At almost 1.4 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and is home to 36 rare and endangered species including the Florida Panther, the West Indian Manatee, and the American Crocodile. The everglades has been designated a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance.
The first known human habitation of this area began thousands of years ago.
As early as 1882, parts of the swamp were drained for agricultural and residential use. Beginning in the eary 20th century the water flow from Lake Okeechobee was controlled and diverted because of the explosive growth in Southern Florida. In 1934 the Everglades National Park was established to protect the quickly vanishing Everglades. Establishing a happy balance between people’s desire to live in the area and preserving this important and unique habitat is a complex and emotion-charged issue.
Today Everglades National Park endeavors to protect this fragile ecosystem. The everglades is actually a slow-moving river originating in Lake Okeechobee and fed by the Kissimmee River. This “River of Grass” flows southwest at about .25 miles (0.40 km) per day into Florida Bay. This flow is disrupted, however, by things like the St. Lucie, Miami, and Hillsboro Canals. The park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere. More than 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles live within Everglades National Park. All of South Florida's fresh water, stored in the Biscayne Aquifer, is recharged by the park.
Fondest memory: Watching the Wildlife.
The Great Blue Heron breeds throughout much of the US around water, but it migrates south in the winter.
It is really hard to mistake this bird for any other bird - for one thing it's way bigger than any other bird.
The Great Blue Heron sometimes is white and is called the Great White Heron. But usually the big white birds are Great Egrets. The difference is that a Great Egret has a yellow bill and black legs while a Great Blue Heron has a yellow bill and YELLOW legs.
The Great White Herons also have a single white plume extending back from above eye which the Great Egret does not have.
Fondest memory: I saw a Great Blue Heron at the Anhinga Trail which was behaving most peculiarly. It had its wings held out along his body (kind of like a guy in a raincoat who was exposing himself), and he was kind of warbling. It's the next to last picture in my Travelogue.
I also got a really close up picture at Shark Valley. This picture resulted from my not being able to unzoom my digitial camera quickly enough to get the whole bird in the picture, but you can really see the head plumes well.
When we first visited the Everglades in 1967, I found the tree snails fascinating. We saw many tree snails in Mahogany Hammock (second photo). This time, we didn't see any at any location.
Development that eliminates the habitat, Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 which destroyed much of the protected habitat (as much as 80% of the Wild Tamarind Trees were downed), overcollection, and spraying for insects (when the snails ingest the pesticide on the tree and die) have reduced the numbers of the snails to the point where the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission has named the Florida Tree Snail a “Species of Special Concern.” By law, this designation protects them, dead or alive, from collection: a threat more easily controlled than development.
Fondest memory: Tree Snails or Liguus snails come in more than 50 different color varieties ranging from nearly solid dark brown, to varieties boldly striped with pink, yellow and green, to solid white - they are often called the jewels of the Everglades. The snails feed on lichen found on trees with smooth bark such as Wild Tamarind, Lysiloma and Jamaica Dogwood. During the dry season, the snails estivate, emerging only after a rainstorm. Tree snails breed, lay eggs, and grow more rapidly during the wet season.
A good book to read about these snails is The Liguus Tree Snails of South Florida (Hardcover) by Henry T. Close. The species, Liguus fasciatus, is the most widespread of all the Liguus. Distributed throughout Cuba, Isle of Pines, the nearby coastal islets and keys off the North coast of Cuba, South Florida, and the Florida Keys.
We did not see Rosette Spoonbills in the park, or at least not close enough for photographs until we went to Shark Valley. We did see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The second picture is Audubon's representation from the Audubon House (really the Geiger House) in Key West. It is one of his famous "Birds of America" prints. The other four pictures are from the shark valley tram. I have seen them in flight and have mistaken them for flamingos which are also pink.
They are social and live and nest in colonies. Spoonbill nests are generally located in dense red mangrove stands. They don't seem particularly afraid of people, the nests are not generally visible from outside the colony. The Roseate Spoonbill is one of the key indicator species for restoration of the estuarine system.
Fondest memory: Spoonbills have a very long bill that is shaped like a spoon. They move their beaks side to side in the water to catch small fish and insects. I am told that they make very weird noises when they eat.
Everglades Racer (Coluber constrictor paludicola) or Southern Black Racer which I saw at the Coe Visitor's Center. Another lady was watching it, so I took several pictures. The first picture shows only the front part of the snake - it was quite a bit longer than shows in this photo. More of it is in the second photo.
