Monday, February 20, 2017

2/18 Shark Valley Loop Again

Yup, I return to a lot of places more than once.  This area is one of my favorites because it has a 15 mile paved bike trail where you can be alone in the river of grass--even if only for a few minutes until a tram or other bikers come by.  Otherwise, it is just you, the alligators, and the birds.  AND, if you have a senior pass and bring your own bike, it is free.  Can't beat that. 

So, this time it was especially fun because my younger cousin who lives in Florida met me here.  She had never been here, while I have been here at least 6 or 7 times. 

I actually have five cousins who live in Florida with their families, and I doubt if any of them have ever been here.  Wow!  You Florida folks are missing some of the best places in your state, so get out there!!!  Shark Valley is part of Everglades National Park, so it requires a pass, and if you are at least 62, you can get one for $10 that is good for your entire lifetime--much better deal than Disney! 

Here is my cousin taking some photos of alligators at the beginning of the western part of the loop.

 
The rest of the photos today will be birds and alligators.  One of the best parts of this loop is that you can get so close to all of the wildlife.  This is a black-capped night heron.


This one is a real puzzle.  It looks maybe like a juvenile something--maybe a black-capped night heron? If not, it might be a blue heron with its neck tucked in.

I counted about a dozen baby alligators, but they are so curled up together, there could be more.  Mama was about 6 feet long, and hanging around a few feet away.  Alligators are excellent mothers and guard their babies for several months or until they get big enough to not be such an easy snack for birds and male alligators.

Another mystery bird.  Wish they would pose better.

 
Nice, empty road!

One of the many alligators warming up in the sun right next to the bike trail.  We easily saw 40-50 alligators this day even though I took photos of only a few.

Mixed flock of birds.  The small ones are ibises and the bigger ones are word storks.

Close-up of the ibis and wood storks.

Black asphalt is warmer than green grass.



At the far end of the loop, there is an observation tower, with a terrific view of the road we came up on. 

Here comes the tram!!  It's a good alternative for people who cannot ride bikes.  You also get a running commentary on the ride.

Lots of alligators sunning themselves below the tower.

Another mystery bird.


Looking south into the heart of the Everglades.

 
Tomorrow I start heading north, very slowly, to Michigan and Ohio, arriving by Easter.  In early May, I will be heading west and will probably be staying there for at least the next couple of years. However, I will miss this place and all the other critter places in Florida.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

2/16 Midway Campground Again

Yes, been here before.  I post more photos just because it is one of my favorites in Florida--quiet, well-taken-care-of, paved roads, uncrowded campsites, and surprisingly, lots to do in the area, assuming can like birds and alligators.  Just a nice quiet place. 


Every campsite has a palm tree, but this one is especially interesting.  This palm tree has been completely buried by a strangler fig tree.  Stranger figs start out with seeds growing in the crown of a host tree.  It sends runners down to the ground and these runners grow thick and literally strangle the host tree.

In this case, the palm tree in the middle has been completely encased in the fig and is not doing very well.  Eventually the palm will die and the fig will become a free-standing and independent tree. 



I walked my bike across the highway, and here is what I saw under the roadway barrier.  Just taking a nap in the sun to warm up.
 
I would not ride my bike along this highway on a weekend because it is so busy, but it was OK today and I was careful.  Interesting to watch for birds and alligators in the ditch as you ride.  

I'll leave this guy to his nap.

Along the way to the visitors center is the Clyde Butcher Art Gallery.  If you drive the Tamiami Trail and you like black and white photos of the everglades, make sure you stop here.  They also offer occasional wading tours of the area behind the gallery.

 

 
 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2/6 Birds of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

I keep posting about my visits to this place because it is always a little different, and the animals you see each time you visit are certainly different.  I got here at 10:00 am and it was certainly crowded compared to my last visit in November, but I really saw a lot of different birds this visit.  (The boardwalk is 2.5 miles long, so there can be a lot of people and still have private places.)  Seeing so many birds was surprising, especially because the water level is low this time of year.  Not only is Florida having a mild drought, but this time of year, water levels are low anyway because most of the rain falls in the summer.

You can see the rings around the trees where the water would normally be in this photo.

I started out as part of a tour, but they were noisy and I already knew most of what the tour leader was saying, do I left and went ahead where it was quieter.

Low water does not mean no water.  There are always some pools, mostly dug by alligators in the past.

Do you know all those ferns you bought that lost their leaves and looked terrible no matter how many times you watered or sprayed them?  That is because they are used to living in a swamp with high humidity, like this one.

This is a nurse log.  Basically, that means that when a tree dies and falls, seeds fall on it and take root, so it becomes a habitat that is wet but the plants keep their roots out of the water.

I am reminded here of Robert Frost's, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep."

I have no idea what this plant is, but I thought it looked interesting. It has the thick leaves of a succulent, but what is a succulent doing with its roots in water???? And why is it white?  
 
Turtle is sunning himself.

 

The bird on the left is an ibis and the one on the right is a great white egret.  Check out this video to see the very different techniques they use to feed:  https://youtu.be/6NRA3gixepY

This is a grebe.  These little diving birds are VERY hard to photograph because they spend so much time underwater and pop up just where you don't expect them!  I got lucky with this one.

This is an anhinga.  They are diving birds but have no oil glands so they have to dry their wings after each dive.


This little guy puzzled me for a long time. First, he had his head tucked in because he was napping.  Then someone said he was a black-crowned night heron, except his "crown" looks blue, not black. So I did some online research and learned that during the breeding season, these birds have something called "powder down."  These are tiny specialized feather that never molt, so the tips disintegrate into something like talcum powder that sticks to feathers and make black feathers look slate gray!!!  Check it out here and you will see a bird with similar blue-gray feathers:  http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/06/powder-down-and-the-black-crowned-night-heron/

  
There were a few alligators lazing in the sun. 

Can you see the alligator in this photo?  He is very sneaky.


This is a yellow-crowned night heron.  There is a tiny bit of yellow on his head, but what is really distinguishing is the pattern on his wings.

You can see the beautiful pattern on his wings on this view, as he is turned away from us.

This is a tri-colored heron.  It is just a little smaller than the more common great blue heron, but he has a multi-colored beak and white and brown on the front on his neck and down on his chest.  You can see more of the white and brown color on the second photo.  
 

This pretty guy is a snowy egret.  They are very easy to identify because they are the only white birds with a black beak and black legs, with orange feet.  They are smaller than the other herons--about the size of a little blue heron, which I saw but forgot to take a photo of. Imagine a grey-blue heron with a grey beak and grey legs and feet.

Here is another black-crowned night-heron. His feathers look a little darker than the other one.  This one also has stretched his neck up.  Usually these birds sleep during the day, which is why it is so hard to see them.   

Nice profile view!

This is one of my favorite birds--a very pretty green heron!  They are a small bird (about the size of a mourning dove, except with a shorter neck.) and are almost always looking down, as this one is.  He is standing on the base of a small tree with his beak pointed down, poised to stab a fish if one were to come by.  He was only about 20' away in clear view, but I had to point him out to maybe a dozen people who had not noticed him because he was so small and still! 

On the way back to the visitor center, I saw this little snake.  Not sure what kind he was, but he stayed close to the boardwalk so I got some good photos.  Also, saw some raccoons on a tall tree but all my pictures of them were blurry.  Raccoons do not pose well.
 
 It was a great day for bird watching, but my right knee was so sore by the time I left that I could barely walk.  I will be in Midway next week, but it is a long drive back to the Corkscrew, so I will probably focus my time on Shark Valley and the several other places along the Tamiami Trail in the Big Cypress to see birds and other animals.