Florida Spring 2011

Part II: Everglades

(Click on the pictures to see an enlargement!)
Thursday 4/28/11

Long Pine Key picnic areaThis morning, we packed up and left the Sea Dell, heading north.  We stopped in Key Largo at the KL Fisheries, observing some hopeful birds hanging at the marina, to pick up a "take out" lunch and then on to the Everglades!  We got to the Coe Visitor center around noon.  Interestingly, we didn't see any signs on the highway (Hwy 1) but our GPS led us to the correct turn and then it was signed well from there.  The friendly volunteers gave us some good hints about wildlife viewing and suggested Long Pine Key (right) as a nice picnic area for lunch.  You can visit the Coe Center without actually going into the park - the Park Entrance is just a little further on.  Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle, but John has a senior pass now so we got in for free.  Amazing deal!

Pa-hay-okee viewAfter lunch,  we continued on down CR 9336 (the main road through the park), saving Royal Palm for on the way back, stopping now and then to take short walks and pictures.   We did get some laughs at the elevations - at Rock Reef Pass it is 3 feet above sea level!  Then later on at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook it's up to 4!   But, as we learned later, apparently even a foot or so of elevation can make a great  difference in the flora and fauna.

The Pa-hay-okee Trail is a boardwalk that goes out to the overlook and then loops back.  The name means "Grassy Waters" and we are seeing the wilderness just as it was hundreds of years ago.   It's described as a "wet prairie" which is pretty much what it looks like - see picture at left.  Mahogany Hammock TrailWe were at the end of the dry season (late April) and it was indeed very dry - not like our stereotyped image of Everglades at all.   Later on I'll add some close-ups to show how dry it really was.

Mahogany Hammock Trail was another boardwalk.  It crossed what would normally be a "swamp" of sawgrass into a tropical hardwood hammock - quite a different environment than the prairie view (at right).   It's a little hard to tell in the picture, but there were loads of "air plants" throughout this little oasis.  

The highlight of this day was at Paurotis Pond which hosts a wood stork nesting site.  At left below, you'll see a picture of about half of the island and how full it was of these storks.  Click on the picture for a better view.  I could have watched them all day long!  We also saw our first alligator there, white peacock butterflies, an American Coot with its lobed toes (below in center - click the picture to get a closer look at the feet), some roseate spoonbills (see one flying by at the right below), and a turtle.  But the wood storks' activity definitely dominated!  In the bottom row I tried to get better views of them in flight and of the landing process.

 Wood stork nesting in Paurotis Pond  Coot  Roseate spoonbill flying by

 Stork in flight Landing on its feet  Coming down for a landing

Eco PondAt the end of the road, we came to the Flamingo area, including a Visitor Center and Marina.   There is a restaurant there also that smelled good, but we were in the market for a snack, not a meal, so we went over to the marina for some ice cream and cold drinks.   Black necked stiltsThe picture at the right is the Eco-Pond - obviously this is the dry season, but there was enough water around to attract some of the water birds, like the black necked stilts at left.  

We then headed back the way we came, stopping for a few more views, and the last amazing place was down Royal Palm Road along the Anhinga Trail.  I’ve never even heard of anhingas but they are very interesting birds.  We also saw many, many alligators, wading birds (herons, egrets), vultures, a snake, turtles, fish. 

Highlights of the walk - on the left is the slough that runs along the trail, in the center a new Bromeliad we had not seen before: cardinal wild pine, and on the right a snake along the side of the slough.

Slough along Aninga Trail  cardinal wild pine  snake along trail

Below is John watching a young alligator (what appears to be a floating log) from the boardwalk trail, a mother anhinga in the center and at the right are her anhinga youth practicing perching.
 
John watching alligator   Mama anhinga   anhinga youth

Below, left to right: black vultures, a young small blue heron (notice the pale blue bill), a green heron.
 black vultures young blue heron green heron

Tired, hot and worn out we easily found the Super 8 in Florida City.  While it was convenient for us and the evening clerk on duty was friendly and helpful, it's an older property and it shows.  The bed was comfortable, the A/C worked  but as we left in the morning (breakfast was pretty dismal and the coffee smelled like burnt rubber), they were dragging all the mattresses out to the parking lot.  I did hear something about renovation so I hope this was in preparation to replace them!  For supper, we went just down the road (on N Krome) to the Farmer’s Market Restaurant (I can find reviews but no web site for them) which is a laid back, home-cooked diner kind of place.  John had seafood pasta and I had a chicken salad,  and we drank almost a whole pitcher of water between us!  Good food, nice people, efficient service.  Worth seeking out.

