First of all, if you are going out into the woods this time of year, you need to plan on 1 gallon water per person minimum. Do NOT count on finding water in the sloughs or cypress domes for filtering. This has been a very dry season. The rains are beginning to return, but depending on where you are, you may not find water for filtering.
Mini-trip report from Memorial Day 3 day weekend excursion to Lostman Pines via Paces Dike (Interactive GPS tracks: https://goo.gl/6PBI66 ):
FTA's Esther Muram and I followed Paces Dike down to gum slough pulling our back packs in a bike trailer. After Gum slough, there was too much cap rock then marl to bike, so we pushed our bikes/trailer another 2 miles to a pine hammock and set up camp. We realized that Sawmill trail we were following branched not to buggy trails but airboat trails which we had intended to use to get to Lostmans. So it couldn't be done with bike/trailer.
Aside from 1 turkey near gum slough coming in, we saw NO (0) sign of ANY game down in the pines. No game trails, no scat/poop. No tracks (the morning we left we saw the track of a single red fox). No rubs or scratches from deer, bear or panther.
Aside from song birds, there weren't even herons, owls, whippoorwills...NOTHING. There were lubber grasshoppers, anoles on trees and tadpoles in the shallow puddles we found occasionally, but no bird tracks around the puddles.
We found it eerily quiet at night. No howls or hoots. I thought recent rumors of coyotes might explain the apparent loss of game...but we heard no yips, howls or barks.
Something is seriously wrong down there.
The lack of critter noise at night is something that has been bothering me for a few years. I used to wish for a decent recorder to explain to the less adventurous folks what it was like to not be able to fall asleep due to the racket. Now I have a recorder and the once noisy old places are mute.
Sadly, I agree... something is seriously wrong. And I'm sad that it seems to be a wide spread phenomena. I've never been to Lostman Pines. You would think/ hope that a location that far from the beaten path would still be normal.
All of Stairsteps 4, parts of Stairsteps 3, and most of the Loop Unit have been affected as well as ENP. Yes something is very wrong. And it may be the water.
RE: lack of wildlife in Lostman's
I know this is an old thread but I wanted to comment on the lack of wildlife all thru the Stairsteps unit. I started noticing it in 2011. My last big trip south of gum slough was two years back and THERE WAS NOTHING OUT THERE. Not a single bird, no panther tracks, no coons, no rabbits, etc. The only animal I saw that entire week was a single possum up on the Loop road north of Sweetwater.
I think Joe hit it on the head... pythons (tho I didn't see any pythons on that trip either).