Tag Archives: Barred Owl

Exploring the Fakahatchee Strand Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk! (Southwest Florida)


Welcome! After a long hiatus, NJUrbanForest.com is proud to be back with a new hike to virtually explore! Today’s hike will take us deep into southwest Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand Preserve via the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. I hope you got your binoculars with you because this boardwalk is chock full of flora and fauna goodness!

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
Before we begin you may be wondering what in the world is a strand? A strand is generally shallow and has formed where the underlying limestone dissolved. The most common trees found are Bald Cypress, Royal Palm and Red Maple. Within the strand are numerous sloughs which are deeper channels of water. The Fakahatchee Strand is one of the most ecologically rich areas found in the greater Everglades ecosystem.

The Fakahatchee Strand is the world’s largest subtropical strand stretching around 20 miles long and about five miles wide and is the only one with a mixed Royal Palm and Cypress canopy. The park is the largest state park in Florida and contains more native orchids than any other area found in North America. This is why the nickname of the Fakahatchee Strand is the Orchid Swamp.

There are four sections in the park:

  1. Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
  2. The East River
  3. The Jones Grade Lakes
  4. Janes Memorial Drive

The Fakatchee Strand was harvested for its cypress for ten years stretching from 1944-1954 with the exception of the portion we will explore today. The former logging site was then turned into a state park.

Birds, mammals and reptiles common to the Fakahatchee Stand include:

Common plants include:

Boardwalk

Ready? Let’s go! As we walk along there are interpretive signs indicating the flora and fauna found in the Fakahatchee Strand. The trail from the parking lot to the boardwalk is about 856 feet long. The actual boardwalk is 2,300 feet or about .6 of a mile. The boardwalk ends at an observation deck at an alligator pond.

Laurel Oak

Here we have come across a Laurel Oak. The Laurel Oak’s native habitat includes swamps and wet hammocks. The tree can reach heights of 100 feet. In Florida, many homeowners use this tree for their yards.

Live Oak

Next we have a Live Oak. The Live Oak grows to about a maximum of fifty feet in height. The Live Oak’s acorns are popular with wildlife.

Great Egret

A blur of white appears to the side as we walk the boardwalk. Check out the beak on this bird! It’s a Great Egret. In the early 1900’s the Great Egret was pushed to the edge of extinction due to the high demand for its feathers for women’s hats. This of course was before the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

Strangler Fig

As we walk along a huge old-growth Bald Cypress is being attacked by something. That something is a Strangler Fig. The Strangler Fig reminds me of sculptures found in the movie Beetlejuice. The tree starts life as an air plant (aka epiphyte). Once the roots of the Strangler Fig touch the ground the plant is no longer an epiphyte but is now considered a terrestrial plant. Strangler Figs can reach heights of 50-60 feet.

Sabal Palm

Royal Palm is found here. The tree is native to southern Florida and is commonly planted. But here it is wild and not planted.

Limpkin

A Limpkin is around the corner but appears a tad blurry. I thought I just got my eyes checked? You won’t find Limpkins up north. In fact, Florida is the only state in the United States with a Limpkin population.

Iris

As we walk along there are beautiful Iris in full bloom.

Water Snake

As we walk looking at the Iris flowers and other vegetation we spot something that at first looks like rope. This snake means us no harm and we keep walking.

Snag

We see many dead trees as we walk. Dead trees (aka snags) serve a valuable purpose. Insects consume the tree which provide food for a variety of birds. Woodpeckers make holes which serve their young and later provide shelter for animals such as the raccoon.

River Otter

Splash! A River Otter makes a surprise appearance. What an honor to meet its acquaintance before it slips beneath the water.

Turtle

Next we come across a hungry River Cooter who is eating non-stop. River Cooters eat anything it finds. It’s not picky! Let’s keep going!

Annihiga

Check out this guy. It is a Cormorant aka fish hawk. There must be a lot of fish in these waters to keep seeing birds like the Great Egret and this guy.

