Tuesday, January 28, 2020

1/28 Shark Valley Bike RIde

Shark Valley is part of Everglades National Park and not too far from Midway Campground.  It is very popular with bike riders because it has a 15 mile paved loop trail that goes to an observation tower.  You can take a tram ride, ride a bike, or walk on the trail, although walking 15 miles is about 14 miles beyond my capability!  Riding a bike is a very popular option, and if you do not own a bike, you can rent one from the visitor center.  I  got here as soon as it opened because parking for RVs is limited and got the second-to-the-last spot.                  

The visitor center is fairly new.   

This is what the loop trail looks like.  Not many bike riders in the morning, especially when it is foggy.

A great white heron greeted me.

This is a hunched over little blue heron.  He has a long neck and long legs, but they don't show up when it is sitting on a tree branch.

An adult tri-colored heron.  I have trouble distinguishing these from great blue herons because they are about the same size, but this one has a white breast and a little brown on him. 

And here comes the tram!!!  They are noisy and scare some of the birds away. 

And a pair of wood storks just standing around.

I got some good video of what I call the wood stork dance.  Click here to open it.

Another wood stork a couple of hundred feet away.  This one was next to the road and not happy when a pair of bike riders rode by. 

There were a lot of alligators, as usual.  The day started out foggy and then turned sunny, so more alligators came out in the afternoon.  I probably saw 30-40 alligators today.

Another section of the east side of the loop. This side is curvy and does not get as many people riding past, so it is quieter.

What in the heck is this??  The curved beak shows it is an ibis. I think it has to be a juvenile glossy ibis, but it looks almost black.

Ah, one of my favorite Florida birds--a roseate spoonbill.  They are slightly pink because they eat shrimp. 

This is an excellent view of this one's spoonbill.

These birds below really aren't Everglades birds, but they do hang out just about everywhere along the southern coast of the U.S.  The top bird is a female great-tailed grackle, and the bottom bird is the male great-tailed grackle.  Some people call them the parking lot birds because they are often found in parking lots.  They are especially noisy and have a repertoire of sounds--chirps, tweets, whistles, cheeps, and everything in between.  During breeding season, the males do everything they can to impress the females, so are funny to watch.  They strut, bow, fluff their feathers, raise their wings, and dance around, etc.  If they could turn somersaults, they would!!!

Smallish bird with black beak, black legs, and yellow feet makes it clear that this is a snowy egret!! 

Whoever said only birds of a feather flock together???  There are wood storks, ibises, a glossy ibis, and roseate spoonbills getting along nicely in this tiny pond.

Made it to the tower and looking along the straight west loop.

And a view of the more curved east loop.

One of several yellow-crowned night herons that were sitting in a tree.  These are small birds with short legs, so stand out among the long-legged herons and ibises.

This little flock puzzled me until I looked them up.  They are juvenile white ibis.  I am guessing they are last year's chicks. They must be from the same nest because they really stuck together. 

I think these are mud turtles.

This is an American bittern.  It has almost no tail and a short neck.

A green heron, obviously, since this is the only heron which is green.  He is smaller and shorter than a lot of the other herons, and rarer, so I was happy to see him.

Same bird, but all puffed up so you can see his green feathers better.  I watched him walk along the edge of the creek for quiet a while.

I rode my bike almost 16 miles and spent four hours here today!  I saw a lot of birds, but it really pays to go slowly and stop to just look sometimes.  A lot of birds were semi-hidden in the shadows, so not easy to see if you weren't paying attention. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

1/24 Kirby Storter Roadside Park

This is a roadside park on the Tamiami Trail about 10 miles west of my campground.  If you have never stopped, you might easily drive past because you did not need to use the restrooms.  However, this is a LOT more than just a parking lot, picnic area, and restrooms!

First, there is a terrific one-mile roundtrip boardwalk that goes through a bald cypress area to a pond area at the end.  Depending on the time of year, there may not be much water in the pond, but there are a lot of things to see regardless.  

Today, there was a school group from the local Miccosukee Indian School.  The students had finished their walk and were eating a picnic lunch before heading back to school.  I really liked that many of the girls were wearing native skirts.  

I found this place several years ago when I was staying at Midway Campground and could not get cell service for an internet connection.  I was having to drive out every day, and used to alternate between this place and the Oasis Visitor Center.  I could get work done and go for a walk to check out the wildlife afterwards.  The school buses were taking up my usual spot, but I found this place to park in. 

