Since the Florida Keys destination was a little too touristy for my taste, and the Searching for Summer page got too long anyway, I’ve put the images from Everglades National Park in southern Florida (USA) on their own page. I hope you’ll take a look.
After a restful night, I was up early and anxious to begin exploring this beautiful and peaceful Everglades National Park.
These sparse slash pines (Pinus elliottii) are typical of one of three common environments. The other two are sawgrass prairie, and the slightly higher tropical hardwood forest, which is referred to as a hammock. The prevalent environment in any given area, is determined by small differences (only a few inches) in elevation above sea level. The Everglades also contains coastal mangrove and fresh water cypress swamps and marshes.
The Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park surrounds a slash pine forest with a saw palmetto understory. It contains a beautiful pond with an island in the middle. I set out to hike around the pond as the sun came up. If one is so inclined (and has a license) fishing is allowed here, but mercury contamination is rather high, so it’s advisable to avoid eating more than one fish a week. That warning is posted quite prominently, and I didn’t see anyone fishing in the pond.
Northern winter is the dry season (December through April) in the everglades. I assume there are many more flowers during the rainy season, but they were still in evidence everywhere if you looked, although not in great numbers. Apparently the 2015-2016 dry season was unusual. The expected “‘gator pits” that appear as ground water levels decrease, were non-existent this year. Rainfall has been plentiful, and water levels have remained high. That’s one of the impacts that global warming is predicted to have as the tropics migrate away from the equator, so maybe it’s the new normal.
The warm early morning light gave a wonderful magical appearance to the pine forest. You can see saw palmettos and ferns in the foreground too. A brontosaurus might have felt right at home here. The sparseness of the trees means that it’s hard to find a shady spot in the everglades. That becomes very evident later in the day when the temperature climbs into the high 80’s F (30+ C).
Here’s what the pine forest looks like during full daylight. This area is a little higher and dryer than the sunrise shot, and the ferns have been replaced by grasses and pine seedlings.
There are several hiking trails accessible from within or just outside of the Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park. They wind through the nearby pine, sawgrass prairie and tropical hardwood environments. Take a compass with you. Especially in he hardwood areas, the trails sometimes become a little more like animal tracks, and it’s not inconceivable that you could get turned around.
The sawgrass prairie is the most prevalent environment in the everglades. It’s actually a marsh during the wet season. Sawgrass is really a sedge, not a grass. (See http://homeguides.sfgate.com/difference-between-rushes-sedges-grasses-74262.html) It has teeth like a very fine saw blade, and can give you a small cut (like a paper cut). You can think of the everglades as a sea of grass, flowing south from Lake Okeechobee. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Okeechobee)
These trees really are quite striking. I had noticed them earlier, but didn’t know what they were. I was grateful to have the National Park Service explain:
Even the name of this tree sounds tropical. The peeling red bark suggests severe sunburn; no wonder “tourist tree” is another of its many names. Central Americans call it “Naked Indian”. What uses it has! Planted branches take root and become rot-proof living fences. The wood was once used to carve merry-go-round horses. Resin provided medicinal salves, antidotes to poisonwood and bee stings, preservatives for Indian canoes and incense for the Mayas. Brews from the inner bark may have been the original chicken gumbo soup.
The National Park Service explains:
This tree has an amazing development. Fig seeds lodged in crevices on rough-barked branches of other trees grow into temporary air plants. Descending roots entwine the host tree in their quest for soil. As the fig roots thicken and the host tree attempts to grow, the growing layers are choked off and the host eventually dies. The fig, a more effective competitor, is left alone in the sun.
The National Park Service explains:
Mild organic acid from decaying plants and rainwater imperceptibly dissolved limestone to form this solution hole. During the dry season wildlife can find water to drink, and sometimes these holes may be taken over by an alligator. The level of water represents the ground water table over the whole area.
Hey! There’s a red bird in this thing!
The birds around the Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park seemed to have no fear of humans. This little guy (male cardinal – yearling, I think) was fascinated by the passenger side mirror on my car, and spent quite a while trying to figure out how that red bird got in there.
Just to make sure everyone knows how pretty he really is, my little red bird friend asked me to make a formal portrait after he finished playing with my car side mirror.
The wildlife at the Long Pine Key campground in Everglades National Park has grown to accept humans as unthreatening. They haven’t been fed or enticed in any way. They’re just comfortable around those silly flightless creatures and their machines that periodically come and go.
On my final day in Everglades National Park, I went over to Royal Palm (the original nucleus of the national park) because I wanted to walk along the Anhinga Trail. This turned out to be one of the highlights of my entire trip, and I strongly recommend it. The “Trail” itself, is a wood plank construction on stilts above the wetland, so you don’t even need to get grubby, and the variety of plants and animals is truly amazing. I’m no expert, but I think the flower is Everglades Morning Glory (Ipomoea sagittara)
I saw this along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in the Everglade National Park. I think it’s pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata).
This looks like a great place to hide out along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park, if you’re a duck (or an anhinga, or a cormorant, or swamp hen, or alligator).
These plants are along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park. They remind me of bird of paradise, but they’re definitely not that. If you can help me out with an identification, I’ll give you an acknowledgement and be eternally grateful.
This fishing bird lives along the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park. Cormorants are similar to, but lighter colored than anhingas, have a distinctive hooked beak, and can be found in both brackish and fresh water.
This is an American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus). It’s seen along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park. It’s a carrion eater, but has also been implicated in recent automobile damage incidents at Royal Palm, to the extent that the National Park Service offers tarpaulins to visitors so they can protect their cars. It seems the vultures like to damage rubber in window seals and wiper blades for reasons that are being investigated, but are still mysterious.
This is the namesake for the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in the Everglades National Park. It is a fish eater, and is similar to the cormorant, but cormorants are lighter and have a hooked beak. According to one of the rangers in the park, anhingas prefer fresh water, and stab fish with that pointed beak, then toss them into the air and swallow them on the way back down.
This is an American Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus) or swamp hen, along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park. Those huge yellow feet spread its weight wide enough that it can actually walk on lilly pads while feeding.
This is a swamp lily (Crinum americanum) along the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park.
I’m pretty sure this is pitted stripeseed (Piriqueta cistoides). It was growing along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park.
This, of course, is the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). He’s lonely, and he’s just looking for a dinner companion along the Anhinga trail at Royal Palm in Everglades National Park.
I certainly found summer in the Everglades. Now I need to find a shower and some air conditioning. Thanks for coming along. I hope you had as much fun looking at my images as I did making them. Please let me know if I’ve gotten something wrong so I can fix it. Comments, criticisms, and of course, accolades are always welcome!