Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Everglades much degraded but still wonderful

On Saturday morning we set off for the Everglades National Park. Some ten years ago we had stayed at the Flamingo Lodge deep within the park, an old-fashioned white clapboard building with a restaurant overlooking the bay, but when we tried to make reservations we learned that it had been destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Instead we registered at another motel in Florida City which turned out to be a dump. (Warning: gives misleading information and charges substantial services fees for making a reservation for you!)

Driving along the Tamiami Trail  we saw many Anhingas. With their wings spread to dry they look like ancient royalty.

The Tamiami Trail, opened to traffic in 1928, cuts through the Everglades. Ever since it has been choking off the flow from Lake Okeechobee further north through a slow-flowing shallow 100 mile wide  "River of Grass", depriving animals and plants of  the fresh water vital for their survival. The park has been further degraded by the damage done by hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Wilma and Katrina in 2005, breaking many tropical hardwood trees, destroying  royal palms and pine trees. Also, the damage done to the mangrove forest protecting the coast allowed saltwater to flood into local ponds wiping out the vegetation sustaining the birds.

Finally some of it is being rectified.   I just read in the Miami Harold about a long bridge to be built on low pylons:

"The recent groundbreaking for a one-mile bridge over Tamiami Trail paves the way to recovering the abundant colonies of roseate spoonbills, other wading birds and healthy wildlife populations that once flourished in the Everglades"

"When complete in 2013, the one-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail will reconnect freshwater flows through Northeast Shark River Slough into Everglades."

We reached the park driving past miles and miles of flat industrialized farm land that too used to be part of the Everglades. I remember the park as being fairly lush with low bushes and trees lining the road and scattered hammocks of tall trees. It looks much less impressive now.

Driving into the visitors' center we were greeted by a committee of Black Vultures congregating on the lawn around the parking lot.

These birds have very strange shoulder epaulets

We continued to Flamingo. The only structure of the former lodge still standing was the concrete building that once held the restaurant and now serves as visitor center. There was also still a general store by the harbor selling sandwiches. People eating at the picnic tables were assiduously watched by a crowd of  Laughing Gulls. Feeding was prohibited.

The air rang with strange bird cries which I finally localized to a couple of osprey nests. I just saw the adults, no chicks. The tide was out and in the distancce in the bay shorebirds were flocking on exposed mudflats.  I  also saw a couple of White Pelicans, the only ones I would see during the entire trip.

A sightseeing boat was just leaving the harbor, depriving me of the only opportunity to get closer to these birds.

At my last visit I had walked to a pond which held wading birds. I remember the miraculous sight of a line of Roseate Spoonbills flying high overhead, lit up by the morning sun. Degraded by saltwater this pond  was no longer worth a visit.  

In the harbor visitors were leaning over the railing watching a manatee whose pales shape could be made out just below the surface. It would occasionally lift its nose above the water. A stone gray saltwater crocodile was resting on the  opposite bank.

Brown Pelicans were floating in the harbor, resting on the mangroves and fishing out in the bay..

Adult BP

Juvenile BP

Adult resting in a mangrove bush

Taking off from the water ...

... and diving for fish

Mid afternoon we left the park with no further stops except at a  roadside pond which held the usual couple of Pied-billed Grebes. This one is in breeding plumage with the black band around the beak:

The next morning we headed out to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the tip of Key Biscayne. We had stopped at the same beach years ago. I remembered it as being almost empty, but was crowded now. This time the area was devoid of wild life - no gulls or other seabirds  - except around the parking lot where I found a flock of immature White Ibises, varying in color from a protective brown to almost white.

After a brief visit there we decided to drive back to Naples skipping visiting a friend in Miami because of traffic congestion - many roads had been sealed off for a marathon run.

We headed back to the Tamiami Trail. Traffic was moderate. Suddenly ahead of us a  Little Blue Heron were standing by a dead heron that apparently had just been struck by a car. The Little Blue Heron flew off as we approached. It was sad. I wondered, what had been the bond between them, parent, mate....?

To be continued with a final post about a sunset visit to the old pier in Naples


  1. in an old field guide I have, they called the anhinga a water-turkey. Your photo shows why, those tail feathers look just like turkey feathers.

  2. JoAnne, you are right. I didn't know that. On the Florida Historical Society website the translation for Anhinga, a Brazilian Tupi word, is given as Snakebird. I guess "water turkey" was just too ordinary.

  3. I never noticed the epaulettes on the Black Vultures before—nice shots! And the "snakebird" term for Anhingas comes from the way they look when they swim: their bodies are completely submerged, and only their snake-like necks and heads are visible. Very cool birds!

  4. Nice mix of photos.

    The Anhinga is very nice, a bird I only see when I can travel south. (Ontario has had one Anhinga that showed up a few years ago, a very confused individual)

    Cheers, Harold

  5.! You have a lot of info here, Hilke! Looks like a wonderful trip. I especially love the Anhinga and vulture shots! I'd like to make it to the Everglades one of these days...


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