The range of the Everglades Racer is the southern end of Florida including the Florida Keys, but also a small area around Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral on the east coast of central Florida. The racers in the rest of Florida are considered to be a different subspecies, the Southern Black Racer. The differences between the two subspecies are very subtle (Everglades Racers aren't usually as dark, their chins are usually less white, and their eyes are usually yellowish rather than orangish or reddish), so it seems likely that this division might be artificial.
Fondest memory: Description: Average adult size is 20-56 inches (50-142 cm). Adult color typically is slate gray, but many specimens are brownish-gray, bluish, or greenish. The chin and throat are white. The belly is grayish to uniform black. The body is slender and the scales are smooth, and there are 17 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The pupil is round. Juvenile color is gray with distinct reddish brown blotches fading into a solid-colored tail.
Range: In Florida, it is found in the Everglades region and throughout the southern peninsula and northern Florida keys. It is also found near Cape Canaveral in Brevard Co., FL. It is not found outside of Florida.
Habitat: Commonly found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, prairies, cypress strands, melaleuca forests, and limestone outcroppings.
Comments: , though they will readily bite to defend themselves.
When I googled Florida Panthers, the first site that came up was for the ice hockey team.
Opportunities to see the living Florida panther animals are uncommon. Even though there are panther crossing signs on the main park road (second picture), the only ones I saw were a stuffed one in the visitor's center of Big Cypress National Preserve (third picture), and this statue of one at the Coe Visitor's Center.
The Federally listed endangered panther needs large wilderness areas for its survival. The Florida panther is down to 30 to 50 individuals because of habitat loss, collisions with cars, inbreeding, and high levels of mercury in their prey.
Most of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.
Fondest memory: We went to an evening ranger lecture at the Long Pine Key campgrounds, where the ranger explained that these large, tawny cats are actually a subspecies of mountain lion. She showed us slides and gave us a quiz with 16 T/F questions which were designed to point out misconceptions about panthers. Because the first four were true, Bob thought all the questions were true, so he told me to put that. I thought some were false (like that a panter could leap 10 feet up into a tree with a calf in its jaws). He got 11 out of the 16 right, and I got 13 right.
Favorite thing: Everglades has two seasons: dry (mid-December through mid-April) and wet (the rest of the year). The park schedules most of its activities in the dry winter season. During the wet season hot, humid weather and clouds of mosquitoes can make visiting the park extremely uncomfortable. To fully enjoy this park you will have to get out of your cars and explore the outdoors, so weather is a factor in your enjoyment.
The Everglades area Chamber of Commerce is located in Everglades City. You may request information from the chamber by writing P.O. Box 130, Everglades City, Florida 34139 or calling (800) 914-6355. When you enter the park make your first stop at one of the visitor centers, look at the exhibits and pick up handouts for hiking, canoeing, and biking trails. Watch the short film for a good introduction to the park. Talk to the staff who can help you plan your stay and answer your questions about the park facilities and activities. You may wish to arrange a boat tour, rent a boat, register for a backcountry stay, or attend a naturalist led walk from some of the visitor centers. The main visitor center is the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, which is the park headquarters and located near the entrance gate along highway 9336. Website: www.nps.gov/ever
Fondest memory: Walking out on a boardwalk at night with flashlights looking for the reflections of the bright red eyes of alligators and listening to the night sounds.
The White-crowned Pigeon is a locally abundant resident of the Florida Keys and the southern mainland tip from April to September. So this is one bird which you may see more during the summer than the winter when populations decrease to only a fraction of summer numbers because they migrate to the Caribbean. The species is threatened in Florida as well as throughout much of its Caribbean distribution. Over hunting has reduced its numbers in the Caribbean. In Florida, its decline is due to habitat destruction; and it is listed as a threatened species by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
White-crowned Pigeons feed almost exclusively on the fruit of tropical hardwood trees. Poisonwood, blolly, short-leaf fig, and strangler fig are extremely important, especially during the breeding season. After the breeding season, fruiting trees such as strongbark, snowberry, mastic, pigeon plum, and sea grape are also important. So protection of these hardwoods is necessary if the species is to continue.
Fondest memory: Identification Tips:
* Length: 11 inches
* Sexes similar
* Large pigeon
* Dark plumage
* White crown
* Range restricted to south Florida
Darker than Rock Dove and has white crown.
This pigeon is most often seen in flight or perched in trees. It rarely visits the ground. Look for it around Eco Pond, the Bear Lake Road, Snake Bight Trailhead, and Nine-Mile Pond, especially in early morning hours. Be careful not to be lured into a poisonwood thicket to see it. This picture was taken near the Flamingo Visitor's Center
Favorite thing: You may be surprised (or not) to learn this, but there are no sharks in shark valley. Instead, here you will find a 15 mile paved road which you can traverse on foot, if so inclined, in a tram or by bicycle. The road leads to an observation tower and passes areas where alligators, birds and, if you're lucky, key deer may be found.
