In Search of Florida Panthers

Let me start off by saying we never saw any panthers.  We didn’t expect to see any panthers.  They are very elusive.  But, we camped not too far from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are some trails there, but pets are not allowed on them.  Also, you can’t walk alone and must keep a close eye on your children.  Hmmmm.  We thought a drive through the area would be pretty cool just to see where panthers hang out.

On the way to the refuge, we went to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  According to the sanctuary literature, the sanctuary was “established to protect the largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress left in North America.”  National Audubon had been protecting wading birds nesting in the swamp since 1912.  In 1954, the Corkscrew Cypress Rookery Association was formed and purchased the property and the National Audubon Society manages the area.  There is a visitor center and 2.25 mile boardwalk trail through the sanctuary.

Since pets are not allowed, Regis and Dart went for a walk outside the sanctuary and I went inside the sanctuary.  There were lots of Wood Storks flying overhead, so I think Dart and Regis saw as many birds as I did.  The sanctuary is amazing and the boardwalk makes it possible to visit a swamp that would normally be inaccessible.

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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
I expected to see mostly wading birds, but saw many birds flitting through the forest.  I couldn’t identify most of them but I know I saw an Oriole.  I also walked right under a hawk.  One of the coolest things I saw was a ghost orchid.  This is a very rare orchid that looks like a ghost.  There are people who visit the sanctuary just to see this orchid.

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On the left side of the trunk is a rare ghost orchid.

After visiting the sanctuary, we took a ride by the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  There are several signs along the road nearby warning of panther crossings.  I regularly get email from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (myfwc.com) on happenings related to panthers, so it was thrilling to see the area where these events take place.

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Nesting Anhingas at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
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Red-shouldered Hawk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Wood Stork outside of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has the highest concentration of nesting Wood Storks in the U.S.

Underwater Views

By Linda

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Anhinga and alligator on the Silver River in Florida.

On our last day in Silver Springs State Park, we kayaked by the springs and the Fort King Paddle Trail.  We did the loop a couple times.  Being Saturday and a holiday week-end, it was much more congested.  Nevertheless, we still saw a lot of wildlife including a Barred Owl.  If it had not hooted, I would not have seen it.  Much of the wildlife is very close.  If you are not careful, you can bump into a turtle or alligator.  They must be used to the relative safety of the area because most of them are not skittish.

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Fort King Paddle Trail in Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

This little loop on the paddle trail and the springs is easily one of my favorite kayak trips.  The wildlife is amazing.  If you find a place to safely anchor yourself, you can sit and watch the wildlife for hours.  I particularly enjoy watching the Anhingas fish.

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Anhinga on the Silver River in Florida.
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Anhinga on the Silver River in Florida.

 

Regis was fortunate to get quite a few underwater videos.  Click on the words to see a video of each animal:  Anhinga (close), Anhinga (dive), turtle, and otter.

The otter was particularly difficult to capture as a photo or underwater.  It was very fast as it popped in and out of the water.  It was a joy to see.

We will definitely be back!

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River Otter at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
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Common Moorhen on the Silver River in Florida.
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Great Blue Heron sunning on the Silver River in Florida.
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Immature White Ibis on the Silver River in Florida.
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Alligator enjoying the sunshine on the Fort King Paddle Trail in Silver Springs State Park in Florida.