Winter in the Big Cypress Swamp

The National Park Service has been doing prescribed burns in the area of Little Deer Airport. They have for weeks been burning around camps in that area. The NPS is the fire department in the Big Cypress Swamp and they protect the private property (camps) inside the Preserve. They also do prescribed burning. The purpose of this is to prevent wild fires from becoming too intense and out of control thereby destroying the vegetation and trees in the swamp.

One of the advantages of burning around the private properties is it creates a fire protection barrier around each private property. This allows the NPS to set larger prescribed burns, without the risk of damaging private property. They get more acres burned, with less manpower, when they don't have to monitor the burns around private property closely.

We snuck over to the pond and stood out of the flight path, back in the trees to get these pictures and videos. I'm sure their safety plan would not have allowed us to be so close.

NPS Helicopter dipping water for fire fighting
NPS Helicopter dipping water for Fire Fighting
(Video of Helicopter-
about 10mb)

Video of Helicopter
Ole Timers of the Big Cypress Swamp
Wayne   Robert      Jack       Ed          Hoss
The Early Big Cypress Homesteaders

The group of men to the left have collectively over 250 years of experience in the Big Cypress Swamp. Wayne homesteaded a one square mile ranch in the swamp, called "Calusa" Ranch. Robert came into the swamp as a young boy, when his family, built and enjoyed, over his lifetime "Big Pine Lodge". Jack built a cabin in the early days, to lose it to a wild fire. He rebuilt it at another safer spot and his family enjoyed it over many years. Ed rode the logging tram to go hunting when he was a teenage boy. He may be the only one left alive that has that experience and knowledge of the logging in the Big Cypress Swamp. Hoss is the co-owner of camp Six Pack and his 30 years in the Big Cypress makes him a youngster in this group of original homesteaders. Collectively this group's age is 360 years, still visiting and enjoying the Big Cypress Swamp.

Pine Tree Baby
It's been a long time coming Baby. From the remains of a logged pine tree, a small pine appears. Now this might seem like something not so unusual, but it has taken between 50 and 60 years for this to happen. The Big Cypress Swamp was logged heavily during the 1940s, all the first growth pine was cut and sent to the saw mill. No modern day practices were used, so this meant that the pine forests were not replanted. All the pines now in the Big Cypress were either to small to log back then or are second growth volunteers.
In this case it has taken over 50 years for this heart of a sawed off pine stump to decompose enough for a new seedling to take root. The heart of a pine tree is as hard as a rock and this one is no exception. Helped along by a fire from the past, enough nutrients have finally collected to support new life. So welcome to the world little baby!

Pine Tree Baby Gone

Nature is tough in the Big Cypress Swamp. Along comes a wild fire, started by a lightning strike, and the little pine baby is burned along with other mature pine trees. An older sibling is laying down on top of sawed off pine stump. A little more of that stump is burned and the ashes added to the nutrients needed for a new seedling. Soon another pine tree baby, will sprout to replace this one. Its a tough life, with no guarantees, so few seedlings make it into a full grown tree. This fire was a natural fire, named the Six Pack fire by the NPS. It was not one of the prescribed burns taking place in the area.

Little Pine Nurtured by Ole Grandad
Logged Tree Baby
Pine Baby burned in Wild Fire
Pine Tree Baby Gone
United States Geodetic Survey

USGS Truck
There it sat, next to Ronnie's Pond, first spotted a few days before Christmas, It was still there in the middle of January. A nice shiny green Chevy Suburban, with a fancy logo on the side, sitting on three wheels, well I guess technically all four, but no wheel lug nuts on the fourth one. I guess that lifted stock body, with those big off road tires were just too much for the stock lugs.
Now almost any of us backwoods off roaders would have taken one or two lug nuts off each of the other wheels and used them on the fourth and carefully driven on out, but maybe government employees are not allowed to do stuff like that. I'm sure they just called a NPS taxi to come and get them and let the mechanic figure out how to get it repaired.

Backyard Gator
It is dry, dry, dry in the swamp right now! The alligator that lives under a pine tree near the camp kitchen is starting to suffer a little from the lack of water. Over the years this hole in the ground has been used by different alligators. Once the swamps start to dry up, at least one gator will settle into this hole, because it goes down to the water table. This year the water table has dropped below the bottom of the hole level. So its dry. Not to mention that the prescribed burn around camp has burned back the palmetto bushes and took away the shade.
When we go to camp now, we run a garden hose out to this 6 foot gator and as soon as we turn it on, out it comes to get under the water stream. The little guy is starting to lose weight because it is tough to find something to eat when you are living in a hole in the ground. That, plus the panthers have eaten all the small critters in the area. So it is a very tough life for this gator and it is very grumpy right now.

Back Yard Gator
Watering the Backyard Gator

(Short gator Video about 4 mb)

Video of Gator
Fire Snakes

The Mystery of Fire Snakes
Swamp wood, soaked by years of dark swampy water seems to absorb one of the swamps mysterious creatures. This wood on a dark cold night, when burned in a pile mixed with limbs of pine trees, release the mysterious fire snakes. To the naked untrained eye, it appears that burning embers and ashes rise in the cool evening sky. But, to the trained, but not necessarily sober eye (and digital cameras), Fire snakes rise from this swamp wood to escape back into the swamp. My attempts to capture one of these fire snakes is always turned back by the heat of the fire. I will have to devise a fire proof net, to try to capture one of these slithery creatures. Until I capture one alive, the pictures will have to do, to expose the mystery of Fire Snakes.

Panther Surprise
One of the Bears Den Camp turkey hunters was set up and calling in a turkey blind, opening weekend of turkey season. He heard a slight sound and turned to look and see what it was. There he was face to face with a panther. Both he and the panther jumped up and took off running. They both were surprised.  Fortunately they went in different directions. Yeh! he knows not to run, when faced with a panther, but there is knowledge and there is fear and natural survival instinct which seems to overrule knowledge, in these surprise situations.

Story by Steve March 14, 2007, updated March 17, 2007