This story was written by Harry Hite to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it's like to work as a campus host.
My name is Harry Hite and I am working as a campus host at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. I have lived in Florida on the southwest coast in Venice for over 10 years. Using my training in the Coastal module of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, I previously worked as a tour guide in nearby coastal areas by kayak and small boat, proudly showing visitors the flora and fauna along the Florida coast.
I, along with my wife Joeann, currently live in our RV on one of two pads established for campus hosts at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. My wife and I share duties working in the admissions office by greeting people and admitting visitors to the Sanctuary. Because I walk the boardwalk several times a week, I get to meet interesting people as I am closing off sections.
In the mornings around our RV pad, we often experience the calling of various birds such as Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Red-shouldered Hawks. A flock of Wild Turkeys and sometimes a herd of deer crossing the road are a special treat. One morning, we looked up as a pair of Wood Storks were flying into the Sanctuary. It was an amazing sight to watch their flight as they disappeared into the swamp.
One of my favorite jobs is walking the boardwalk in the afternoons to ensure visitors have come off the boardwalk safely before the Blair Audubon Visitor Center closes for the day. While closing the 2.25-mile boardwalk, I get to see many wondrous things as the afternoon fades into evening. I am very familiar with the wildlife of Florida coastal areas such as the mangroves, dolphins, and many wading birds. However, this has been a great learning experience being up close and personal with the swamp. I usually walk at a leisurely pace and I am amazed at the abundance of wildlife that I see. This also gives me time to observe the plants and trees that grow in the swamp and appreciate their beauty, such as the swamp lilies, various types of ferns including the long strap fern, and the great old bald cypress trees, some of which are over 500 years old. Although it is 2.25 miles long, the boardwalk provides just a sampling of what exists in the 13,000+ acres here at Corkscrew Swamp.
One day I met a mama raccoon with her two babies as she was digging in the swamp looking for food. I assume she was looking for freshwater snails that live here in the swamp. The Red-bellied Woodpeckers seem to like the berries of the dahoon holly that are growing in the swamp and I can always hear them when I walk through those areas. Some days I see a variety of turtles sitting on a log or swimming in the water. The water in the swamp is now receding after an abundance of rain last fall. As the water levels drop, more and more wading birds are arriving to feast on the fish that are being trapped by the receding water.
As I meet people while doing my closings, we share our sightings and I happily share any knowledge that I have about the birds and the plants that we see, and they are usually excited and thankful for the added information. Because many of our visitors are from all over the world, I have learned from them about their native wildlife and their experiences. At the end of the day, after returning to our RV for the evening, most nights I can hear the barred owls hooting in the distance. As I retire for the evening, I think “just another day in the swamp!”