with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park
Address: 40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, FL 33034-6733

Phone: 305-242-7700

Web Page:NPS Everglades National Park or Everglades National Park main site

How to get there: By car, the main entrance and Flamingo Visitors Centers can be found by leaving Miami and points north via the Florida Turnpike (Route 821) south until it ends, merging with U.S. 1 at Florida City. Turn right at the first traffic light onto Palm Drive (State Road 9336/SW 344th St.) and follow the signs to the park.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day every day and visitor centers are open all year 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Best Time: Winter is the best for access, cooler temperatures, bird migration, and mating seasons. The Atlantic Hurricane Season is June-November bringing tropical storms or hurricanes which may affect your visit and the accessible areas. Excessive winter rains and occasional storms can bring flooding.

Famous for: Only subtropical preserve in North America, Everglades National Park was designated a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance.

How to visit: Begin at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, open all year from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. (Phone – 305-242-7700), located four miles west of the main entrance station. Features exhibits and information and ranger-led walks and programs, giving you a good starting point. Home of the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails. There is no public transportation within the park or to the park. Wear mosquito repellent and protective clothing.

Habitat: The park covers 1,508,570 acres of both temperate and tropical plant communities, including sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, pinelands, and hardwood hammocks, as well as marine and estuarine environments.

Wildlife: The park is known for its rich bird life, particularly large wading birds, such as the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, great blue heron and a variety of egrets. It is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.

Thursday, February 13, 1997
Everglades National Park, FL

We arrived this afternoon at Homestead, FL, closest town to the Everglades National Park. After setting up the trailer, I headed into the park to scout for morning locations. I had no sooner entered the park than I found a Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a tree along the road. A mile in, I took the turn to the Anhinga Trail parking area.

Tricolored Heron, photo by Brent VanFossenI found a group of trees with about a dozen Turkey Vultures. Walking the trail, I saw many of the herons, including Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored, Snowy and Great Egrets, and many Green Herons clucking or silently walking along the edges of the sawgrass. There was one immature night heron, and I couldn’t tell if it was Yellow- or Black-crowned. I saw two Wood Storks, and several White Ibises, including an immature.

There were many Anhingas perched in the trees in the middle of the loop boardwalk. There were several nests, and I caught a couple of glimpses of little ones in one of them. There were Double-crested Cormorants in the same trees croaking and sitting. There were many alligators of all sizes from 3 or 4 feet up to 11 or 12.

Purple Gallinule by Brent VanFossenI watched a Purple Gallinule walking in the grasses along the boardwalk. These birds are beautiful green and bronze and purple and blue, with bright yellow legs and feet, and the longest toes you would believe. I saw him from about 8 feet away, until he walked under the boardwalk. I saw another toward the end of the trail from about 75 feet among the grasses.

Back at the campground, Lorelle found a gecko of some kind in the laundry room. When the lights were on, he would walk along the ceiling in a zig-zag pattern, then stop. Then go. Then stop. Then eat a mosquito. Then run and hide above the fluorescent lamps until the light went off. He had a light skin about the color of ours, except it was somewhat transparent. The field guide wasn’t much help, and I don’t know exactly what kind he was.

Friday, February 14, 1997
Everglades National Park

This morning was one of those mornings you dream about as a photographer. The light was good, the birds were good, the company was good. At sun up at the Anhinga Trail, the birds were everywhere, close, and unafraid. I photographed a Green Heron for an hour as he caught fish after fish from within 25 feet. He was full-frame, and a couple of the fish were 4 inchers. I had lots of company, but all were courteous, and we laughed and talked about other places and other birds when the clouds shifted or the bird took a break. The fellow next to me for a lot of the morning I met later in the parking lot. His name is Gary Schultz from Fairbanks, AK, and I had seen him last week at Ding Darling. He won the prize for big lens, with his Nikon 600mm f4.

I photographed several Purple Gallinules as they picked their way around the edge of the water with their long yellow toes. I shot a Wood Stork, Great Egret, and Great Blue Heron. Along toward the end of the boardwalk, I shot an Anhinga on a nest full-frame in good light. I also shot the male as he perched nearby. Anhingas have a beautiful blue eye ring when they are in their breeding plumage, and this should show up really well.

The afternoon, however, was mostly disappointing. The wind had really picked up, and the clouds had blown in. Evening light was a couple of pops of brilliance, but mostly dull. And all the ponds from Royal Palm to Flamingo were devoid of birds. Mrazek, usually one of the best, had a dozen Blue-winged Teals, an American Crow, and an American Coot. No spoonbills. Nada. I think the reason is that this year has been fairly wet. I was told that the Anhinga Trail usually is almost dry, and there was a lot of water there this year. When the area is wet, the birds don’t concentrate as much. Eco Pond had 40 or 50 White Ibises a long way off, but the grasses were so high around the pond, I couldn’t get close. I found a Gray Catbird in the underbrush along the trail.

