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A DAY IN PANTHER COUNTRY

 

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RAY

A friend came down from South Carolina, so we planed to hike the loop trail on the Florida Panther refuge. We headed off on Sunday morning to see if we could find some wildlife tracks.

 

We drove across Alligator alley, on the way we saw gators in the canals & on the banks sunning themselves, lots of wading and prey birds. It is always interesting to see the terrain change with the seasons, and it does change, even in Florida. The cypress trees lose their leaves and look like silver ghosts, in contrast to the evergreen pine & occasional cabbage palm. The prairie, saw grass, & cat tails take on hues of gold, while the clouds tell stories in the skies as you cross the glades. 

 

It was late morning when we reached the panther refuge; every so often refreshing gusts of wind would blow through, strong enough to drown out some of the natural and manmade sounds around us. Wandering clouds would give us cover, just enough to stop the sun getting too hot while we walked along the trail. It was our first time hiking in the refuge; the larger loop trail is just over a mile, & another wheelchair accessible short trail a 1/3 of a mile within the loop. The trail was dry and not overgrown, we were all happy not to see litter along the path. 

 

First inside the gate I noticed a red shouldered hawk, her cry gave her away. We saw lots of animal trails meandering into the thick under brush and out into the prairie, there were flowers, bees & butterflies to see. There is a lovely little seating pavilion along the trail where you can stop, sit a spell, and take in the scenery and sounds of the refuge.

 

Our first face to face meeting with one of the wild residents was "Ray", a diamond back rattle snake. I think he was planning to cross the path or maybe bask in the sun on the trail, un-be-known to me and my friend we had both walked past him, quiet close in fact, and it was my husband who spied him out. We all stood out of striking range; to take in his beautiful patterns, snap photos, and marvel at how close we had walked to him. We eyed each other off; he seemed hesitant but not threatened by our presence. He may have been a bit camera shy, in a little while he decided to retreat, he coiled as he backed up, gave us a little rattle, turned & slithered back into the brush from whence he came.

 

All the wildlife tracks we found followed the path of a large tire track that had driven through when it was wet; the mud had dried creating a deep side ridge. We managed to photograph tracks of deer, raccoon, bobcat & panther, we may have seen bear track also but it was not defined enough to show a reasonable imprint.

 

On our way out of the refuge we picked up a bunch of litter that had collected outside the Loo at the entrance pavilion. It was sad to see that people had left their trash behind. Please be considerate to others & to wildlife by not littering, if there is no trash bin, be responsible and take your litter with you.

 

We went and ate lunch in Everglades city at the "Everglades Seafood Depot". The restaurant is on the waterway, and we would all recommend you try their coconut & guava cake, it was really good! 

 

Then we stopped in at the Big Cypress Welcome center, but before we got to the center I new just where to look, and in the distance was a big eagle's nest, and sitting close by on a bare branch was a Bald eagle, first Bald I've ever seen in the wild. That was one big bird. They have a little gift store at the welcome center, the DVD "Big Cypress Swamp" is a documentary on The Western Everglades by Elam Stoltzfus makes a nice nature gift.

 

We headed on to the Kirby Storter roadside park, where a short boardwalk takes you into a cypress dome. We were just beginning the walk when my husband introduced us to "Walter", the water moccasin. James just happened to stop & look over the boardwalk, he seemed transfixed for a few seconds & then said "theirs a water moccasin", and there he was, paused at the base of a cypress tree. The snakes head was up looking alert, he may have been hunting. Walter took his leave and slithered on his way through the Marl prairie.

 

It was beautiful inside the cypress dome, light & shade played with each other among the tree trunks and on the shallow waters. Two great blue herons, a few white herons, an egret and a very flamboyant Wood stork, were hanging out together harassing some of the aquatic creatures in the shallows. We saw one lone baby gator, resting quietly on the silted bank. The dome certainly had its own kind of magic; it was a very tranquil place.

 

We took the Tamiami trail home, a scenic drive back to the East coast, & noted some of the other areas we might want to visit on future travels. See links below to places visited in this article.

Sunday 2/19/1012
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