Popping the Corkscrew

By Frank Graham Jr.

It is by now almost stating the obvious that the presence of rare and endangered birds in an ecosystem can lead to its preservation. Witness the Corkscrew Swamp Watershed Important Bird Area (IBA), near Naples in southern Florida. This diverse area, about 80,000 acres, encompasses most of the state's habitats. Pine flatwoods, cypress swamp, and sawgrass marsh predominate. It attracts 218 native bird species, including endangered wood storks, swallow-tailed kites, and various herons and egrets.

At the IBA's core lies National Audubon's 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. When conservationists united in the 1950s to protect the magnificent strands of bald cypress from logging, the area's declining stork colony in Corkscrew became a focus of the fund-raising effort that culminated in the sanctuary's creation.

Today a 2.25-mile boardwalk leads into the shadows of the ancient cypress forest and out into open marsh. The loggers are gone, but other activities threaten the water levels vital to wading birds; citrus groves, gated communities, golf courses, and roads have all led to harmful drainage schemes. By monitoring water levels, biologists can battle projects that threaten the IBA's plants and animals.

The sanctuary and nature center are open every day. To learn more, go to audubon.org/bird/iba/fl.html.

For information on Audubon's Important Bird Areas program, visit www.audubon.org, go to Birds & Science/Bird Conservation, and pull down to Important Bird Areas.


© 2004 National Audubon Society

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field guide

The wood stork (Mycteria americana) is North America's only native stork and a fixture on the federal Endangered Species List. Only 8,000 to 10,000 of them survive from a population that once numbered 40,000 to 80,000. Corkscrew Swamp is historically the largest nesting colony, though numbers fluctuate because of water cycles. Heavy rains at Corkscrew flooded out early nesting attempts last year, when 210 pairs fledged only 450 chicks. Two years ago, with more water, 1,200 nests produced 3,000 fledglings. "Under present conditions in the watershed, that's the best we can do," says
executive director Ed Carlson.