For those looking for a truly one-of-a-kind Southwest Florida experience, step into the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary under the veil of darkness during the monthly series, Corkscrew After Hours Education and entertaining, the series gives visitors a chance to explore the western fringes of the Everglades after the sun sets, when the hoots, chirps, and croaks take on a shadowy, ominous tone. Join Corkscrew naturalists on Friday, December 11 from 5:30-9:30 p.m., when the swampy terrain becomes a bastion of nocturnal life.
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk at Night.
Photo by R.J. Wiley
For December’s nighttime emersion, Corkscrew has set the theme for the incredibly secretive Florida black bear, a largely misunderstood animal that lives on the fringes of civilization. Wildlife photography Ralph Arwood will lead a classroom presentation on Florida black bears that live within the sanctuary. An avid wildlife photographer whose work takes him deep into Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Big Cypress National Preserve in search of Florida panthers, Arwood is no stranger to the Florida black bear, an animal that shares its range with the panther. From capturing video of bear families playing with his trail cameras to photographs of bears climbing trees, Arwood has firsthand experience with black bears in Corkscrew. During his classroom presentation, scheduled from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in the Blair Audubon Visitor Center, he will be joined by a representative from Florida Fish and Wildlife who will answer questions audience members may have about living with black bears in the Naples area.
Following the presentation, take a hike along the sanctuary’s two-mile boardwalk on a self-guided tour through 9 p.m., and experience the sanctuary in the depths of darkness. While strolling the elevated boardwalk, keep a keen eye and ear on the surroundings for some the sanctuary’s nocturnal residents. Especially keep an eye on the sky as bats flit to and fro as they gobble up mosquitoes.
If you’d prefer some guidance along your hike, join a sanctuary naturalist from 6-7 p.m. for a guided walk along the boardwalk—the naturalists have keen ears and sharper eyes, and are experts at spotting those camouflaged birds, insects, and mammals lurking in the shadows. And expand your mind at the Interpretative Discovery Stations setup behind the Blair Center from 5:30-8:30 p.m., each offering further insight into the dynamic ecosystem of the sanctuary and the Everglades.
From 6-8 p.m., enjoy live music at the Blair Audubon Visitor Center with Robbie Wooster (bass), and Paddle Faster—Karen Batten (banjo) and Scott Ritter (guitar and mandolin)—as they show the crowd a picken’ goodtime with a steady dose of bluegrass, folk , and Americana. Food and refreshments will be available at the Tea Room Cafe.
Once the sun has fully set and darkness truly descends, Corkscrew lends itself to some pretty dynamic stargazing. From 7-9 p.m., weather permitting, the Everglades Astronomical Society will join the After Hours programming, setting up telescopes at the Horseshoe Marsh observation post. December 11 just happens to fall under the New Moon lunar phase, helping dampen the light even further.
- Admission costs $14, which is good for two consecutive days to the sanctuary. Kids under 18 are free. For more information, visit corkscrew.audubon.org.
- Next Corkscrew After Hours: January 22, 2015
Part of the Western Everglades and Corkscrew Watershed, all of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s 13,000 acres are a vital link to Florida’s aboriginal landscape. Protected by the National Audubon Society since 1953, conservation efforts helped end and reverse the devastating effects plume hunters and loggers had on the landscape and its inhabitants for decades. A place once deemed indomitable, the great Everglades, too wild for modern civilization, is now being parceled and paved, not just tamed but subdued. While the wildlife whose ancestral roots dig much deeper than the first tentative footsteps of western intrusion, is becoming afterthought, more museum diorama than living example of nature. Organizations like Audubon help preserve these last natural respites like Corkscrew, examples of conservation in action and places of learning for future generations to not only connect with the past of their place but also learn how to coexist. Programming like After Hours helps create a greater understanding of this land while not being an overtly educational oration—this is more experience than lecture, and for children, more field trip than day in class.