Category Archives: Harns Marsh Preserve

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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© Copyright 2011 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 1

© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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 😉


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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