Tramping with teenagers through a state park to view birds seemed like a good idea. However, their lack of interest combined with temperatures dipping below 50 degrees put a damper on the outing.
Then I spotted a young couple staring skyward, a camera focused on an unusual bird. Here are people with whom I can relate, I thought. Not adolescents who feel they are being abused because I wouldn't allow them to bring electronic devices.
Turns out, this couple wasn't much older than my kids, and they center their vacations around bird-watching! Was it too late to adopt?
Their suggestion for the best bird-watching trip ever was Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a three-hour drive south of Pinellas County.
Corkscrew Swamp is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society, and a trip there is like stepping back 100 years in Florida's natural history. Situated on 13,000 acres 11 miles northeast of Naples, Corkscrew is home to the largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress in North America. It hosts several species of mammals, plants and of course birds, none of which would interest my teens.
A trip there should start at the Blair Audubon Center, where a 14-minute movie covers a one-year cycle at the swamp. You'll see the sights and sounds of the swamp, along with the seasons or rain and drought. After that, take a stroll on the boardwalk that covers 2.25 miles above about 800 acres of the swamp. Naturalists are stationed at each habitat and can field questions on the self-guided tour.
As I began the walk, I spied a swallow-tailed kite flying effortlessly through a pool-blue sky. Later, I met a couple from Michigan, who showed me beautiful pictures they'd taken of gators, herons and egrets, which they'd photographed at a spot called Lettuce Lakes.
Lettuce Lakes is at the north section of the boardwalk where the drought has reduced the water level to almost a puddle. However, the puddle was big enough to house two alligators that day. One measured a measly 5 feet long, but another was big enough to make even Capt. Hook shiver his timbers. The big gator lay lazily, rocking his enormous head from side to side, sucking in the moon vine that dots the marshy swamp from which Lettuce Lakes derives its name. A yellow-crowned night heron eyed him suspiciously from a perilous distance.
A little blue heron fished quietly nearby while a wood stork sunned himself in the next pond over. The rat-a-tat-tat of a pileated woodpecker echoed through the quiet creation. Up fluttered a pine warbler to the ancient cypress and out over the pond, only to disappear into the forest.
It was time to go. Dawn, a naturalist interning from Oregon, explained the unusual color clinging to the weathered, boardwalk timber. I asked her about the crimson splotches. She explained that it was blood lichen.
"It grows in unpolluted air," she stated simply.
Actually, you don't have to imagine it, you can go. Just remember to leave the teenagers at home.
Pauline Hylton is a freelance writer based in Largo.