Sunday, February 3, 2008
Fun in the Sun
This week went by fast, partly because it was just a 3-day workweek for us, but mostly because my wife flew down on Friday. We went straight from Miami International to the Royal Palm Visitor Center at Everglades National Park. There was a broad-shouldered hawk and yellow-rumped warblers right by the parking lot. I asked a ranger about the chance of seeing flamencos along the infamous Snake Bight Trail, but it is the wrong time of year for them.
From there, we went to the Anhinga trail, which is a really nice boardwalk through alligator infested marshes. Being cold-blooded, alligators do not need to eat nearly as often as warm-blooded predators. Therefore, large populations of them can be supported in the same space only a few Florida Panthers would be able to live. In a short half-mile hike, we must've seen around twenty 'gators, most over four feet in length.
True to the trail's name, we saw lots of Anhinga, some were total hams for the cam. We also saw several nests full of noisy chicks. Anhinga can be best differentiated from
Double-crested Cormorants by the silvery neck and shoulders, and also by the straight bill, compared to the gull-shaped hook at the end of cormorant bills.
Compare the photo of the friendly Double-crested Cormorant to this image of an Anhinga below, drying off his wings. The small bird in the foreground is a Little-blue heron, which I really enjoy watching because they are so very focused and methodical in their fishing tactics. They slowly canter their heads back and forth, always judging distance to strike. Near these two birds was a Purple Gallinule, which looks like a Coot that was dipped in psychedelic blue and green paint, with a bright red bill. We also saw his cute relative, the Moorhen, creeping carefully along the far bank.
There were many large Red-bellied and Softshell turtles swimming around. River otters are supposed to inhabit the area, but we didn't see any mammals about. One butteryfly that was locally common, but a rare sight outside of south Florida is this White Peackcock Butterfly. We also hiked the short half-mile Gumbo Limbo trail, which is named after a keystone species of the Keys hardwood hammocks.
After that, we pushed our truck hard to get over the rugged terrain of Rock Reef Pass, which the sign indicated had a peak elevation of 3 feet above sea level. There was another nice trail through the pine rocklands, and we saw this majestic Wood Stork haunting one of the boardwalk overlooks. Another awesome Florida rarity we saw was the Great White Heron. All this hiking had built up quite a thirst, so we pulled into Robert Is Here, kinda of a landmark fruitstand, and had an excellent Key Lime shake = yum. We managed to run a few geocaches just outside the park, but ran outta daylight.
The next day, we went to Key West. We toured the new NOAA Eco-Discovery Center, which is definitely worth the stop the next time you're in town. Mote's Marine Lab has several excellent aquariums there (including a mobile one!). It is also next door to Fort Zachary State Park, which is one of the nicest beaches on the island. We lounged in the sun and I snorkled amongst the rocky breakwaters that sheltered many pretty fish, inclusing a fairy wrasse and princess parrotfish. There's also an excellent geocache: Pirates of Fort Zachary. Towards the end of the day, we had to stop by the Southernmost Point of the USA (which has 3 geocaches nearby), and then back to the beach to watch the sunset.
Today, we hung out at Bahia Honda state park, which included more sun worshipping, snorkelling, and seeing a reef shark and huge sea turtle from the top of the bridge. We also saw palm warblers flying around, feeding on the bugs in the knicker beans, and a huge iguana guarding the visitor's center.
Time for bed; tomorrow comes bright & early!