Wildlife-Palousa in the Everglades

We began our second day in Everglades National Park at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center near the park’s east entrance. From there we made our way to Royal Palm. We had been told that this was a good place to see lots of wildlife. Normally the Anhinga Trail is self-guided but we happened to arrive just in time for a ranger-led hike. The ranger was very knowledgeable and we enjoyed seeing the wildlife in Taylor Slough from the elevated boardwalk. We spotted heron, anhingas, alligators, cormorants, soft-shelled turtles and hard-shelled turtles as well as lot of fish including the Florida gar.

One of the most fascinating things that we observed was a heron and a cormorant catch a large fish and swallow it whole while the alligator lurked about keeping a close eye on them.

The Flamingo Visitor Center is about 38 mile drive from the east entrance of the park. On our drive south, we passed through a slash pine forest. These trees live on top of a bed of limestone. While there used to be 186,000 acres of pine forests in south Florida, now there are less than 4,000 acres outside of the park and 20,000 acres in the park’s protective boundaries. This is the most threatened of all of the park’s habitats.

The Flamingo Visitor Center was housed in a pink building overlooking the Florida Bay until it was severely damaged by Hurricane Wilma (2005) and Hurricane Irma (2017). Today the building is closed and roped off. The Visitor Center is located in a mobile unit nearby. There was a lodge there at one time but it was also destroyed. The rangers said that the Visitor Center and the lodge are going to be rebuilt. We did see some construction on a lodge-like structure but there was no evidence of a new Visitor Center building. Also there is a campground (the only one in the park) and there are some Eco Yurts, too. At the Marina, you can rent kayaks and also book a boat tour out into the Florida Bay or inland to see the interior of the park.

It was at the Flamingo Marina that we enjoyed watching a group of manatees while a pair of osprey looked down on us from their nest.

As we headed back toward Tampa on Hwy. 41, we passed through Big Cypress National Preserve. Located north of Everglades National Park, this protected area is critical to the health of the glades. The cattails and other vegetation filter the water that flows in the grasslands and removes many of the impurities like pesticides that come from Lake Okeechobee.

David and I stopped at several places in the preserve. The first was the Oasis Visitor Center which has a boardwalk overlooking a slough with lots of alligators. We liked seeing them from a distance.

Our next stop was at Kirby Storter Roadside Park that was named for an engineer that oversaw the construction of the Tamiami Trail (Hwy. 41), the road between Tampa and Miami. We did a short hike there along a boardwalk back into a cypress stand. We saw a beautiful bird that we think is a grackle. (Maybe some of our bird watching friends can weigh in as to whether we were right or not.)

Our final stop was at the H. P. Williams Roadside Park where we met one of the park rangers. He pointed out a variety of birds that were along the shore and sitting up in the mangroves. He was very helpful and friendly.

Our trip to the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Natural Preserve was not what we expected but it proved to be a very fascinating place to explore. It is a truly unique place and we are glad that we made the effort to visit this part of south Florida.

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