Sunday, April 14, 2013

Six Mile Cypress Slough

I did go back to Six Mile Cypress Slough, as I said I would. How could I not? I knew I'd found something special. My thanks go out to the students who initiated the whole preserve back in the '70s, high school kids who recognized the value and took it to the county commissioners, convincing them and the citizens of Lee County to tax themselves to save it. Much land has been added to the Preserve since, and it is an extremely valuable wildlife corridor and refuge for birds and mammals of many kinds. Such corridors are increasingly rare in our country, and this is especially true here in Southwest Florida, where rampant development has taken a very large bite out of the forests and swamps. But a place like this gives hope to the cause, and someday, and perhaps even now, roaming Florida panthers may make use of wild strips like this as they slowly repopulate the area.

For this is a place of life. Much of southern Florida is, in a way, half desert. I mean that in the sense that there are wet and dry seasons, and the dry seasons are very dry, often with no rain for months. The dryness for half the year is a major limiting factor on living things here, and of course, those dry adapted species must also be able to handle all the rain in the summer. Further, the soils tend to be poor, sandy soils that drain quickly, holding less water and leaching out nutrients faster. It is the wetlands where the biodiversity really thrives here, and this is one such place. The soils are black as night, full of organic material, and of course, water. Even in the dry season, most of the place is still damp, and of course much remains under water altogether even then.

I came to this place just after dawn, having risen before the sun to make the drive out there, for the double reason that dawn is a time of greatest activity for living creatures and that the inverse is true for the human flocks; therefore, I had come early for the relative solitude. The crowds would come later. I again stuck to the boardwalk the whole way. Someday I plan to do some bushwhacking, or more accurately, swamp wading, to get into quieter zones away from all the people. Perhaps find a well sited hummock or stump, and sit quietly for a few hours, seeing whatever comes and whatever is, grokking the wildness of the place.

There was one pond where I spotted several alligators, small ones like this one, young from a few years back, or so I was told. Most were motionless in the weedy shallows, basking in the sun, but this one swam right past me where I stood on the platform, heading for a dry log in the sun on which to do his own requisite reptilian sun worship. A larger one, maybe a 7 footer, had appeared briefly not long before, gliding across another, larger lake, ducking under the glassy surface hardly as soon as I'd spotted it, having raised the camera excitedly just in time.

Not a hundred yards further on, I saw something I'd been wanting to see, though not greatly expecting: a pileated woodpecker. These crow-sized birds favor old growth forests, large birds needing dense forests of large trees, and especially large standing snags, for their nest holes. I knew the swamp housed some, and here I had the great and unhoped for luck of seeing not one, but two, presumably a mated pair, and seemingly unconcerned with my presence.

I stood there taking dozens of pictures while this one hacked at the stump, most of them coming out as a mere red blur. She hardly paused to even look at me, though I was only a few yards away from this supposedly shy and retiring species. Sort of like National Park syndrome, where the creatures know they are safe from hunters and become bold. It was a real treat for me to watch these two. I have only seen pileateds on two other occasions, and then only very briefly. After observing them a while, I think they are misnamed. They should have been called axe-headed woodpeckers. That one in the tree was showering down bark with a vengeance, with each peck sounding out a solid thwack.  

1 comment:

  1. Six Mile sounds like a veritable Eden, a true gem. It's important that those of us who enjoy these kinds of places acknowledge the sacrifices that others made to save them. Sometimes if you seek out the people who were instrumental it turns out that they were like us -- outdoors people and nature nuts who fell in love with a certain place and felt compelled to do something for it when the time came. Just regular folks, not Sierra Club types.

    I love those first three photographs - the one with the boardwalk is excellent.

    Woodpeckers are awesome. Sometimes when I go up in the burn area it sounds like a construction site with all the woodpeckers hammering away at the dead trees. We don't have any quite as large as the Pileated, though. Mostly it's Hairy and Downy woodpeckers here.