Saturday, November 1, 2008

Everglades - South

On Friday, October 24, we left the Keys and drove into the southern part of the Everglades. Our first stop was the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, where we planned the rest of our visit. It sounded like there were several good nature trails to walk.

Next we headed to the Royal Palm Visitor Center, where two trails began. First we walked the Anhinga Trail, where sure enough, we got great views of anhingas.

First we saw a female.

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Nearby was a male.

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Further along the trail, we saw a tree with lots of air plants in it – plants that grow in the air, rather than out of soil. This particular plant collects blowing debris from the air for nutrients.

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Next we saw the most interesting sight yet: a sleeping alligator with a huge bulge in its belly!

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It must have eaten something big and swallowed it whole. Now it was sleeping it off as its digestive system went to work. When we asked a ranger about it later, he speculated that it might have been a big bird.

On the way back to the trailhead, we saw another anhinga drying its wings in the breeze.

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And then we saw these two bugs, looking quite busy.

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Next we walked the Gumbo Limbo Trail through a hardwood hammock. The Pinelands Trial was up next, and here we happened upon a park ranger who was cutting out the poisonwood near the trail to prevent hikers from brushing up against it. The Everglades’ main season starts in November, so the once-a-year poisonwood clearing was going on now in preparation for the season.

The ranger was near the end of his workday and nearly finished with his pruning, so he offered to show us some tree snails. As it turned out, he walked us through the entire trail, naming plants along the way, but the most amazing part was definitely the tree snails. We found dozens of them, right about at eye level, with gorgeous colorings and markings. Yellow/brown stripes and pink tips were characteristic of some of the snails in this hammock.

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But the ranger said that the coloring is specific to the hammock – in a different hammock, the snails would be colored completely differently. As it gets closer to winter, the snails will climb up higher in the trees, eating lichens that grow on the trees along the way.

We also came across an orb spider, which was enormous – maybe three inches across, including the legs. It looked big and scary, but the ranger said we didn’t need to be too concerned, so Brian got in close for a picture.

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Our next trail was the Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail, where we got an overview of the “river of grass”.

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On the Mahogany Hammock Trail, we found more snails. They indeed had different colors – they were far less interesting than those on the Pinelands Trail.

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Finally, we reached the Flamingo area at the end of the road. We checked out the visitors center, which was most interesting for the osprey nest on top.

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We set up camp in the Flamingo campground, which seemed unexciting but functional. The only disturbing thing was the vultures – there were dozens of them, likely attracted by the many fishermen at work near the campground, or maybe by the several-days-dead rotting-fish smell emanating from the dumpster near our campsite.

After dark, though, it got exciting, and not in a good way – we were soon in a cloud of bugs! Mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and various others swarmed. In our tent, it sounded like it was drizzling outside, but the sound wasn’t raindrops; it was bugs running into the rainfly. Each time we opened the tent to get in or out, we spent the next 15 minutes killing the dozens of bugs that came in uninvited.

The next morning, we set a new speed record packing up the tent, and we headed out. We saw some more great birds on the way out, including this red-shouldered hawk.

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Caroline climbed up, up, up to the high mountain pass that separated the campground from the park entrance. Finally, with Caroline wheezing, we reached Rock Reef Pass, elevation three feet.

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We weren’t sure if the sign was a joke or serious. Can a place really be called a pass if it’s only three feet above sea level? Anyway, Caroline cruised down the other side of the pass and we left the park.

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