Friday April 29 –

great blue heron with breakfastWe headed up Hwy 997 (N. Krome Road) to Tamiami Trail and it was really a nice drive.  We drove through a very agricultural part of Florida that you don't usually hear about.  We saw tomato and okra fields, numerous nurseries and fruit and vegetable stands.  We stopped first at the Shark Valley part of the Everglades National Park (where the elevation is up to about 6 feet).  We decided against taking the tram ride, blue-gray gnatcatcherbut we walked along the trail to the Bobcat Boardwalk; then back on the main trail we proceeded to the Otter Cave Trail; after that we looped back up to the visitor center - it was a couple of miles.  We saw a few anhingas, a great blue heron eating breakfast (at left), a blue-gray gnatcatcher (picture at right - that picture was a challenge because he was so quick dashing all over the place), lots of alligators, including some babies; a turtle, numerous anoles and lubber grasshoppers – the immature ones are dark green with red legs and look like a large leaf hopper.

Below is a moorhen at the left, redbellied woodpecker in the center and a very young alligator (only about 2 feet and it still has all the yellow stripes).
 moorhen  redbellied woodpecker  young alligator

The left two pictures were taken along Otter Cave Trail - solution holes on the left (where the limestone floor has dissolved away), and a photo op and rest break.   At right is an anhinga in the slough drying its wings.  They are divers, and after a swim they "hang out" their wings to dry.
solution holes   Barb and John on Otter Cave Trail   anhinga drying its wings

Miccosukee RestaurantWe had lunch at the Miccosukee Indian Restaurant (at right) on the reservation just outside the national park.   It was very good and the price was reasonable.  I liked the décor; there were 2 TV’s mounted high up on the walls, but they were muted so not intrusive.  John had a cheeseburger and fries; I had an Indian taco and fries (an Indian taco is made on Indian fried bread rather than tortilla) and we both had a good meal.

fire fightingOur next stop was the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. There was a lightning fire raging a few miles away and, while they try to let naturally-occurring fires burn, this one was getting too close to developed areas so it was necessary to contain it.  We got to watch the GIANT red and blue forestry helicopters picking up buckets of water and heading out (picture at left) - each of those buckets held 800 gallons of water!  When we saw them fighting the fires in Colorado a few years ago, I thought of them as dropping a thimble of water; it still LOOKS like a thimble but I guess 800 gallons is significant.  

Anyway, we also saw some northern mockingbirds on top of lights (below left), a killdeer (center) and numerous alligators in the canal (do you count four in the picture at right?) right in front of the visitor center.  We then drove down to the newer Welcome Center and listened to their "night sounds" display trying to identify some of the mystery sounds we had been hearing. 

northern mockingbird killdeer alligators in canal

lubber grasshopperWe took a loop drive - Turner River, Upper Wagonwheel and Birdon road - but, perhaps because of the very dry season, there really wasn't much to see there.   I imagine there is more activity during the wet season.

Finally, at the recommendation of the volunteer at the Welcome Center, we stopped at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park  (Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk).   Apart from the cypress, we saw one alligator, an eagle and eagle’s nest, more lubber grasshoppers (at left).  With the help of the nature trail signs, we identified alligator flag and pickerell weed that we had been seeing in the area.  Below are pictures of the big cypress trees, cypress knees (extensions of the roots of the surrounding cypress trees) and a bald eagle sitting near its nest.

cypress trees cypress knees bald eagle and nest

Friday night we stopped at the Super 8 in Naples.  This was a much nicer place than the one in Florida City.  It was the same sort of room but newer;  they had a nice breakfast that included waffles, toast and bagels.  The AC worked very well and there was a nice flat screen TV so we were able to watch a Netflix movie before turning in for the night.

Saturday we will head to Sanibel Island!

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