Tag Archives: Mink

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!

 

 

 

Exploring the Pequannock River Watershed!


Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

The 2013 Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) Winter Hike took participants on an exploratory hike through the Pequannock River Watershed.  Led by PRC Executive Ross Kushner, the 4 mile hike promised education & exercise.

Pequannock Watershed Forest

Pequannock Watershed Forest

Started in 1995, the Pequannock River Coalition provides a crucial voice in protecting the watershed of the Pequannock River, one of the cleanest rivers in New Jersey and a tributary of the Passaic River.

Virtual Hike

PRC 2013 Winter Hike

PRC 2013 Winter Hike

Ah, there you are! Welcome! Ready for the 4 mile hike? There’s plenty of snow on the ground to help us look for animal tracks.

Ross Kushner Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition

Ross Kushner of the Pequannock River Coalition

Let’s begin by meeting Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!

Beginning Our Hike!

Beginning Our Hike!

Right now we are at a small gravel lot off Green Pond Road near Route 23 in the Newfoundland section of West Milford.

Welcome to Rockaway Township

Welcome to Rockaway Township

We will be exploring the area just north of Copperas Mountain in nearby Rockaway Township. Ross has just taken attendance and now we are heading southwest on Green Pond Road and will be heading into the woods of the vast Pequannock watershed!

Blow Downs

Blow Downs

What happened here? These trees appear to have collapsed like dominoes. The fallen trees were part of plantations planted in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and were to be maintained (i.e. trimmed) every 10-15 years. With the onset of WWII the plantations were all but forgotten. Fast forward to 2012, we now have a tangle of trees growing close to one another. Hurricane Sandy came and knocked the trees down. Ross explained that in general other than habitat for Northern Goshawks and Red Squirrels, plantations are a monoculture and do not provide the diversity most wildlife require.

White-Tail Deer Track

White-Tail Deer Track

Look at all these white-tail deer prints around this fallen tree!

Hardwood Tree Blowdown

Hardwood Tree Blowdown

Hardwood trees that fell during the hurricane have become popular with White-Tail Deer who enjoy nibbling on sections of tree normally inaccessible.

Ross Kushner Praying Mantis Egg Case

Ross Kushner Praying Mantis Egg Case

Leaving the fallen tree and coming to a small field, Ross has just found a curious looking egg pouch attached to a plant in a frozen field.  This is a Praying Mantis egg case.

Praying Mantis Egg Case

Praying Mantis Egg Case

You can purchase Praying Mantis egg cases and use them as a natural “pesticide” for pests such as Japanese Beetles.

American Tamarack

American Larch

Heading back to Green Pond Road, Ross points out a stand of deciduous conifers near the side of the road and has identified them as American Larch. American Larch needles turn orange in the fall and fall off in winter.

Phragmites Swamp at Base of Green Pond Mountain

Phragmites Marsh at Base of Green Pond Mountain

Heading back on Green Pond Road, we’re now walking over a Pequannock River Tributary near Deerhaven Lane. The Pequannock River Tributary draining the marsh in the foreground was straightened to drain the marsh. Phragmites, a common plant which thrives in disturbed wetlands, is abundant.

Green Pond Mountain

Green Pond Mountain

Around 10,000 years ago the Wisconsin Glacier piled boulders on the north side and sheared off the southern side of mountains in the NJ Highlands. As the glacier retreated at the end of the ice age, they tended to melt in place. The sheered cliffs visible on Green Pond Mountain were testimony to that theory.

Walking along Green Pond Road

Walking along Green Pond Road

We’re now continuing our journey down Green Pond Road. It’s been about a quarter of a mile but we are now again entering the Pequannock River Watershed forest.

Old Homestead

Old Homestead

What are these ruins we are looking at? Ross is now explaining that when the City of Newark acquired the land in the early 1900’s people were living throughout the watershed property and had been for over a hundred years. Their property was taken by imminent domain to protect the water supply. Back in the 1890s and early 1900s Newark’s population was dying as their water supply was derived from the Passaic River in Newark. This section of the Passaic River was and is severely impaired.

