So sorry for the long delay in the Florida posts. Getting ready for the show at the end of February put me behind in some of my other work and it's taken me a week to catch up!
After leaving the beach I drove south again on A1A. I was looking for a place to hike, and as I didn't have a good map or information I was looking out for signs along the road. I passed another parking area on the beach side, then passed a sign on my right warning about alligators along a trail. Ah ha! I thought, and then passed a parking area with a gated two-track and a kiosk. I turned the car around and headed back.
The Maritime Hammock Sanctuary is part of the Archie Carr NWR, and it turned out to be just what I was looking for--a moderate hike through forested terrain. The hike starts at the "kiosk/bike rack" area of the map below, then t's at the edge of the Banana River. I took the loop to the north, along the shore and then over to the pond and back.
I was just getting my camera gear, snacks and water together when a couple pulled up and got ready to hike the trail too. We said hello, then the man stopped and looked down at the ground. There, right by the gate in front of the kiosk, was this little critter--a gopher tortoise hatchling! He/she wasn't more than three inches long, and tried desperately to hide when I took its picture. We examined it, then moved it away from the kiosk so no one would inadvertently step on it. The website that I used to ID this tortoise claimed this is a rare sight.
I have spent a lot of time in Florida. If I want to see my grandma I have to go down, as she no longer comes up. I've done some hiking in the central part of the state, but not much along the coast. I was not prepared for the jungle-like quality of the environment here--for all the hiking I've done, I've never encountered a place like this! The vegetation was thick and in most places it was impossible to see more than five feet off the trail.
The sanctuary is actually a restored area of swampy marsh land that was walled in with earthen dams 40 to 60 years ago. I assumed it was done to dry the area out and make it buildable, when in fact it was done to flood it. The earthen dams were meant to hold rain water in, thus making the habitat unsuitable for a particular species of mosquito that was a problem in the area (can you say malaria?). To restore the natural flow of water into the ecosystem, large drainpipes were installed under the levees. To remove the levees completely would have been much too big an undertaking.
I am always curious about habitats that differ from what I'm used to here in SE Michigan. This jungle of a place, with its live oaks and palms, is about as different as you can get. I often wondered why they were called live oaks--I thought perhaps it was because they shed and regrow their glossy green leaves so quickly. Now I wonder if it is for the amazing plant communities they harbor in their canopies.
Light is at a premium in a forest as thick as this. Ground plants must be large-leaved and shade tolerant in order to survive. Other plants have developed another way of coping with the lack of light down below--climb up to the top!
When I first saw this plant, which I have so far been unable to identify, I thought it was actually growing out of the tree. I realized later that it is a vine growing up the tree in order to reach brighter light.
Wild pine is a yucca-looking plant that does actually grow on the tree--it is an epiphytic plant, an air plant, one that relies on the oak for support but not nutrients.
As I walked the trails, I kept coming across these large, dead or dying ferns. After the third or fourth one I stopped and looked around. I didn't see any of these growing along side the trail and was baffled as to where they came from.
Then I looked up. I am assuming this is another epiphyte as I didn't see any vines, but it is yet another plant I haven't been able to identify. Perhaps, with as much time as I spend in Florida, I should invest in some plant guidebooks!
Next: mangroves and more birds