Coffee Tree

Nice! We have come across Wild Coffee. Wild Coffee is evergreen and grows to a maximum of eight feet in height. The seeds resemble coffee (hence its name) but is not actually used for coffee.

Alligator

And here is the star of today’s walk: an American Alligator. I think we will keep on moving and leave this guy to his day.

Ferns

There are many types of ferns as we walk on the boardwalk. Among them include:

Alligator Pond

We have now arrived at the end of the boardwalk. Straight ahead of us is an alligator pond teeming with wildlife (including guess who? American Alligators!)

 

Forest

Thank you for exploring the Fakahatchee Strand Big Cypress Boardwalk with NJUrbanForest.com!

Directions taken from FloridaHikes.com:

From Naples, drive 17.1 miles east from the intersection of CR 951 (Collier Blvd) along US 41 (Tamiami Trail), passing Collier-Seminole State Park and Port of the Isles. There is a very large sign on the right, but parking is in a small space to the left. Do not block the gate to the Miccosukee Village. From the east, the boardwalk is 6.9 miles west of the blinker at the intersection of US 41 and SR 27 near Everglades City, which is 17 miles south of the I-75 Everglades City / Immokalee exit.

Check out the books below for more information on Florida’s swamps!

  1. The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise
  2. Exploring Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area: A Guide to Hiking, Biking, Paddling, and Viewing Wildlife in the Region (Exploring Series)
  3.  Everglades: America’s Wetland
  4. Florida’s Wetlands (Florida’s Natural Ecosystems and Native Species)

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Check out the latest flora and fauna sightings here!

Be sure to check out the Friends of Fakahatchee Strand for all the latest happenings!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

 

 

 

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Hiking Wawayanda State Park’s Cedar Swamp Natural Area!


Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park

Welcome to Wawayanda State Park! Located in the NJ Highlands, Wawayanda State Park was one of the first major acquisitions by the New Jersey Green Acres program. Wawayanda State Park was purchased in 1963 from the New Jersey Zinc Company which had proposed development for the property. The name “Wawayanda” is of Lenape origin and is said to mean water on the mountain. Many prefer to call it “way way yonder” since the park is located in a remote area of northwestern Passaic and southeastern Sussex counties.

Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park is home to a multitude of wildlife including state threatened Red-Shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl and Bobcat. The park is also a strong hold for Black Bears in NJ.

Trails

Trail

Today we are going to explore a portion of the 2,167 acre Wawayanda Swamp Natural Area-home to a globally rare inland Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and the largest natural area present in the park.

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar

Wawayanda’s Atlantic White Cedar Swamp formed around 15,000 years ago and sections of the swamp have remained unchanged since the last ice age.

Wawayanda Lake

Wawayanda Lake

Using this trail map, let’s start our journey by heading to the trail-head of the 1.6 mile yellow blazed Double Pond Trail near the camping areas of Wawayanda State Park. Double Pond Trail is named after the original name of nearby Wawayanda Lake which was once two bodies of water separated by a thin strip of land.

Wawayanda Furnace

Wawayanda Furnace

On our way to the Double Pond Trail we pass the ruins of the Wawayanda Furnace, a 37 foot tall charcoal blast furnace where pig iron, a crude form of iron, was produced for railroad car wheels. The charcoal blast-furnace is a remnant of a once-thriving village and was last used in 1857.

Double Pond Trail Trailhead

Double Pond Trail Trailhead

Leaving the furnace behind, let’s head east to the start of the Double Pond Trail.

Entering the forest we find Indian Cucumber growing alongside American Beech. Indian Cucumber is an indicator of rich moist woods. The plant can grow up to 30 inches high.

Indian Cucumber

Indian Cucumber

As we walk there are several rock outcrops comprised of ancient granite whose age is likely around 1 billion years old.

Mayapple with Rock Outcrop

Mayapple with Rock Outcrop

Here we see Mayapple sprouting near the base of one outcrop. As we continue closer to the Cedar Swamp we find an interesting small tree known as Striped Maple with bark striped green and white.

