Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Florida Everglades National Park

The Admiral read about the Black Vultures who hang out on the cars in the Parking lot and eat the rubber parts from the vehicle.

We called and they said they had plenty of tarps and to just get one and cover your vehicle with it.  But the bucket was empty when we got there.

We chose the Anhinga trail, the best of the trails in the Everglades, did not have time for the  Gumbo Limbo (a Florida Tree), 

The Florida Gar...not native?

Lush Environment for this Great Blue Herring.

This young Yellow Crowned Night Herring was Groovin

Could not believe The Anhingas were so calm.

Lazy Teenager

Just a few of the over one million Alligators in the neighborhood, and the only part of the US where there are Alligators and Crocodiles in the same area. 

Even the Great Egret was more beautiful here

Spring comes Early in the Everglades so all the birds are sporting their breeding colors like this Anhinga, cousin to the Cormorant. 

The Flora adds it's own color

All the wildlife are healthy here!

The Purple Gallinule

He gave us along with about 12 others a awesome show

From Flamingo area you can catch two different boat excursions, either into Florida Bay or  through the Mangroves through the Buttonwood Canal to Coots Bay and to the entrance to White Water Bay, This trip is Fantastic

No Name Key in Florida Bay, the beginning of a new Mangrove Island

Just a dot of Florida Bay in the Everglades. 

The Man Made Buttonwood Canal has been plugged off from Florida bay to prevent all the  fresh water from emptying into the Bay and screwing up the environment. 

Our First Crocodile sighting. 

We have seen lots of Osprey but not from 6' away!

Heading out down Buttonwood Canal on a big Pontoon boat. 

This Croc was on a boat ramp

The Blue Heron paid the Croc no attention at all. 

Some elect to portage their canoes or Kayaks at this point as a short cut to White Water Bay. 

But the trail is down a bug infested and primitive trail. You have to figure out what to do with any wildlife you encounter along the way. 

never know what is just around the corner

The Mangroves expand by Walking or dropping new roots out and  eventually closing off the arteries, the Canals are cut and maintained by the parks, 

The opening to White Water Bay

The Happiest the Admiral has ever Been on a birding trip!

The Captain wasted no time on the trip back.

Wow, he can get in to this Marina but it is to Shallow for our 42' Sailing Vessel. 

Some things you can make Jelly out of and other stuff will KILL YOU.

Everglades National Park

We got up early to drive about 2 hours to the Everglades. The Admiral had done her research and we decided to do the Anhinga Trail first. This was supposed to be one of the best birding trails and since this is the dry season in the Everglades, all the fresh water is concentrated in a smaller area bring not just the birds but all the wildlife into a concentrated view. There is still hundreds of acres (if not thousands) of fresh water but the numbers of species merging into a smaller area means you have a very high chance of spotting a lot of them during your visit. The easiest way to describe this is to include this from Wikipedia:
"Everglades National Park is a national park in the U.S. state of Florida that protects the southern 20 percent of the original Everglades. In the United States, it is the largest subtropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River, and is visited on average by one million people each year.[3] It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists.[4]
Although most U.S. national parks preserve unique geographic features, Everglades National Park was the first created to protect a fragile ecosystem. The Everglades are a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river flowing .25 miles (0.40 km) per day out of Lake Okeechobee, southwest into Florida Bay.[5] The Park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere,[6] is home to 36 threatened or protected species including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee, and supports 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles.[7] The majority of South Florida's fresh water, which is stored in the Biscayne Aquifer, is recharged in the park.[8]
Humans have lived for thousands of years in or around the Everglades, until plans arose in 1882 to drain the wetlands and develop the recovered land for agricultural and residential use. As the 20th century progressed, water flow from Lake Okeechobee was increasingly controlled and diverted to enable explosive growth of the South Florida metropolitan area. The park was established in 1934 to protect the quickly vanishing Everglades, and dedicated in 1947 as massive canal building projects were initiated across South Florida. The ecosystems in Everglades National Park have suffered significantly from human activity, and restoration of the Everglades is a politically charged issue in South Florida."

So with that in mind you can understand why I have never seen the Admiral so happy. You can take all the previous birding and nature outings we have done on this trip, add them all together and that pails in comparison to the Everglades and we saw just a small fraction of it. We will make time to go back at least one more time before leaving South Florida.
Our timing was also enhanced by the fact that Spring comes early in the Everglades, The birds/wildlife were already in their breeding colors in February, and nesting! I can not imagine what it must be like here in the summer, I am sure you have to have 100% Deet spread over 100% of your body + a IV plugged directly in to hydrate. I asked some of the park rangers about it who live here year round and they said that you have to be indoors in the AC before sundown and avoid going back out until the sun is up again.

The Anhinga Trail
Just pulling into the parking lot here is a trip. There are lots of Black Vultures all over the parked cars. They keep tarps for visitors to use to cover your vehicle so they do not eat off all the rubber parts from the exterior like moulding and windshield wipers. Not to mention the excrement and scratches from their claws. Well even though the parking lot was not even 1/3 full when we got there the box was empty so I managed to find a couple of old towels to wrap around the wipers and hope the rest would be ok. Take your own Tarp! As you start down the trail there is first a huge pond and tons of fish of many species. Of course a huge area of the wetlands are dry at this time of year so I am not sure what it would be like when the fish had thousands of more acres to spread out in during the summer. The birding starts immediately as well and is non stop all along the trail, then there are the alligators, just a fraction of the over one million in the neighborhood but even though the guides tell you they do not like humans we can't get out of our minds the weekly stories on the evening news in Florida of someone getting bit by a GATOR. They especially love dogs so of course do not bring your Fifi here. Named for the numerous Anhingas along the trail, the thing you are immediately struck with are the incredible natural colors are so much more magnificent. The different species in the lush colorful vegetation seems like you just stepped into some kind of Super Natural world. Everywhere you looked it seemed so naturally perfect. In those environments where the wildlife are competing so hard with man for their space I now know they were stressed, here all the wildlife are so relaxed and Happy. We had seen the Purple Gallinule once in Port Aransas during migration. But here in their natural environment was way better. Again I now understand even Migration is stressful to animals as they migrate thousands of miles and land just to find food and water before continuing their long bi-annual journey.

