Archive for January, 2015

The Everglades Adventure!

I can’t even begin to tell you what an absolute delight Everglades National Park was! I was feeling a bit down from leaving behind a wonderful community in St. Philip’s and missing my sister-in-law and brother in Houston, and catching some of the first National Parks at the end of autumn when things are a bit dark. And truth be told, I wasn’t really looking forward to the Everglades because it doesn’t have any mountains, but rather scary alligators!

alligator-face-to-face

This “wee” fellow needs a teeth brushing! An American Alligator trying to win me with his pearly whites! He was seen off highway 41 in one of the canals!

 

But I had heard told through Patrick via Sherrie that I should see them if for no other reason than it may not exist in a couple of decades. The Everglades are fed from the water coming southward through Florida. As the population grows the water is siphoned off to take care of those folks. As a result the Everglades aren’t getting the water it used to get. But there are interventions and schemes that are being utilized that are starting to address that problem. So all that to say, I went ahead and ventured southward away from all the mountains to see this “swampland”!

An American White Ibis on an average day spends 10.25 hours looking for food, 0.75 hours flying, 13 hours resting, roosting, and attending to their nests. I found him here felling for his food in the shallow waters with his long orange beak...it makes for a very dirty beak!

An American White Ibis on an average day spends 10.25 hours looking for food, 0.75 hours flying, 13 hours resting, roosting, and attending to their nests. I found him here feeling for his food in the shallow waters with his long orange beak…it makes for a very dirty beak!

When I first arrived everything was closed up and I wasn’t seeing much. A Zebra butterfly, an egret, and a heron. But boy oh boy, once I got to Royal Palm Trail…whatever you do…take it! Lots of neat birds and a few water dwellers.

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An Anhinga (or sometimes called a Snake Bird because when he swims, only his long neck pops out of the water which then looks like a snake) drying his wings. They are not able to waterproof its feathers like ducks, as a result their feathers can become waterlogged, making the bird heavy and barely buoyant. However, this allows it to dive easily and search for underwater prey, such as fish and amphibians. It can stay down for significant periods. It will perch for long periods with its wings spread to allow the drying process. If it attempts to fly while its wings are wet, it has great difficulty getting off the water and takes off by flapping vigorously while “running” on the water.

 

Herons of every sort abounded. Double-crested, white, blue, purple, green back, white egrets, snowy egrets, white ibis, etc. It was really jaw-dropping for me. I hadn’t ever seen these kind of critters before! And the lily pads had flowers in all phases of bloom.

Green-backed-heron

What a beauty this rare Green Backed Heron was to see! They are smaller than the other herons. This fellow is perched upon branches waiting for food to appear. Sometimes they drop food, insects, or other small objects on the water’s surface to bait fish, making them one of the few known tool-using species. This feeding method has earned the Green Heron the ranking of being among the world’s most intelligent birds.

 

I only saw a baby alligator hidden in the grass by the board walk. And oddly enough, though they were what tried to thwart me from going to southern Florida, I was disappointed to only get a glimpse of a baby, and that only his eye! (that disappointment would be more fully addressed when I got to Big Cypress National Preserve!)

heron-in-flight

A White Heron in flight in the Everglades swamp area. There are better still shots of the heron but this is the best in-flight I got of a Heron cause they pretty much stand very still for long periods of time waiting for food to swim their way!

 

My camera started acting a wee bit odd…only focusing on the right side of the lens. Instead of centering a pic it always has the object on the left side…it’s a marvel how adaptive the human brain is. Even after it corrected itself (by switching out lenses and going back to it) I still found myself pointing to the left side! I wish all habits were so easy to form!

purple-gallinule

I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was to come upon this Purple Gallinule. What a colorful creature he is! He is also called the Purple Swamphen! I just want to eat his cyan colored candy corn shield!

 

After the Royal Palm trail I drove 30 more miles down to Flamigo Visitor Center and campground. I saw two birds that just make me smile every time I look at them. I don’t know why. They didn’t do anything funny but there cute faces just pulls a string on the corners of my mouth. The pelican and the stork!

Brown Pelican

A Brown Pelican at the marina at Flamigo Bay in the Everglades. Wikipedia agrees with me about how cheering they can be when they say “Pelicans are very gregarious birds!” They walk into the room and you just want to smile! They are exceptionally buoyant due to the internal air sacks beneath their skin and in their bones, and as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land.

 

stork2

I’m pretty sure this guy is a stork, but I don’t know what kind. Whatever he is, every time I look at this picture, I just smile. He is so doggone cute!

 

Once I arrived at Flamigo Bay I was able to watch a manatee and crocodile swim around and two tourist canoe out to the crocodile to say hi. I must confess I was very nervous for them. But those critters are more still than even the herons!

Manatees were seen at Flamigo Bay at Everglades, as well as off the Biscayne Coastal part of the Park, and then in Big Cypress National Preserve there was a mom and dad and two kids!

Manatees were seen at Flamigo Bay at Everglades, as well as off the Biscayne Coastal part of the Park, and then in Big Cypress National Preserve there was a mom and dad and two kids!

All of sudden an Osprey launched from his perch in a tree and dived down to the water, but came up empty handed. He then headed to the top of a pole where a nest was positioned half way up. And he squawked and squealed for a good 20 minutes. I was able to get some good shots of him, but never saw any wee ones that perhaps he was trying to protect.

seahawk

Osprey (Seahawk or Fish Eagle) doing his best 12th-man impression with all the squawking and squealing he was doing! The Osprey is unusual in that it is a single living species that occurs nearly worldwide…I first met an Osprey in Wyoming and now have seen them down in southern Florida!

 

I then headed to the campground where they had solar heated showers. Ahhhh! No matter if mosquitoes were swarming…there is something about a hot shower that puts the world aright! I met up with a couple with two toddlers who had camped there the night before but were packing up. Their youngest had gotten bitten all over, so sweet was she. She didn’t seem to mind as she just kept playing in the dirt and enjoying the smores and camping. But they headed home a day early to avoid those pesky fellows. While they were packing up, I was unpacking and lo and behold, who should come a gawking…a red shouldered hawk right over my van!

red-shoulder-hawk-back

The beautiful backside of a Red Shouldered Hawk…keeping watch over my campsite at Flamigo Bay in the Everglades. He is the most commonly seen and heard raptor species in Florida…but he picked me to keep an eye on!

 

red-shoulder-hawk-front-full

The front view of a Red-Shoulder Hawk

 

It was a good thing that family packed it up. It rained a storm alright. I was in my van. But it got quite a bit hot in my van, so I opened the door and had a citronella candle burning at the edge of my side door. No worries, said I, I won’t fall asleep. But alas! I did. And I was wakened by the rain putting out the candle and getting my Walmart popcorn soggy! As well as getting my mattress wet! I guess you could say that was one way to beat the heat!

red-shoulder-hawk-in-flight

Marvelous creature this guy is…I saw a different Red Shoulder Hawk bump into a seagull in flight…the seagull had to go through concussion protocol before he got back up off the ground!

 

While at the Everglades I visited Biscayne National Park, but they were not taking folks to the keys because of the high waves.

big-blue-at-biscayne

Big Blue at the entrance of Biscayne National Park. I’ll have to come back again in order to get to see the keys part of this park.

 

So I only got to see the coastal part of it, which was mostly mangroves, manatees, lizards, land birds, a dog named Charlie who loves to swim, and several fisherpeople. But no dolphins!

charlie-the-ocean-dog

Little Charlie going for a swim in the ocean while his owner fishes. I think he jumped in to try and impress me…see the way he’s looking at me…”Say lady, did you get that shot of me diving in the ocean and going swimming?!”

 

After a few nights there I headed up to the north part of the Everlgades along the Tamiami Trail Scenic Byway (named after the two cities it connects—Tampa and Miami) through Big Cypress National Preserve.

tamiami_map

(I was going to go to Key West, but my transmission is acting odd between 1st and 2nd gear, so thought better of it and decided to stick to my original design of just hitting the national parks!)

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Big Blue entering into Big Cypress National Preserve…what a worthwhile trip that was! Gobs of alligators too! And it is where the Florida Panther can be most frequently seen…though I didn’t get to see one.

 

That is where the alligators were hanging out along the side of the road! A family of manatees, anhingas drying their wings, egrets. But the most remarkable thing I saw was a cormorant splishing and splashing. I didn’t know what was going on, but I just started snapping photos, and truthfully, I didn’t know fully what I was seeing until I got back to my van that night and uploaded the photos on my computer…incredible scenario of a cormorant fetching dinner (a catfish) going on…all the while alligators were silently and immovably looking on.

kormorant-cat-fish-catch

A cormorant went down and pierced a catfish with his very sharp beak. It doesn’t look like he has a very good grip on this guy though.

 

kormorant-cat-fish-pierced

This picture shows what type of fish it that is being pierced by this cormorant…look at those whiskers!

 

kormorant-cat-fish-in-bw-bill

After piercing the cat fish with his beak, the cormorant then tossed it up in the air, I think, and caught it in between his beak

 

kormorant-cat-fish-half-swallowed

One more toss of the catfish by this cormorant (who kept going back under water with it) and he catches it head first as it goes down his gullet. A bit gruesome and yet rather remarkable. I couldn’t believe the shots I got because it was happening all so fast and I just started clicking away. A day is coming when the catfish will lie down with the cormorant (or something like that!)

 

After passing the smallest post office in the USA, I then headed north to Ocala National Forest again and stopped at Ivan’s and Nina’s for another night of soft bed, laundry facilities and hot shower!

big-blue-and-ochopee-smallest-USPO

Big Blue at Ochopee Post office (the smallest PO in the USA!)…a baby post office sitting in the middle of the wide, wild Everglades!

 

Hopefully my next blog I will be able to finish up the rest of my 2014 travels which go through Pensacola, up to Georgia again, Smoky Mountains again and then to Nashville, Hot Springs for just one night (cause it was getting too cold), and then to Houston!

kormorant-full

A close up of the catfish hunting cormorant (not the very same one though!). I love his incredibly blue sapphire eyes…though I wouldn’t want to mess around with that dagger-beak of his!

 

I hope to head out to Big Bend hopefully the beginning of February after Clay’s installation and trying to work round the clock to get enough money to pay off the IRS from last year. No exploring or socializing until that crazy self-employment tax gets paid off!

purple-heron-full

Punk rocker Purple Heron after a rain storm…only the alligator stays more still than they do!