with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
10216 Lee Rd.
Boynton Beach, FL 33437-4796

Phone: 561-732-3684
Fax: 561-369-7190

Email: loxahatchee_r4rw @fws.gov

Web Page: FWS Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

How to get there: The refuge is located near Lake Worth, Florida, west of Boynton Beach on Lee Road, just west of US 441. From 1-95, west on US-98, south on US-441 for 14 miles to refuge entrance on right. Or, from 1-95, FL-806 west, US-441 north for 2 miles to refuge entrance on left. Cypress Swamp and the Visitors Center are located north of the Headquarters area entrance road.

Hours: The refuge is open every day from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am to 4 p.m between mid-October and mid-April, and closed Mondays and Tuesdays for the rest of the year.

Best Time: Bird viewing is best Fall through Spring.

Famous for: Representing the most northern part of the Everglades habitant, Loxahatchee is home to the American alligator and the endangered Everglades snail kite. In any given year, as many as 257 species of birds may visit the refuge.

How to visit: Begin with a visit to the Visitor Center. The natural history displays help you understand the importance of the park. Walk the half mile Cypress Swamp board walk for an up-close view of the wetlands and wildlife. A 12 mile bicycle trail runs along the L-40 levee (main levee) between the Headquarters and Hillsboro Areas. There are walking trails, a canoe trail, bike trail, a butterfly garden, and observation towers to explore. The wildlife is accustomed to people.

Habitat: Four hundred of the 147,392 acres feature cypress swampland, the largest remaining remnant of a cypress strand that once separated the pine flatwoods in the east from the Everglades marshes. Lichens thrive in the swamp environment. Baton rouge lichen, French for “red stick,” is one of the most popular. The giant leather fern, the largest North American fern, is found here and can grow as tall as 14 feet. Wax myrtle, coastal plain willow, pickerelweed, buttonbush, pond apple, and primrose willow trees grow throughout the refuge.

Wildlife: Birds are the primary attraction for Loxahatchee. In the swamp areas you will find herons, egrets, ibises, moorhens, coots, and limpkins. Less easily spotted birds are the purple gallinules, least bitterns, sora rails, and even an occasional roseate spoonbill or sandhill crane. Other birds found throughout the refuge include Carolina wrens, common yellowthroats, cardinals, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers. Less common birds can be spotted including the yellow-billed cuckoo, common flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, screech owl, and great horned owl. During the spring and fall migration, warblers, vireos, and other species can also be spotted. Two endangered species, the snail kites and wood storks, are found here. Look and listen closely for pig frogs and cricket frogs, as well as the Florida red-bellied turtle and soft-shelled turtles. There are anoles, fish, snakes, raccoons, river otters, and bobcats. Alligators may be seen almost anywhere on the refuge, though most often sighted near the boat ramp, in the ponds in front of the Cypress Swamp by the Visitor Center, and in the impoundments of Compartment C.

Tuesday, February 18, 1997
Loxahatchee NWR, FL

Bromeliad, photo by Brent VanFossenAt first light, I was at the refuge, which is just west and a bit south of Lake Worth, Florida, or just a bit east of Lake Okeechobee. This refuge is for those who don’t mind walking, as the roadway is less than a mile long, and goes three places: the visitor center with its Cypress Swamp boardwalk, the Marsh Trail parking, and the boat launch.

The Cypress Swamp Boardwalk behind the visitor center is a whole different world. Almost half a mile in length, this is a short loop through part of what remains of the huge swamp that used to separate the east coast of Florida from the Everglade grassland interior. Most of the old-growth cypress trees, here included, were logged early this century, and Baton Rouge Lichens, photo by Brent VanFossenwhat is here is second growth. Nonetheless, the trees are everywhere, and bromeliads (airplants) abound. Every tree supports at least a dozen of the various airplants, including the Stiff-leaved Wild-pine, Reflexed Wild-pine, and lots of Spanish Moss. Crimson and pink Baton Rouge lichens color the trunks of many of the cypress trees. The giant Leather Fern is here, with fronds that can grow up to 16 feet long. Interestingly, the fern got its name because the spores completely cover the underside of some of the leaves, giving them the look and feel of brown suede leather.

The drumming sound of a Pileated Woodpecker echoed through the swamp, and I finally spotted him high in a cypress snag. I had been told by Kevin Karlson at the Everglades that there was a pair excavating a nest cavity just behind the visitor center, but I never located it.

The Marsh Trail is a grid pattern of ponds which are managed to provide just the right amount of water and plants for the various bird and animal life. There are three main north/south routes and four or five east/west dikes, and all can be hiked. Common here were White and Glossy Ibis, and most of the herons. I saw a pair of Mottled Ducks, a Northern Harrier, many American Coots, Common Moorhens, and Purple Gallinules, although most of the gallinules appeared to be immatures with mottled coloring on their heads. There were at least four American Alligators on the banks along the walk. I was unable to find the American Bittern that Kevin said he saw each day.

Behind the Administration building, I found four Loggerhead Shrikes, as Kevin had told me. As the sky was a dull white, I didn’t attempt any pictures for want of a better background. I found a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the trees there, as well.

Back at the boardwalk, I found eight 2-foot alligators on the green bank across a small pond in front of the visitor center. I was able to shoot a nice grouping with the 500 and 700mm lens, and I used a little Project-A-Flash at -1.7 stops for catch light in their eyes. A woman next to me noticed a tiny (2 inch) alligator head in the water not 10 feet from me. I added an extension tube, and moved as close as I could focus to photograph him. As the light was very low, I used flash.

The light today was very dim, the wind strong, and the little rain was cold and discouraging. Even so, I’d rather be out in the weather than back at a job. And while I wasn’t able to shoot a lot of the things today that I saw, there is still tomorrow, and I will be back at first light (the gate opens at 6:00am) to try again.

Thursday, February 20, 1997
Loxahatchee NWR, FL

This morning was beautiful, the light golden, the sky blue with puffy white clouds. The winds were calm, and I made photographs of a Little Blue Heron fishing in the blue water with a perfect reflection below him. I made Pied-billed Grebe, photo by Brent VanFossensimilar pictures of American Coots, Common Moorhens, and Pied-billed Grebes swimming in the green reflections of the trees on the far banks. I shot a Purple Gallinule in good light in the grasses. And I got some shots of the Loggerhead Shrikes over by the Administration building. Northern Rough-winged Swallows were on the power wire.

When the light got too bright, I disappeared into the Cypress Swamp and made photos of the trees, scenics, and habitat shots of the swamp. I had to time the photos when the sun would drop behind a thin cloud so the shadows would not be so harsh. I made a few looking straight up through the cypress trees with all their airplants, and then the cable release latched. At 6 frames a second, film goes fast. I think I have about a dozen identical photos looking up in the swamp before I could shut the camera off. I hope they’re good.

In the swamp, I saw several snakes. One, a Florida water snake, banded variety was curled up at the base of a bush growing out of the water. Another was a brown water snake. I found a turtle with its Glossy Ibis, photo by Brent VanFossenyellow and green head sticking up. I watched anoles for quite some time as they ran and chased around the trees and the ferns. Several would display their bright red dewlaps, the colored skin flap which is normally hidden under their throats. The dewlap doesn’t fill with air like a frog’s throat, but a bony or cartilage plate pivots down and forward, stretching the red skin with it to show off the color to attract a mate.

Evening light was good, although not as good as morning because of all the clouds. I photographed a Glossy Ibis in good light. And I found and photographed a female alligator with her mouth open facing into the sun. At sunset, I watched about a 100 White Ibis fly off into the color. I photographed the oranges and the blues on the water with the grasses and reeds in patterns.

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