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.