The boardwalk begins in a grassy area, with only a few dwarf bald cypress.  They are dwarfed because there is very little soil here, which means few nutrients available to them. 

This photo shows how the limestone base is very close to the surface here.  Places with more water, in other words, places that are lower, tend to accumulate more soil over time, but this area is only a couple of feet above sea level.  Florida, by the way, is almost entirely built on limestone, which is very old sea floor.  Tree roots have difficulty burrowing into limestone, so they tend to be dwarfed. 

Not too far from the highway,  but you really feel isolated and can enjoy the quiet here. 

Here is a closeup of a dwarf bald cypress that is about 12' high.  This one has not lost all of its leaves, but it will regrow a new set starting in March or April.    

It was warm today, in high 70s, but at least ten degrees cooler in this little hut. 

As it gets wetter and lower, the trees get bigger. 

Nice little patch of ferns. 

Some kind of a snake hiding in the plants in the wettest area.  I think he was a brown water snake, but mostly he was snoozing.

This young alligator was hard to find, but he was only about 2' long, and maybe one of last year's babies. 

Can you see the tiny lizard on the branch in the middle.  He did not like his picture taken. 

And this dried stuff on the tree is resurrection fern.  It looks dead most of the year, but perks up and looks alive with just a little rain.  

1/23 Midway Campground, Big Cypress Reserve

Midway Campground is truly in the middle of nowhere.  It is literally "midway" between Miami and Naples on the Tamiami Trail, or U.S. 41.  There is electricity at sites, with a water fill and a dump station, and sites are paved with a paved roadway, but that is about it as far as amenities go.

However, the isolation makes this an extremely quiet place, with very dark skies.  I came in after dark, but this is how the approach looks in the daytime.  No lights marking this place after dark, by the way, so it is very hard to find.  And if I had not been here several times before, I never could have found the entrance or the water fill station.  As it was, I needed help backing into my site, but found a couple of people with flashlights wandering around who helped me out. 


The campground is far away enough from the highway that you don't hear traffic even during the day.  There is very little traffic at night anyway. 

The camp hosts said this pond is supposed to be 40' deep.  It was probably dug out to get some rock and sand to build something.  Such pits are called "borrow" pits because the contents are borrowed for construction.   And notice how clear the water is.  Never let anyone tell you that a swamp has dirty water in it!  Any swamp I have seen has always contained crystal clear water. 

Notice the trees behind my motorhome are missing their leaves.  These are bald cypress and indicative of very soggy land.  Sites also have cement patios and picnic tables which are chained down, which is silly because they are made of something very, very heavy and can't be moved anyway.  

Each campsite gets a personal palm tree, which is a bonus.  And the grass is nicely mowed.  The ground opposite the campsites is very hard, so you can easily drive on it when backing into a site or leaving.  

This sign was just across from my campsite. 

And here is the culprit.  I am used to being able to bird-watch from campsites, but this is the first time I can alligator-watch from inside my motorhome.  I saw someone else taking photos along the pond, so I ran out to catch this guy.  He or she was about 6' long, but thin, so I assume it was a fairly young alligator.  The camp hosts said they had only seen one alligator so maybe this one has the whole pond to himself or herself.

 Oasis Visitor Center

The Oasis Visitor Center is three miles west of the campground.  It is right along Tamiami Trail and one of the best free places to view alligators in Florida.  I have never stopped by there without seeing at least a dozen adult alligators.

The visitor center is on the right and there is a boardwalk that runs along the enlarged ditch that goes along the highway.  It is popular with big alligators and birds because it also is full of big and little fish. 

A lot of tour buses and travelers stop here for the rest rooms and to get information, but the boardwalk is a bonus. 

This anhinga had caught a fish and was having problems getting it into the correct head-first position to swallow it.  He was also hitting it repeatedly against the rock. The problem was a large white heron waiting for it to drop it so it could steal the fish. Below is a still photo, but click here to see a video of the anhinga hitting the fish against the rock, I assume to kill it????

This anhinga was drying its wings.  It is not a duck and so does not have oiled wings.  While swimming, its wings get soaked so it has to dry them out before it can fly.

I think this is a black-crowned night heron, though it seems darker than most.

The breeding plumage on this great blue heron is impressive.  

This is a young, slim alligator similar to the one swimming in the campground pond.