Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 1

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Harns Marsh MapSaturday morning, I stumbled to my computer as per usual, ample dose of caffeine in hand, and sat down to read the news, check my email, and catch up on Facebook. I happened across an article about a nature festival taking place right here in Lehigh Acres, at a place called Harns Marsh, not far from where I live. I recalled that a couple of my classmates in the Freshwater Wetlands class (Florida Master Naturalist Program) had developed a trail guide to Harns Marsh for their final project. Without further fanfare, I decided to strike out for the preserve; gulped down some breakfast, slathered on some sunscreen, grabbed a thermos of water and off I went. I mobile blogged a bit from the trail (see yesterday’s posts) and now I want to share the rest of the photos I took.

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The marsh was engineered to handle runoff from the Orange River, a tributary off the Caloosahatchee River. The Orange River itself had been altered ‘way in the early 20th century; it was originally known as Twelve Mile Creek but then the Army Corps of Engineers dredged it 4′ deep by 50″ wide. Like many of Florida’s freshwater wetlands in winter, the marsh appeared to be significantly dried up as compared to the obvious high water lines that could be seen here and there. That will change as soon as rainy season is properly upon us, circa mid-May. Still, there was plenty of water to sustain abundant waterfowl and other wildlife. I saw turtles, coots, moorhens, apple snails, rams horn snails, a variety of herons and egrets, some vultures, squirrels, anoles, white ibis, glossy ibis, ducks, sandhill cranes, and to my surprise and delight, ONE snail kite on the side of the path.

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Freshwater turtles take advantage of the rocks protruding from the pond, sunning themselves on this glorious March day under sunny Florida skies. It was already past noon when I set out to the preserve, and the day was warm but breezy.

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When you’re out and about in a park or preserve, you can guess what amount of human traffic has been occurring by the behavior of the wildlife. For instance, at Lakes Park, where there are always lots of people walking, running, biking, picnicking and playing, the animals don’t flinch. In fact, they may approach you, if they have learned to associate humans with food. Here at the marsh, I passed the two turtles from a goodly distance, yet the little one hastily slipped into the pond rather than risk unknown danger from this unknown beast (me) treading the waterside path. However, the larger one stood his ground, unwilling to sacrifice his daily dose of D on the outside chance that I was looking for soup ingredients.

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It was not long before I realized that I’d been following a set of tracks in the muddy path. I thought it might be a dog’s paw prints, but then I realized there weren’t any people tracks to go with them, and I thought it odd that a dog might be at the preserve all on his own. I began to consider other options. Possibly, this was a bobcat I was following. I really thought it more likely to be a dog, but I’m not good enough at tracking to know the difference without reference materials.

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The Audubon app on my phone showed me pictures of bobcat tracks, but the prints on my path were not clear enough along the bottom of the pad to determine if it was canine or feline. I figured that the mystery might be solved, or at least a likely suspect identified, if I should come across some scat. I knew what bobcat scat looked like from a previous wetland field trip I’d taken with the Master Naturalists. Time would tell. I continued along the trail.

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As I moved northeast-ish along the path, I began to notice odd things in the water. Here we find a strange, spherically shaped object that looks to have seen better days. From afar, it has that pitted, wave-weary look of an old sea shell, the kind my friend Christene refers to as “yard art”. Now that I’ve got the photo up on the big screen, I confess I don’t know WHAT it could be. Anyone want to take a guess?

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It always surprises me when I come across the inevitable tire-in-the-water tableau. It just seems to ridiculous to be in a remote spot and see such obvious evidence of man having been here. WHY we must leave such evidence of our having passed through is mystifying and troubling to me. Pick up your damned tire and pack it out with you.

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Now, this is more consistent with what I would expect to have naturally landed in the water of a marshland preserve. After getting this home and enlarging it on the big screen, I determined that I’d captured the partially hollowed-out stump of a palm tree, lying on it’s side. Again, during one of my previous hikes with the Master Naturalists, I’d encountered a palm tree growing in erosion conditions, thus discovering that there was a huge, conically-shaped, solid mass under the soil which helps to anchor the tree during the high winds of hurricane season. It was surprising to see, but that kind of adaptation makes thorough sense when you think about other types of trees that topple in storms while palms remain upright.

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I was really excited to come upon this guy – I think this is my first relatively close look at and picture of a glossy ibis. Back in October, I took a hike at C.R.E.W.’s bird rookery swamp and caught sight of a flock of white ibis with juveniles amongst them; they can have very dark plummage, and I thought for a moment I was going to be able to photograph a glossy, but alas! It was a case of mistaken identity. This guy was VERY shy. The minute he became aware of me, he was outta there like a shot, over to the South Marsh. I find the white ibis to be less reticent in the presence of humans, especially if said humans are seated at a table outside of Casey’s hot dog place in the Magic Kingdom ;)

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Ah-HAH! At some point in the trail, I found the poop. I could not be absolutely sure, but again the wonders of the big screen at home enabled me to see the abundant amount of HAIR in this scat sample, which was squarely in the middle of the path. This does not look like dog poop to me! That’s not to say that the tracks weren’t those of a dog; perhaps the dog was following the bobcat ;) It had rained the night before, which provided the mud that gave us the tracks, yet the scat was not looking terribly waterlogged. I feel pretty certain that there had been a bobcat on the path as recently as that morning, after the rain had stopped.


NEXT TIME: We’ll do some shelling

:)


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