Saturday, April 02, 2011

Florida, day 6

Day 6 photo album is here.

We were originally planning to drive back to the Tampa area and spend the day there. But Cardgrrl called an audible, making a last-minute decision instead to visit the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which is about an hour east of Ft. Myers. I had mentioned it a couple of times as a possible stop in our itinerary, and I think her acquiescence (wow--I typed that word about 15 different ways before the spell-checker stopped highlighting it as wrong) was meant as sort of a sop to me for having let her and her aunt call the shots over the previous several days. But apparently she ended up as glad that we made the detour as I was, judging by her words and photographs.

Corkscrew (named for the river that flows through it) is not exactly a hopping tourist destination. It's somewhat off the beaten path. But we found it well worth the trip. It's a roughly two-mile boardwalk path through an interesting variety of six different small ecosystems that have an unusual convergence in the area. It was clear to me from the equipment and books we saw people carrying, as well as snippets of overheard conversation, that a large fraction of visitors were dedicated birders. I was pleased and surprised at how freely strangers were pointing out to each other hard-to-see wildlife, sharing binoculars, etc.

The Audubon guides were wonderful, too. When something especially interesting was spotted, they would post a paid or volunteer docent there and alert passersby as to what could be seen. For example, in my #14, you can just barely see a big nest with a baby hawk's head poking out of it. That was taken on maximum zoom, and cropped to remove about 90% of the surroundings. It was impossible to see with the unaided eye. But they had set up a powerful spotting scope on a tripod, and were encouraging tourists to look. Through it, you could easily see the little fellas moving around, chirping, and pecking at each other. Delightful! Because the sanctuary is not a heavily promoted, commercial site, there weren't long lines of annoying people messing it up; we could just walk right up to the friendly guide who was eager for everybody to share in the sight. There were very few young children, and the adults were unusually well behaved, everybody trying to remain quiet so as not to scare off the wildlife we were all there to see. It was really an enjoyable, relaxing way to take an afternoon stroll.

#2 is a hawk whose very presence was scaring the bejesus out of the other birds in the area, judging by the alarming calls they were passing amongst themselves.

#3 is a cottonmouth--one of several cool critters we totally would have walked right past without noticing, were it not for one of the helpful guides stationed there to point him out. (There was a beautiful yellow rat snake a few feet away, too, but it was impossible to get a clear shot of him through the shrubs and grasses.)

#8 shows a fine example of a strangler fig, which I had never heard of before. They look like vines, but are not. They do not grow from the ground up, but germinate in the canopy of the host tree and exist as epiphytes until, growing downward, they reach the ground. How cool is that?!

#5, 9, 12, and 18 are all American White Ibis, which were abundant. #9 is a terrible shot, but was the only time we saw a real aggregation of them--at least eight all hunting together. (What is a collection of ibis called? A flock? A gaggle? A murder?)

#10 and 11 are an American Anhinga, a truly remarkable-looking bird, much larger than you'd probably guess from these photos.

#13 is a Little Blue Heron, with a gorgeous spectrum of blues and purples in its plumage.

Cardgrrl was sorely disappointed not to have seen any alligators on our trip, so it was a special treat to spot one here--the last place we would have a chance to do so (#17). And it was not just any ol' alligator, but a new mother with about eight tiny bebbe alligators running up and down her back! The only bummer was that it was at least 30 yards away and nearly hidden in the marsh plants. It was another wonderful sight that we would have missed, were it not for other visitors excitedly pointing it out.

#19 is a big ol' snapping turtle--yet another creature to which we were oblivious until fellow sightseer helpfully directed our attention.

We finally had had enough of nature, between the Edison botanical gardens, the beaches, the Sanibel Island wildlife sanctuary, and the Audubon. So we headed back to Tampa in the late afternoon to take in a distinctly different kind of experience: the Hard Rock Tampa casino (#21). Both Cardgrrl and I, at different tables, independently concluded that the quality of play here was noticeably, meaningfully worse than at similar games in Vegas. We were only there for a couple of hours before being too tired to continue, making ours a small sample size, but if you're a decent player and in the area, a visit will likely be profitable. It was a pleasant playing environment, as well-run as most Vegas poker rooms, and larger than most (50 tables, and surprisingly busy on a Monday night). You could plop that casino down on a vacant lot on the Strip, and it would fit in perfectly. Were it there, I expect it would become one of my more frequent haunts.

The next day (Tuesday) was just returning the rental car and waiting for our flights, so this was effectively our last day of real vacation time. As I've already said, it was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable weeks I've ever spent, with the world's most perfect weather. And, of course, the world's best travel companion.

No comments: