Earlier this summer my husband and I took a trip to Everglades National Park. We spent the first few days kayaking and camping in the Ten Thousand Islands, a labyrinth of islands and mangrove islets. The hundreds of islets (not thousands, despite the name) are a vast wilderness that harbor an abundance of wildlife.
Here we were able to hop out of our kayak and explore the mangroves. The Everglades contains the largest mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.
This is a cabbage palm tree being encased by a strangler fig. Eventually the fig will grow until the host tree is completely cut off from sunlight and dies.
I love the sight of Spanish moss dangling off of tree branches. Spanish moss is not actually not a moss but an "airplant" with roots that absorb water and nutrients directly from the air.
The day I took this photo, we hired a guide to take us fishing in a small boat. I was amazed that we were able to fit through the tangle of roots and branches in those tiny channels. It involved a lot of maneuvering and ducking.
The animal I most wanted to see the most was a manatee and I wasn't disappointed. We weren't kayaking very long before this gentle giant swam past.
One day we were out fishing and got a bit of a fright. We were in completely calm waters when suddenly a large dark mass appeared in the kayak right next to us and shot off like a cannon, creating a huge splash. My heart started racing and I fleetingly thought it was a big predator. We didn't get a good look at it, but we later figured out that it was likely just a manatee. Although usually sluggish, they can swim up to 20 mph in short bursts. We probably startled him by hovering over him while he was taking a nap.
Just a few minutes after that incident we came upon this group of baby manatees with their mothers. I got a brief glimpse of their whiskery little faces before they took off.
Manatees are endangered and their primary cause of death is collisions with boats. It's very common to see severe propeller scars on their backs. The ones I saw only had some light scarring, fortunately.
Birds are a major attraction in the Everglades. When John James Audubon visited the area in the 1800s, he wrote, "We observed great flocks of wading birds flying overhead toward their evening roosts .... They appeared in such numbers to actually block out the light from the sun for some time." Unfortunately, the bird population has plummeted since those words were written. The feather trade at the turn of the century and later human encroachment on the habitat lead to the bird population shrinking by 90 percent. Protecting the birds was a main impetus for creating this national park.
Today the Everglades is home to over 350 species of birds, including the white ibis...
the snowy egret...
the great blue heron...
and this one whose name I can't remember.
We saw a lot of black vultures. These birds, for some inexplicable reason, love to pull the the rubber off of car windows and windshield wipers. Visitors have taken to covering their windshields with towels or tarps to deter them.
This is an anhinga, also called a snakebird. It often swims with only its head above water, looking like a snake ready to strike.
We saw lots of cormorants bobbing and diving.
The ospreys were particularly fun to watch. We watched them soaring high above the water before tucking in their wings and diving, hitting the water at full force. After catching a fish, the osprey often repositions its prey headfirst to make it more aerodynamic. It is the only raptor with a reversible outer toe, allowing it to grasp its prey with two toes in front and two behind.
Here is a parent with a large chick roosting in their huge nest of sticks.
I saw alligators in the wild for the first time and, boy, did they make me nervous. Sometimes I couldn't see them but I could hear them, grunting a warning from their hiding place behind the tall grasses.
We used a zoom lens from a comfortable distance away.
The babies were out and about. We knew to give them a wide berth, too, because mama was sure to be nearby.
This guy was missing a leg, but otherwise looked healthy and well-fed.
We also saw lots of turtles, like the peculiar soft-shell turtle.
Such a strange little snout, isn't it?
While kayaking, we saw lots of sea turtles. They popped up their heads and looked right at us several times, to my delight. We saw loggerheads and maybe green turtles. This is the best shot I could get. They moved too fast.
On the island where we camped, we spotted these two pits with little footprints leading away from them and realized that they were turtle nests. I wish we had been there to watch the little ones hatch.
Good grief, NYCGirl! You've done some fabulous reports here -- thought almost nothing could ever impress me as much as your Africa reports -- but this is stunning. Incredibly interesting and the photography knocks it out of the park. I'll be returning to savor this again.
That snoutly turtle has way more expression than you ever expect to see on a turtle -- he's like a little dog! Thanks for the i.d. on the grasshopper. I've seen those before, but never knew the name.
I visited a section of the Everglades some years back (I did a thread on it which is on here somewhere, I looked and looked....) Anyway, the terrain, both flora and fauna where I was was radically different and I was frankly a bit disappointed as I was expecting and hoping for an experience much like yours. The Everglades covers a vast swath of land and water and therefore the varied terrains etc. I hope to go again and experience more of what you did. I would so love to see a manatee.
I have so enjoyed reading this and looking at your photos which are, of course, fantastic .
The bird pics are wonderful especially the close up of the vulture, such detail. How lucky you were to see the manatees and turtles. I have never heard of the snout nose turtle , what a peculiar animal - do they just live in salt water areas do you know?
That was a super report Nycgirl with glorious photos to match! I loved all the bird life you showed us. The bird you couldn't identify was a juvenile Green Backed Heron. My bird book shows the 'stripey' chest as the clue to it being a juvenile, whereas the adult has a dull grey bib.
The photo of the turtle with a clear view of the snout is excellent. Many of the turtles pictured in my fresh water threads are the same type of turtle. It's a Florida softshell turtle, if I'm not mistaken. I had never paid much attention to the inside of the snout and had no idea of the structure.
NYCgirl, the park were we were was called Shark Valley. It is about an hour directly West of Miami. It is a paved path that runs for about 15 miles in a circle and we took our bikes to do the ride. The vegetation was indeed prairie like,although there were swamps with wonderful birds and tons of alligators. It was also very hot and there was virtually no shade. The flora was very disappointing.
Thank you all for the kind words. And thanks for the i.d., Tod. I think I called it wrong when I first saw that heron.
Casi, we also rented bikes and rode through Shark Valley. We had a great time spotting the wildlife but it was a scorcher. Have you done the Anhinga trail? I heard good things about it, I might go next time. As I said, though, I consider exploring the mangroves the best thing you could do.
I have never heard of the snout nose turtle , what a peculiar animal - do they just live in salt water areas do you know?
I looked up some info on the Florida softshell turtle and it seems they prefer freshwater but sometimes enter brackish water. Some other interesting facts, by the way: their shells are covered with skin, giving them a leathery look, and they use their long noses like snorkels when they swim.
I also saw a snapping turtle but neglected to get a photo. I was too flustered when he tried to take my finger off! I spotted him crossing a busy street and had my husband pull over so I could move him. As soon as I picked him up, he twisted his neck toward me and tried to chomp my hand! Luckily he missed. I dropped the ingrate off at a safe spot in the grass and went on my way.