I marvel as egret wings caress the pastel sky above me but I am keenly aware that I am only seeing a small percentage of the birds as those seen back in the 1940′s when this land was slated for protection under the National Park system.
We are back in the Everglades, and after the exhilaration of the Keys, this has been quite an abrupt change. A bit of sadness washed over me as we left to start our trek north, but strolling this campground my spirit is buoyed by the calm, ready for a week devoid of cell phone and internet connectivity, free of the trappings of modern existence.
Our travels have taken us to the southern tip of the Everglades, the Flamingo campground, our home for five days. This is America’s Crocodile Capital, where saltwater melds into fresh, the only place in this country I have read where alligators and crocodiles co-exist. We had already visited the western part of the park so I was wondering if we would find enough to occupy ourselves for this length of time. I need not have worried.
Here are our top 6 favorite activities while visiting Flamingo (in no particular order):
1) Eco Pond
A trip to Eco Pond, about 0.5 miles from the Flamingo campground, particularly at sunrise, is a birder’s delight. Bug repellant is a must as these pesky insects seem to like first light as much as we do.
The roseate spoonbills’ captivating pink plumage comes from a red pigment found in some crustaceans they feast upon.
2) Anhinga Trail
We were lucky to be in the park for the ‘Big Day Birding Adventure’, led by Ranger Christi, conducted only twice monthly. We started at the Anhinga Trail, spending a couple of hours there, and headed back south, making several stops until we arrived back at the Flamingo Visitor Center.
Lots of boardwalks cross over lily pad laden waterways, with countless wading birds on the shores contemplating a delicious breakfast.
We entertained ourselves watching a cormorant try to gulp down a rather large walking catfish before a waiting wood stork swooped in. He swallowed it just in the nick of time. :)
3) Bike Rides
We spent many a day biking the campground and roadways, stopping off at various ponds or boardwalks to enjoy the wildlife.
4) Pinelands Trail in Search of Tree Snails
As you walk this 0.5 mile trail, keep your eyes trained up into the canopies of the smooth-barked Jamaican dogwood and gumbo limbo trees, and you just might spot some of the colorful Liguus tree snails.
5) Hang out at the Marina
This time of year, spending time at the marina will reward you with some pretty spectacular views of osprey nesting, and if you’re lucky, you might be there for feeding time.
Many also come to the marina to spot the crocodiles lying on the banks or taking up residence in the boat slips. Early in our stay this is where we saw the crocs from a safe distance. Much to our surprise, the very next day a 9-footer decided to visit us at the campground, causing a bit of excitement.
6) Kayak to your Heart’s Content
We spent many a day paddling the waterways in the park. It is one of the best ways to see roosting birds, pelicans feeding, dolphins frolicking, and alligators and crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks.
The water level in the Florida Bay rarely exceeds a depth of six feet so watching the tides is important if you don’t want to get grounded in the seagrass. Low tide is the best time to check out the variety of birds on the mudflats. We paddled Florida Bay one blustery day at low tide, which made for a nice shoulder work-out. We also experienced it at early morning high tide, paddling from the marina to Snake Bight, a 5-mile round trip that rewarded us with dolphin sightings and a variety of roosting birds in the mangroves.
If you want a bit more excitement, venture out into the Buttonwood Canal and paddle among the crocodiles and alligators. I didn’t let my mind linger too long on what would happen if our inflatable decided to spring a leak.
Nature’s many voices can be heard in this pristine wilderness. Hopefully the future health of the Everglades can survive the many demands being placed on her water supplies so future generations can enjoy her wild beauty.
Our journey north and back to civilization officially begins.