Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Audubon’s Crown Jewel

Night Heronn in Swamp_3268-s

Yellow Crowned Night Heron – Lettuce Lake, Corkscrew Swamp

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is owned and operated by the Audubon Society. Through protection and education a pristine wilderness area dating back more than 500 years survives to teach us the importance of this living ecological organism for now and the future. A 2.25 mile long boardwalk winds its way through a lush and primitive habitat within the largest ancient bald cypress tree stand in North America. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is considered by some to the Crown Jewel of the Aububon Sanctuaries. In the drier spring months, the swamp’s two ‘lettuce lakes’ become shallower and concentrate prey for wildlife. While we visited on a cool, foggy winter day and found the atmosphere alive with the musical song of various birds including the haunting cries of the Red Shouldered Hawk, in the spring the lettuce lakes become quite a competitive feeding ground and offers  an experience not to be missed. Sounds carry through the tall trees which only enhances the magic as you try to identify the source of bird song or rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker! The musicality, the stillness, the dripping vines and the filtered light open a portal into another time.   The sanctuary brochure tells us that the Audubon Society’s first encounter with Corkscrew was in 1912 when wardens were sent out to save egrets from the plume hunters getting feathery adornments for ladies’ hats..the fashion of the day. Audubon bought this land parcel in the 1950’s in order to protect the ancient cypress forest from loggers.

The selection of photographs that follows only gives a hint of the diversity of the swamp and only reflects a single leisurely walk through in the winter time. As I have found with many of the parks and refuges, every  trip is an adventure rich with new discoveries. Every time!! My first encounter this visit was with the glittering dew laden spider webs described in the previous post, but then the rest of the story:

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Map Location

A Map of the Corkscrew Swamp Location Near Naples, Florida

Bench Rest_5010-s

Early in our day with the morning fog filtering color and light. This observation post shows the boardwalk has been accepted as its own by the swamp as it is covered with lichens like the living trees and blends in perfectly.

Colors thru Mist_5012-s

Colors of the cypress forest muted pleasantly by the diffusing fog.

Red Shoulder Hawk-BW_3173-s

Red Shouldered Hawk observes his domain from his perch high in the cypress trees. Generally the presence of the Red Shouldered Hawk indicates a tall forest with water nearby. Their haunting, evocative screams and calls pierce quiet and allude to time immemorial.

Red Shouldered Hawk_3179-s

The Red Shouldered Hawk flew over me when I was taking a different picture and alighted nearly above me. These are my first pictures of one and I did not realize how dark their eyes were and how they looked for all the world to me like pitted ripe olives!! That doesn’t detract from their gaze being as penetrating as their cries. Truly!!

Vine Top Tree_5069-s

I do not know if this tree is dead, not at all. But, the condition of the top did remind me of the signs present in the sanctuary that dead trees are left standing as they are habitats for many lifeforms.


The craftsmen who built the boardwalk truly earned that reference. I have never seen a finer made boardwalk, everything perfectly mitered and lined up in every way. I liked the very methodical way the path wound through the sanctuary and how they shaped the wood around various trees as you see in the center of the shot. The swamp may claim it as its own but it is a fine work of man to have facilitated this experience for so many.

Yellow Snake-c_3224-s

Yellow Rat Snake – We had company on the boardwalk. Didn’t stay to chat though,  just slithered to the other side and down.

Cypress Forest_5092-s

The majesty of ancient trees!



Strangler fig roots are seen wrapped around the trunks of host trees throughout the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. While they may look like vines wrapping the trees, they are actually roots of the Ficus aurea or Florida Strangler Fig which begins growth from a dispersed seed. Seed germination takes place in the canopy of the host tree and the seedling lives as an epiphyte until the roots find their way down to make contact with the ground. The strangler fig then enlarges, strangles the host tree and can become a free standing tree on its own.

Carpet of Green Ferns_5112-s

Unbelievably green fern carpets the sanctuary floor contrasting with the greys and browns of the trees….and the boardwalk.


Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Lettuce Lake

Lettuce Lake_5127-s

Lettuce Lake, Corkscrew Swamp -The water is all flatness and reflection now but later in the year these lettuce lakes are choked with lettuce like aquatic plants from which they get the name.

Fern Swamp Scene_5036-s

I loved scenes like this one with the soft but bright diffused lighting in the trees and the sunlit green ferns, shadows and patches of blue sky in the watery layers. It is quite simply beautiful!

Any time of year is wonderful to visit and support this magical swamp sanctuary. We can see how John James Audubon himself fell in love with the woods and was compelled to draw its wonder.

As Ever,

~ by Judy on January 11, 2013.

12 Responses to “Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Audubon’s Crown Jewel”

  1. Such lovely catches you found. I am glad you shared the photos.

  2. What a beautiful place. I want to come and visit! The strangler fig was new to me, as was the “lettuce” that gives the lakes their name. I wonder what plant the lettuce actually is. I think it must be something bigger than the duckweed, which I really like. There’s a “sea lettuce” that can be found on the rocks down our coast that’s actually edible. Has yours been part of the human diet, perhaps for assorted native tribes?

    I do think the snake photo is my favorite. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a photo of a snake that shows it so clearly as a sentient being, aware and “pondering” in whatever way snakes ponder. I could be friends with that fellow!

    • Linda, I updated the description under the Strangler Fig picture to give a little bit more information. They are a members of the Ficus family and their roots will strangle the host tree. I also added a link to the ‘lettuce lakes’ so that you could see what the aquatic lettuce plants look like. I have seen these at Wakodahatchee too but not a whole lake full!! Thanks for your questions as they helped me to fill in some informational gaps.

  3. thank you for taking us on this delightful stroll! it was great to see the dead tree standing – so many people would have said, ‘oh, it’s dead, we need to take it down before it falls and hurts someone.’
    i loved the yellow=crowned night heron, the strangler roots … everything!

    • I agree with that. When I saw the dead trees and the sign, I thought it made absolute sense. Wilderness has lots of fallen trees everywhere which decay and return to the substance of the earth. Civilized sensibilities as regards lanscaping do not allow for such disorder or undisciplined tangle!!

  4. a wonderful selection.

  5. SO very beautiful… I really must visit!!!

    Love the beautiful yellow rat snake, such a lovely portrait.

  6. you are so lucky to have access to this; the boardwalks – wow – our country DOES do some nice thinks! we focus on the negatives, but there are many bonuses as well!

    • Indeed truly, our park service does a wonderful job!! I found even in the middle of White Water Bay in the Everglades, there are actualy port a johns at chickees where you can tie up your craft and take a break. And they are clean and taken care of!! Of course, anything you expose in there is a homing beacon for blood thirsty mosquitoes!! Just sayin!!

      • would you believe that inthe rin-soaked tropics, we don’t have that fog of mosquitoes like in so many places in the usa? during the first hours of morning and the last hours of the day, there are a few, but basically there’s no nuisance of mosquitoes. it’s so lovely to sit on the deck that overlooks the river and not have to swat at mosquitoes. when i travel, i always wear repellent, as even one mosquito bite could transmit dengue or malaria, so i’m careful. i’ve had dengue once. not fun at all!

        i always enjoyed staying at state parks when i returned home to visit – when i still kept my jeep and had wheels to travel. i’d pack my rod and reel and cast for bass, visit with friends and have them visit me, and it was an easy inexpensive way to ‘go home’ and still have some quite time to myself. i’ve heard that many states are having trouble up keeping the parks due to funding cuts. so sad..

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