Running Deer Tracks

Running Deer Tracks

Walking a bit further in the snow Ross has suddenly stopped. “Look at the space between these deer prints!” he says. “This guy was flying, but not from us-these are old prints”. There must be 20 feet present between the gaps of the prints!!

Bear Tree (American Tamarack)

Bear Tree (American Larch)

What is Ross looking at? It’s another American Larch tree with a good portion of its bark missing. Ross states “The bark has been taken off over the decades by Black Bears biting and rubbing their backs on the tree. The higher the bite, the bigger the bear. Sort of a territorial thing-every bear that comes by can determine what other bears have been in the area”.

Ross walks a bit further into the woods and suddenly stops.

Mink Tracks

Mink Tracks

Mink tracks! Minks, a member of the Weasel family can usually be spotted by water.

White Pines

White Pines

We just happen to be by Deerhaven Lake where a number of White Pines are standing. These pines grew naturally. Though we don’t spot any today, there have been reports of Great Blue Heron nests in these pines. Ross turns around and starts heading back to Green Pond Road.

Four Birds Trail

Four Birds Trail

We are back on Green Pond Road on our way to a section of the white blazed 19.4 Mile Four Birds Trail. This trail, maintained by members of the NYNJ Trail Conference, is named Four Birds to represent the ecological diversity that can be encountered on the trail. Wild Turkeys, Red-Tail Hawks, Great Blue Herons & Ospreys represent the “Four Birds” in the name.

Opossum Tracks

Opossum Tracks

Near the beginning of the trail we see tiny footprints heading to a log. They belong to an Opossum.

American Beech Eye of the Forest

American Beech Eye of the Forest

It looks like we are now leaving the Four Birds Trail and are walking by a rather large American Beech with marks that look like eyes keeping watch over the forest.  American Beech is considered a climax species in succession and is an indicator that the forest present here has not been disturbed in a long time.

Ross Kushner American Beech Bear Claw Mark

Ross Kushner American Beech Black Bear Claw Mark

Ross Pointed out black bear claw marks and noted that they are perfectly spaced.

Beaver Lodge Deerhaven Pond

Beaver Lodge Deerhaven Lake

Looking northwest towards Deerhaven Lake we see a large active beaver lodge with several others in the distance.  Ross stated that the primary predator of beavers is the gray wolf which has been extirpated from New Jersey. Time to stop for lunch!

Northern Red Oak Leaf

Northern Red Oak Leaf

I find the leaf of the Northern Red Oak (NJ’s state tree) on my seat.

White Oak with Black Bear Claw Marks

White Oak with Black Bear Claw Marks

After eating our lunch Ross spots a White Oak tree covered with Black Bear claw marks. White Oak acorns are sweeter than other oaks such as Black or Red Oak. Black Bears love White Oak acorns so much that they will go up into the tree to retrieve them before they fall.

Firefly

Firefly

While checking out the claw marks we spot an out of season Firefly on the White Oak. Apparently it was tricked by the abundant sunshine.

Otter Scat

Otter Scat

River Otter droppings containing fish scales were spotted near an outlet of a Pequannock River tributary leaving Deerhaven Lake. River Otters are usually active near the outlet of a beaver pond and the droppings are indicators of River Otter territorial tendencies.

Otter Sliding Marks

Otter Sliding Marks

We even see the slides they made on the ice!

Pequannock River

Pequannock River

Ross is taking us on a shortcut back to our cars near the Pequannock River.

Stonefly

Stonefly

What’s this? A stonefly! Soneflies are a sure indicator of the good water quality found in the C1 Trout Production Pequannock River.

Pequannock River Watershed Forest

Well, we’ve reached our cars and the tour has concluded. I hope this virtual hike has inspired you to explore your local forest.