Behind the Motel at Flamingo is a small rocky beach. I found three Turkey Vultures there, and one was picking apart what was left of a crow or another vulture. The light was dead and the carcass was mostly gone. At the marina, I found the Laughing Gull welcoming committee, all 300 members.

Saturday, February 15, 1997
Everglades National Park

Alligator, Everglades NP, Photo by Brent VanFossenWe arrived this morning at the Anhinga Trail BEFORE sunrise, and what a difference. I now have an entirely different mental image of swamp. The noises were incredible, most notably the super-low pitched resonant roars and snores of the alligators. From all directions, from the water, from the bamboo, in front of and behind USA, the alligators roared and bellowed. Every 20 or 30 seconds, there was another. At the far end of the boardwalk, we witnessed a big boy making his sound. He would raise his head and point his nose up at about a 30 degree angle. The tail would come out of the water, his throat would expand, and then the noise.

Anhingas on nest, photo by Brent VanFossenThe sunrise was dead, as heavy clouds hung in the east. But a bit later the light broke. I made some good photos of a pair of Anhingas on the nest together, male and female, in their breeding plumage. I found a group of Glossy Ibis at the end of the boardwalk. They are just a bit smaller than and shaped just like the White Ibis, but they are all brown, and much more uncommon. The light was dark and flat, and then they flew. No photos of these. Another bird I wasn’t able to photograph, I almost mistook for an immature Green Heron, but it was a Least Bittern in
amongst the tall grasses on the dead-end boardwalk off to the left on the Anhinga Trail. He was at about 2000mm range, and I had 700mm.

The rare white morph of the Great Blue Heron, photo by Brent VanFossenAnd I found and photographed a Great White Heron, the rare white morph of the Great Blue Heron. This bird is found only in southern Florida. It is like the Great Blue in every way, except that it is all white, and has yellow legs and bill. The size is the same, and is a bit larger than the Great Egret. The squawk is the same, also.

I tried to enter the Gumbo Limbo Trail today, but the mosquitos got the better of me. These little ladies (only the females bite), while small, are tenacious and drove me nuts. Ten minutes in, and I had to get out. They didn’t seem to bother me at all outside of the hammock. If I had also smeared my face and ears with the Jungle Juice, I might have been fine. They didn’t bite my legs and arms. Poor Lorelle got nailed a few times right through her thin pants.

Outside, the air is cool, and we have a nice gentle rain, the first since Corpus Christi. That’s a welcome change from the 90 degree humid heat of the last few days, as long as it stops by morning.

Sunday, February 16, 1997
Everglades National Park

At the Anhinga Trail at about 5:15 am, an hour before sunrise, I just sat and waited and listened. And no roars. When I would shine my flashlight toward the water, I could see 7 or 8 pairs of eyes shining back at me, half of them moving quickly through the water. There were frequent splash sounds and an occasional squawk. One alligator I could see close up was cruising slowly with his mouth partially open, no doubt waiting for a fish to bump into him.

Sunrise had a bit of color, but was mostly dark clouds. As the sky lightened, the bird noises increased. At the end of the boardwalk, now, were two dozen Glossy Ibises and that many more in a nearby tree with A nhingas, Cormorants, White Ibises, and others. Green Herons clucked and flew, and a Purple Gallinule cried out from the grasses.

Black Vulture, photo by Brent VanFossenIn good light, I photographed Black Vultures so close, I had to back up to get them in focus. Head shots with nice out of focus blue and green backgrounds. And every so often, they would let out a hoarse WOOF! I watched a Purple Gallinule eat an Apple Snail in the shadows.

I finally met the fellow I have been running into for the last three days, and his name is Kevin Karlson. He is an expert birder and bird photographer, and his work is regularly featured in Wild Bird magazine. I’ll have to watch for his by-line. Quite a nice guy, and he gave me good tips of Loxahatchee NWR north of Miami for Pileated Woodpeckers building a nest, Loggerhead Shrikes, and a consistently good American Bittern. I think we will go there instead of Big Cypress. I told him where to find the Great White Heron down the boardwalk.

On my way back to the trailer for midday chores, I found two birders near the restrooms watching some trees and making bird noises. They had attracted a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler. And back at the campground, I found a Merlin on a power line, and got a good look.

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