I always try to get up early whenever I travel and wherever I go. But it is especially important to be an early riser when your expectations include wildlife.
All diurnal animals like a bit of breakfast and all of them (except for homo sapiens) rise at dawn. Therefore, it is most beneficial if you can be in place when they first begin their search for breakfast. In this particular case, it meant I was on the road driving the Tamiami Trail eastward at 4:30 a.m. Gave me the opportunity for a nice sunrise along with glorious birding.
Everglades National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site as well as an International Biosphere Reserve. This area is endangered as the life sustaining water from Lake Ochechobee is diverted, in large measure, to support the growing population of South Florida. The population expansion into western areas of South Florida has also threatened the landscape. The area now known as Weston was once part of the Everglades.
Due to conservation measures, further development and construction of the Everglades has been prohibited. The challenge of meeting the needs of the human population and preserving the landscape of this protected environment continues in the Everglades, much as it continues in many of our national parks and protected areas.
The white ibis is unmistakable, and actually is fairly common. It is a sociable bird and travels in flocks and eats little crayfish and fish eggs. Immatures also travel with the flocks - they are brown above and white below, with brown bill and legs.
I have seen flocks in the Florida Keys around the Trumbo Point trailers in Key West, and at the Marathon end of the Seven Mile Bridge. I've also seen them as far north as Southport NC along the ICW. They have been counted for the Audubon Breeding count (in June) all along the east coast from the south border NC south to Florida, and all around the Gulf Coast.
Fondest memory: The main idenification point is the long, decurved bill white body plumage in the adult (with black tips to outer primaries), with the bill and facial skin and legs (in the breeding season) red or pinkish red.
The name I think of first when I see an Ibis is Curlew, but curlews are much smaller (although they also have the decurved bill).
If you are old enough to remember the L'il Abner Smoo, the body looks a bit like the smoo.
The egrets were hunted almost to extinction to provide plumes for ladies hats. I think that the snowy egret's plumes are the most spectacular, especially in the breeding season.
The yellow feet look a little bit like clown shoes (I've emphasized them digitally in this picture as otherwise they tend to blend in with the mangrove roots.) but they are a distiguishing mark to differentiate from the immature little blue heron. I'm told that they walk through mud shuffling their feet and stirring up the little mud creatures.
In the winter, the Snowy Egrets are mainly in Florida. They have a more extensive breeding grounds in the summer though - along the Gulf Coast, in California, Utah and Oklahoma, and a few up in the Delaware NJ area.
Fondest memory: Cattle Egret (which is an introduced - non-native species often seen along the interstates) is smaller, with shorter, yellow or orange bill and pale legs. The Reddish Egret can be similar as an immature bird, but has a much larger bill, blue-gray legs. The immature Little Blue Heron doesn't have the yellow feet nor the shaggy plumes.
The little blue herons are so aggressively BLUE that they look to me almost like bridesmaids shoes that have been dyed to match. It seems like they couldn't be naturally that color.
I think they have purple heads, but the ID list says that is chestnut. In this picture the chesnut of the head is less visible.
IME they are less common than the Tricolor Heron (and I find that I have been confusing them with the Tricolor Heron which of course has a white belly so it is pretty easy to tell them apart), but they are still pretty common.
Fondest memory: The Patuxent Wildlife Bird Identification List says
* Blue-gray black-tipped bill
* Head and neck blue-gray like body
* Lacks shaggy neck plumes
* White body plumage
* Blue-gray tips to the outer primaries visible from below when bird is in flight
* Gray lores
* Black-tipped bill usually with blue-gray base, but occasionally yellow or flesh
* In their first spring or first summer, immatures start gaining the adults' dark plumage and can be mottled with blue-gray and white.
Adults are similar only to Reddish Egret, which is much larger and bigger-billed, and has a paler reddish neck, shaggier neck, and head plumes and blue-gray legs. Immature Snowy Egrets are similar to immature Little Blues but have black legs with a yellow stripe up the back, yellow feet, and yellow lores, and lack the blue-gray primary tips, and, usually, lack the two-toned bill. Adult white morph Reddish Egrets can be similar to immature Little Blues but are much larger, have blue-gray legs, shaggy neck and head plumes and a pink base to the bill. Immature white morph Reddish Egrets can be separated by the larger bill, bluish legs, and lack of blue-gray primary tips.