Big Cypress N.Pr., FL
At the end of March, 2012; Becky (my wife) and I went on vacation to Florida. While there, we rented a car and drove across the State, from Orlando to the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Florida’s Big Cypress national Preserve is a wetland paradise encompassing an impressive 6,216 square kilometers of rich sub-tropical habitat. It’s commonly called a swamp, but this is far from true because the reserve includes a variety of habitats such as sandy islands of pine and mixed hardwood trees, prairies, mangroves, palm trees, and of course, cypresses.
To truly experience Big Cypress National Preserve, we immersed ourselves in it’s lush greenery and enjoyed the details of its rich and unusual plant and animal life.
About a third of Big Cypress is covered by cypress trees, mostly the dwarf pond cypress. However, a few of the giant bald cypresses that once dominated this area still remain. Some are as old as 700 tears, with trunks so wide it would take four people to encircle one with outstretched arms.
We were in southern Florida during the dry season. However, the rainy season begins in May and lasts until the following autumn. The rains flood Big Cypress to depths of one meter and then slowly drain south to the Gulf of Mexico. The land is so flat that the water moves at a stately rate of only 1.6 km/day. Even after the rains end in October, it takes another three months before water levels fully subside.
Water plays a central role in the lives of everything in the Big Cypress National Preserve, and supports a rich diversity of wildlife. Birds include herons, egrets, wood stork, red cockaded woodpecker, and the hawk, (pictured below). Pictured above, the White-faced Ibis is a wading bird in the ibis family Threskiornithidae. The scientific name derives from Ancient Greek plegados and Latin, falcis, both meaning “sickle” and referring to the distinctive shape of the bill.
Pictured above, Red-Shouldered Hawks are forest raptors. In the east, they live in bottomland hardwood stands, flooded deciduous swamps, and upland mixed deciduous–conifer forests. They tend to live in stands with an open sub-canopy, which makes hunting easier.
Alligators patrol the waters, and during the dry season live in waterholes that attract numerous other animals. Pictured below, the Snowy Egret is a beautiful, graceful small egret, very active in its feeding behavior in shallow waters. Known by its contrasting yellow feet, could be said to dance in the shallows on golden slippers. The species was slaughtered for its plumes in the 19th century, but protection brought a rapid recovery of numbers, and the Snowy Egret is now more widespread and common than ever. Its delicate appearance is belied by its harsh and raucous calls around its nesting colonies.
One of the most endangered animals is the black Florida panther. Just east of the Big Cypress is another small preserve, called the “Florida Panther Preserve”. Becky and I visited there in hopes to see a Florida Panther. We didn’t……. Only 50 of them remain in the wild there. However, this was the best place to see one. Pictured below, it was a dense forest of trees on small islands of hardwoods. These mini-forests give the panther dry land, cover, and prey.