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.
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
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.