Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flamingo, Florida

By Claire

We were in the southernmost part of the Everglades today, Flamingo.  Alas, no Flamingos.  Those that are left are in the Caribbean and any that you see in Florida are most likely escaped pets.

We decided on a boat tour, with the hope of seeing more wildlife.  This area is the only place in the world where Alligators and Crocodiles coexist.  Apparently, they live quite well together.  I learned that Alligators live in fresh water but can live in brackish (salty) water for up to three weeks. Crocodiles live in salt water but can exist in brackish water as well.

We stopped at one of the many ponds along the way and came upon hundreds of birds of all kinds.  We also discovered mosquitoes for a brief moment.  Turns out we should stay out of grass and shade. 

First up, the Wood Stork.  They have been on the endangered species list since 1984 so we were lucky to see one.  Walking slowly forward, the stork sweeps its submerged bill from side to side.  Touching its prey, mostly small fish, the bill snaps shut with a 25-millisecond reflex action, the fastest reflex known for vertebrate species.   This guy was beautiful in flight.

An almost bigger thrill was seeing this Roseate Spoonbill. They are gorgeous flying through the air, almost lit from beneath in red.

We arrived at the Marina in Flamingo and were reminded that cars can be damaged by the local thugs in town--Black Vultures.  They even have tarps available to cover your car.  They go for the rubber parts on the car, but I guess the tires are off limits--the tarps do not cover them.

Here's a pack already moving in for the kill.

Our boat for the day.  We had a wonderful guide, Bill, and his assistant Sheena.  It was smooth all the way.

We were lucky that there were only 10 of us--we had front row seats.

I felt as if we were heading into the Amazon--maybe because of reading State of Wonder--a great story that takes place there.

And there he was, right on the river bank sunning himself--an alligator.

There are three kinds of Mangroves:  Red, Black and White.  These are Red Mangroves.  They grow closest to open water and have multiple prop roots, which may help to stabilize the soil around its roots.  Our guide told us that the roots are so strong, they are hurricane proof.


Great Blue Heron.  We saw many of these guys, as well as their younger brothers.  You can spot the young, completely white ones by their lime-colored legs.

After our boat trip, we drove back to visitor center at the park entrance at Royal Palm so we could walk the Gumbo Limbo trail.  These strange things are growing everywhere in this orange soup of detritus that feeds the plants.

This trail is closest to being a jungle.

This is a Gumbo-Limbo tree.  Even its name 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.  It has many uses:  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 gumbo soup.

What an interesting, exciting, unexpected place to visit.  I had no idea.  We have been to so many National Parks, from Alaska to the Grand Canyon, and now the Everglades.  How did we get so lucky?

I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or of a longer life, are not necessary. ~  Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of The Everglades, River of Grass

[Douglas lived until age 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration. Upon her death, an obituary in The Independent in London stated, "In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas."]