Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 2

Thanks for a great hikeThis is a follow-up to Part 1 of the same hike, which was posted a couple of weeks ago.

I promised you shelling, and shelling you shall have :) There are at least two different varieties of apple snails at Harns Marsh – possibly, three – but only one of them is a Florida native. The other two are from South America, and having established themselves here in Florida, are considered “invasive exotics”.

There are some other types of freshwater snails in residence at the marsh, too. I’ve seen rams-horn, sprites, and Choctaws littering the shores and paths. Aquatic gastropods make for some tasty dining options for birds such as the snail kite and the limpkin, both of which favor marsh habitats. This means that Harns Marsh is positively INFESTED with empty freshwater snail shells. I was sorely tempted to collect them, but remembering that this is a preserve, I refrained. We’ll have to console ourselves with cyber-shelling. Are you ready? Here we go…


My foot’s in this photo for scale. The Florida applesnail is only 1.5″; this one is much bigger than that, so we know it must be one of the invasive exotics. I dug this shell out of the sand on the banks of the pond with the toe of my hiking shoe. When I flipped it over, I discovered that the grass growing nearby had sent roots into the shell. There must have been something in there that the grass wanted – moisture, or possibly fertilizer! This demonstrates that the applesnail shell continues to provide value in nature long after the original inhabitant has departed. The shell below the applesnail in this photo belonged to a rams-horn snail. The small one by my shoe might be either a sprite or else a baby rams-horn.


Here’s a closer look at another rams-horn snail shell. This one is vividly colored. It is showing us its “umbilical” side – see how the whorls are a bit concave, instead of raised? This is right-side up; how the animal would present if we’d found it live. The “spire” side, or the side where the whorls protrude, would be on the underside. I’ve read that the rams-horn snail has hemoglobin in its blood, marking the presence of oxygen. This gives it a nice rosy color. I’d love to observe a live one some time.


I saw some odd things in the dry pond and stream beds in the marsh. Perhaps they were not visible until the water level had diminished, and therefore no one had gone ’round to collect them before this. Here we see a bunch of snail shells strewn about, along with what looks like half a rubber chicken and what appears to be the red tie closure to a plastic trash bag. If you click the link below, you can check out the original size photo, and you’ll see that around the rim of the rubber chicken, it says “MADE IN TAIWAN”. Scroll around the original size photo to go cyber-shelling – you’ll see lots of applesnails and at least one sprite and one rams-horn. If you spot anything else, leave a comment! 😉 CLICK HERE for super-sized photo


Someone has recently feasted upon this egg; it looks like a freshwater turtle egg. The outside is pristine, but the inside is full of debris, so I believe the feast was not TOO recent. It was also the only one I found in the area, which may mean that the predator carried it there from the location of the nest. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, for a movement on the path in front of me caught my attention, and I thought no more about the turtle egg or where the nest might be.

Harns Marsh Snail Kite

It’s a snail kite! I thought at first it was a hawk, but on a hunch, I fired up the Audubon app on my phone. Lo and behold, the juvenile snail kite looks just like this guy. I felt very lucky to have spotted one


While still on the western perimeter path of the marsh, a sign appears that announces the boundary between Harns Marsh, a facility of the East County Water Control District, and some Lee County, FL lands. Conservation 20/20 is the vehicle by which the county acquires land parcels for conservation and water management purposes. Sometimes those two goals can be made to co-exist quite amicably. I later learned that this parcel is called the West Marsh, and trails will be developed so that hikers can cross back and forth between West and Harns at will. What a field trip THAT will be!


Continuing up the west side of the marsh, the woods veered off and I came upon a vast open wetland with tall grasses waving in the breeze. I scared both a turtle and a great blue heron coming around the bend that leads to this open space. It is beautiful, isn’t it? However, this stretch is relentlessly shadeless, so be prepared if you ever come here and decide to do the loooong 4 mile hike around the North Marsh. It could be killer in weather any warmer than this. Here we see that a group of white ibis have taken the field with their bright red, probing bills.


I was hot and tired and thirsty when I rounded the corner on the (thankfully) short north end of the marsh. I could see where I’d parked my car, way off in the distance; however, there was this large body of water and grass between me and it, so I figured I should keep on moving if I ever wanted to sit within the confines of its air conditioned comfort once more. And then I saw them – birds that are well on their way to being as tall as I am, with magnificently plumed butts and a loud, distinctive call. These are sandhill cranes, and they had babies with them! My first clue was a little fuzzy yellow head, barely visible in the tall grass; see red arrow in picture above.


One of the parents – Dad? – began to move purposefully in the direction of the youngster. I glanced to the left and saw the reason why. Standing absolutely stock still was a heron – I think it was tri-color (see the white stripe down the throat?). The youngster stood beside his towering parent and faced the heron down. “Oh, yeah?”, he seemed to be saying. “Well, my old man can kick your butt!”


From way off to the right, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. “Why does all the good stuff happen when I’m not there?”, he grumbled as his short little legs worked overtime to get him to where the action was. “Hey wait up – wait for me!”


The tri-color took off as the second youngster caught up. I’d caught up too, and now that the Dad wasn’t so distracted, he decided to notice me and trumpet his disapproval at my presence. There must have been some magic line in the path over which I eventually crossed, for he stopped honking abruptly the minute I stepped over it and summarily ignored me once more.

In short order, I’d reached the car and broken out some cold water. I was thoroughly satisfied with my day and knew I’d be back to this beautiful place. Actually, the call to hike there once more came much sooner than I’d thought it would. Friends were planning a Florida Master Naturalist “reunion” hike, and did I want to come along? You bet I did! Pictures to come…

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