We were under the Illusion that when we got to South Florida we would get to see some Flamingo's,but no, they have not visited South Florida for over five years. The Admiral let me choose the afternoon so I chose to drive the 35 miles to the South edge of the Everglades to Flamingo because I always want to see what possibilities there may be to navigate through the area in Wand'rin Star. We went in to the visitors center and learned they had two different boat excursions, one out into Florida Bay and one down a Man Made mangrove channel called Buttonwood. We chose both. We were hoping to spot some sea turtles on the Florida Bay trip but other than birds we did not see any sea life on this trip. It was kind of a bummer since I learned that even though there was water everywhere we could not bring Wand'rin Star into any of it on the South end of the Everglades with our 5' draft. There are a few areas on the West coast side that we could anchor possibly on our return trip.
The trip down Buttonwood Canal is worth it as you go all the way to the opening to White Water Bay. There is a 9 day Kayak trip that is available through the canal and to the Northwest end of White water Bay where there are little wooden cabins along the way over the water to spend the nights. I am sure that would be a cool trip. We learned there are 3 different types of Mangroves, Red, White and Black. We saw our second crocodile at the start of the trip on a boat ramp. There were two ramps side by side and the boaters were using one and the Crocodile owned the other. Since it was early afternoon we did not see a lot of wildlife other than a quick sighting of a manatee but the interesting part is learning about the Mangroves and all the vegetation mixed in along the way. Then of course the route through the Everglades to White Water Bay.
There are campsites here and other locations around the Everglades but we had to wonder what type of tent do you need to keep the wildlife and insects out?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dolphin Research Center

We spent all day here at the Dolphin Research Center:

This Guy meets you on the way to the Lagoons, very talkative and whistles a lot too!

These are the front Lagoon areas, about 4-5 peened off areas of this cove on Florida Bay

These are the Back Lagoons, another 4-5 seperated areras. I knew I had seen this somewhere before and thought it was from the TV series Flipper, but it was from the Movie flipper.

Here they load a dolphin in a craddle so they can inspect and medically treat.

It takes a big crew to corner the dolpghin and gently glid them into the cradle so they can get the Med stuff done.

This Lagoon was for the sole use of this mom and her three month old baby, they seem to get a lot of special attention.

Yeah these guys are everywhere, but the DRC captures them, nutters them and releases them back.

I was being funny with this guy till he Snalted at me, I thought he was spitting but they blow out excess salt out of their nose occassionaly.

You can pay extra if you want to get in the water with them or hang out and be a assistant trainer for the day, a good way for them to raise money for their reaserch.

A couple of Dolphins painted T-Shirts which are for sale in the gift shop.

They like there tails massaged.

This guy carried this baton around with him, seemed to be his only toy.

Just another trick or "behavior" 

She asked him to go get her a gift.

They would put these little plastic cups over there eyes and then have them perform some behavior demonstrating their abilty to navigate with just their sonar. The cup fell off in the water so he was just bringin it back to the trainer.

They enjoyed the massage thing

Serious Air

I know, they all say I look like Flipper!
We saw The Dolphin Research Center on the way to Islamorada and wondered if it would be a good place to visit. Later our cruiser friends Roxanne and Conrad emailed and suggested that we take the time to go check it out as they had a good visit there. The Admiral did a bit of research and finally we decided it would make a good trip. It looked kinda of funky at first but we got our tickets and entered the center. We got there pretty early so things were just starting up. As we made our way back to the Lagoons where the Dolphins are pinned in a very natural setting on Florida Bay a bit of Deja Vu struck. I had definitely seen this somewhere before. I instantly thought it must have been from the Flipper TV series but In fact the Flipper TV show was filmed at a similar spot in Miami, but this was the location for Flipper the Movie. In fact some of Flippers siblings are swimming around the place as you read!
. "1963 - Mitzi, starred in the original pilot movie Flipper, along with five of Santini's other dolphins. The movie's plot was actually based on Santini’s close relationship with Mitzi.  Two of the other dolphins, Little Bit and Mr. Gipper, were the parents of Tursi who lives here today with her sons Talonand Pax."

We were struck at the close relationship the trainers had with the dolphins. Very Different  from Seaworld in Orlando. The trainers had a Professional relationship with the dolphins there, but here is was way more casual and the trainers and dolphins seemed to just be friends. There is non stop dolphin activities all day as onece they end the training or activities in one Lagoon another starts up in another so besides the other activities they have to educate the public on issues related to dolphins and sea life  in general, you can observe the dolphins going through their paces all day long. If you pay a few extra bucks you can get in the water and work/train/play with the dolpins. I watched one young girl and perhaps her mother swim with the Dolphins and even did the deal where you hold on to two Dolphins Dorsal fins as they Towed them all the way around the Lagoon.
The Admiral always likes the Mother/baby combination so she spent a lot of time taking pics of those two, the baby was three weeks old I think and was already imitating her mothers moves.