbirds, black and turkey vultures, a hairy woodpecker, mockingbirds, and more. All in all a fantastic, if short, excursion. I'd love to go back during a full moon, to maybe spot that bobcat after all.