Striped Maple

Striped Maple

Striped Maple is a common understory tree of cool mesic forests.

Striped Maple Leaves

Striped Maple Leaves

After walking about .4 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we have reached a bridge crossing a creek.

Double Pond Trail Bridge

Double Pond Trail Bridge

Swamp

After checking out the views, let’s take the trail back into the forest passing the trailhead for the Red Dot Trail to our right.

Red Dot Trail Trailhead

Red Dot Trail Trailhead

Double Pond Trail

Double Pond Trail

Continuing on the Double Pond Trail dense Rhododendrons are appearing to the side and branching overhead forming a tunnel in places mixed with Eastern Hemlocks making this part of the park appear to be a jungle.

Cedar Swamp Trail Trailhead

Cedar Swamp Trail Trailhead

After traveling about .9 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we find ourselves at the Trail-head of the 1.5 mile Blue Blazed Cedar Swamp Trail appearing to the right. This trail will take us right into the center of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp! Today we will hike only about half a mile of the Cedar Swamp trail since there has been much rain causing the water levels in the swamp to rise and flood most of the trail.

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk

After walking a short distance through more Rhododendron tunnels we find planks of wood have been placed over permanent flooded sections of the trail.

Frog Tannin Stained Water

Frog Tannin Stained Water

We have arrived in the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. The water is shallow and tannin stained and filled with frogs.

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar occurs on hydric soils in low nutrient water usually on or near the coastal plain. This is what makes finding this pocket of thriving Atlantic White Cedar located so far away from the coastal plain so special.

Other common tree species found in Atlantic White Cedar Swamps include:

Abandoned Car

Abandoned Car

About .05 of a mile into the trail we find the remains of an old car that has been here for many years. Nature is reclaiming the car for its own. As we proceed slightly further we find the boardwalks have ended and the trails are flooded due to the recent heavy rains.

Frog

Frog

Turning around on the Cedar Swamp Trail we head back to the boardwalks and see numerous frogs in the tannin stained water of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp.

Heading back to the Double Pond Trail we hear a low grunt of a Black Bear nearby alerting us of his presence.

Possible Bear Print

Possible Bear Print

Judging by the above wet paw print on this rock we just missed him!

Wood Ducks and Mallar

Wood Ducks and Mallard

Heading back on the Wooden Bridge catch we glimpses of Wood Ducks and a solitary Mallard out on the water.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

As we leave the swamp and head into mesic (moist) woods, we pass a Yellow Birch tree with its roots exposed. This tree likely began life growing on an old log that has since long ago decayed and returned to the earth.

Red Eft

Red Eft

As we walk we see a bright orange movement on the ground. It’s a Red Eft! Red Efts are juvenile terrestrial Eastern Newts. When fully mature the newt will spend the rest of its life (12-15 years) in the waters of the swamp.

We’ve now made it back to the old iron furnace! I hope you enjoyed this virtual hike of Wawayanda’s Cedar Swamp and that it inspires you to visit it for yourself!

Wawayanda's Jungle (Cedar Swamp Trail)

Wawayanda’s Jungle (Cedar Swamp Trail)

Directions: (As taken from NJ DEP Website)

Directions:
Take Route 23 north to Union Valley Road. Follow Union Valley Road about 6 miles to stop sign. From Stop sign, go to second traffic light. Turn left, travel to fork in road (about 2 miles) go left about 1/2 mile to Warwick Turnpike. Turn left. The park entrance is four miles on the left.

Great Ecology/Hiking Books!

1. Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey.

NJ’s geology, topography and soil, climate, plant-plant and plant-animal relationships, and the human impact on the environment are all discussed in great detail. Twelve plant habitats are described and the authors were good enough to put in examples of where to visit!

Click here for more information!

2. Don’t miss The Highlands: Critical Resources, Treasured Landscapes! The Highlands exemplifies why protection of New Jersey’s Highlands is so important for the future of the state. It is an essential read on the multiple resources of the region.

Click here for more information!

3. Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!

Click here for more information!

4.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

5. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!