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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a popular migration station

Swallow-tailed kites July migration includes many stops including Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to forage and fatten up before they fly away from South Florida headed for South America; during the months following, other birds waylay at the sanctuary on their way to winter nesting grounds near and far
Pete Root of Audubon Florida
Swallow-tailed kites are among the first species to stop at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in July to forage and fatten up before they head for South America; during the months following, other birds waylay at the sanctuary, too, on their way to winter nesting grounds near and far.

Florida, surrounded on three sides by water, acts as a funnel for birds migrating across the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico each winter.

The perilous, even herculean, long-distance marathons along what is called the Atlantic Flyway, require tremendous amounts of energy, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is positioned in just the right place, with just the right type of tasty critters to fatten up birds on the fly.

The July migration of swallow-tailed kites includes many stops before they move on from South Florida headed for South America. Among the first species to waylay at Corkscrew for a bit, many other species follow making the fall a great time for birders and wildlife enthusiasts to visit the sanctuary east of Naples.

Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is an extremely popular attraction year-round, but the upcoming months feature some of the best bird-watching and wildlife experiences the year has to offer.

The sanctuary features a 2.5-mile raised boardwalk for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts to see some of the most unique and rare species in South Florida.

Here are the environmental highlights for the next several months:

August brings the annual songbird migration, and some of the earliest birds to be seen include the Louisiana waterthrush, black-and-white warblers, and prothonotary warblers. The hot month also inspires orchids to bloom, including new flowers on the sanctuary’s famous giant ghost orchids, yellow helmet orchids, and Florida star orchids. (Editor's note: The Sanctuary Facebook page says that, as of August 9, there is one new flower unfurling, another one getting ready to pop, and, if you look really closely, you can see one more bud forming, possibly the last of the season.)

September is when the swamp’s water levels peak, allowing fish and predators like wading birds and alligators to seek privacy and move far away from the visitor boardwalk that winds its way through the cool sanctuary for several miles.

Painted bunting
R J Wiley
Painted bunting

October finds the fall migration in full swing. Painted buntings and indigo buntings are some of the more colorful species spotted by visitors in the pollinator garden as well as on the bird feeders behind the Blair Visitor Center. Common yellowthroats, gray catbirds, and American redstarts are found along the boardwalk as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds sipping from alligator flag flowers.

November through January finds purple gallinules foraging in the flag pond along the entrance trail feeding on the seeds of the alligator flag, while wading birds move back toward the boardwalk as the deepest waters of late summer recede.

February is when river otters play in the Lettuce Lakes and romp up on the boardwalk. They are found throughout Florida and make their homes in large burrows on the banks of bodies of water or under tree roots. If you encounter any otters, be sure to give them space. Later in the month, beautiful swallow-tailed kites make their way back to Florida each year from South America for their summer breeding season. Look for kites flying above the boardwalk in the wet prairie.

March is when everything begins anew, again. The cypress canopy begins to burst with lush green needles, restoring splashes of color and shade to the boardwalk.

Year-round visitors can view Corkscrew’s bald cypress forest. Related to the giant redwoods of the west coast, bald cypress trees can grow more than 100 feet tall. Sixty of the trees inside the sanctuary have been growing long enough to reach at least 17 feet in circumference, with one measuring 24 feet around – that’s the length of a regular school bus. Scientists estimate some of the trees have been growing for at least 535 years, and at that age they count among the oldest living things in our state.

The Carolina wren, pileated woodpecker, northern cardinal, limpkins and black-bellied whistling ducks are a few of the resident species that are likely to be seen, or heard, anytime.

And river otters are a playful element who are not shy — but do not approach them as they can get aggressive very quickly.

Do not approach the river otters no matter how cute they are and how close they may get - they can get very aggressive, very quickly
Audubon Florida
Do not approach the river otters no matter how cute they are and how close they may get - they can get very aggressive, very quickly

Florida Audubon offers a running schedule of classes and environmental activities at the swamp. Click here for prices and further information.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, at 375 Sanctuary Road in Naples, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the last admission at 1 p.m. so the final visitors will have two hours to explore the environment. Sunscreen and bug repellent are recommended, but they should be applied before visitors enter the sanctuary and spray types should not be used to avoid contaminating the natural balance.

The boardwalk, and the Blair Visitor Center, will be closed from Sept. 11 through 22 for renovations.

Admission ranges from $17 for general admission to free for children five years old and younger. Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are allowed if the sanctuary is not sold out.

Audubon Florida's Renee Wilson contributed to this report.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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