Of Alligators and Anoles - Part II
Recap: The Zantis arrive in S. Florida, see a bunch of critters they can't see up North, catch an anole and get half eaten by mosquitos.
We got up early (but not real early) and head off for Highway 41, which goes right through the Everglades! We were hungry, though, and had to find a place to eat. They're not real common along this highway, but finally we found one: the Miccosukee Restaurant, where we had omelettes and bacon n eggs and some pan bread (which was delicious!). I even got some grits -- something that I know is pretty bland and not all that great, but I still love!
We played a bit around the grounds of the Restaurant (they also give airboat rides around the back, which we didn't take):
There were signs all around about the alligators, but we didn't see any at this location. It doesn't mean they weren't there!! It was still early-ish, and a little chilly, without much sun, so they were probably still in the water.
Couldn't resist the photo op. Molesting gators -- that's a new one on me.
There were also some vultures nearby who were nice enough to pose for photos:
ZMrK lifted up some tar paper near the dumpster, and saw two skinks -- a broadheaded skink and a five-lined skink. Being early, and chilly, the five-lined wasn't as fast as they usually are.
They have bright blue tails! I think I had these in my yard in New Orleans -- every night when I came home I would see something go through the leaf litter beneath the plaintain tree. It was long and shiny, and I thought it was salamanders at first. Now that I know how skinks move, I'm certain they were skinks. (They weren't palmetto bugs, which we also all over the plaintain tree and, really, all over New Orleans. You get used to them though. At least I did.)
Okay, then we were off to Shark Valley, a nature preserve in the Everglades! It was about 1/8 of a mile from the restaurant we had just eaten at.
The park has a $10/admission per car, which is good for seven consecutive days. ZMrK had the following exchange with the (bored) guard at the gate:
ZMrK: Is there a lot of good wildlife viewing in there?
Board Guard: Yes.
ZMrK: Are there any alligators in there?
Board Guard: Yes
About 10 feet from the gate, I took this picture:
This was even closer to the gate:
It's a Great Blue Heron.
We saw lots of cuties right near the Visitor Center:
Soft-shell turtle. This one was HUGE, and there was apparantly an even larger one! We saw a nature show once when one of these bit through the host's hiking boot. They have really long necks that they can snake around, and a really strong bite as well.
Purple Gallinule. These birds are beautiful! One of them is tame; the people at the park think someone may have "dumped" it there. They were nervous as to whether it could adapt to being in the wild again, but it seemed to be forming a friendship with one of the wild gallinules.
Smallish gator floating. I'm not sure if it was looking for handouts or not. It's forbidden to feed any of the animals in the park, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had been fed.
The park has a 15 mile paved loop that someone can walk, bike, or take a guided tram ride through. Guess what we decided to do?
Fifteen miles. That would be like walking from my house to my parents' house. That didn't pass my mind at the time -- I was thinking, "OMG! Alligators!" But I digress.
There was a small trail off the main trail that went to the other side, which we took. (Okay, that's hard to explain so I won't.) No one else went to the other side, which didn't have many trees -- you were just looking at the "sea of grass". There were juvenile alligators there.
This photo isn't zoomed in at all. This one is, though:
So, I won't give you all of the details of the seven or eight hours we spent at this park, but here's a nice recap of what we saw:
Female anhinga with a gallinule in the background:
This was still near the beginning of the trail:
There were four other people walking along the trail at this time, and we all had to cross to the other side. This alligator was a decent size, and it was awake! I was the first person to go past it, because I wanted pictures, dammit! That was when it started opening its mouth. You just gotten respect something that weighs more than you and has sharp teeth, you know?
There were plenty of pretty butterflies too:
That plant is referred to as "horrible thistle". That shit is sharp, and would probably make you bleed if you touched it. There were dried up bits of it all over. It's a nice defense system to keep us from getting closer!
Alligator moms are fiercely protective. Every time we saw babies, mom wasn't too far away -- either in the duckweed or on the shore.
We were alone at this point, and I saw this 'gator's tail sticking out from behind a bush as ZMrK was walking in front of me. Let sleeping gators lie!
We saw more turtles:
We saw many nearly-perfectly-camoflauged alligators of all sizes:
I wish I could have captured this on film -- the duckweed sparkles in the sunlight like Christmas tree lights! Seriously, I was seeing bright red and green sparkles and I wasn't even on drugs. Makes me wonder if people drop acid and go to the Everglades? I don't think that's wise.
Baby gator. Like I said, the mother are very protective. We were looking at a clutch of babies, and the mom was on the far shore. Another couple came by to look at the babies, and we hear this loud THWUNK! Mom slapped the ground with her tail, and immediately got into the water. That's when you know it's time to move.
THIS was a large 'gator:
It was probably the largest we saw that day. Most of them were 5-6 feet long, and this was easily a couple of feet longer than that, if not more. It's hard to tell on the distant shore. I think the average maximum is 10-12 feet, which, if you think about it, is a BIG freakin' animal. The record measured was over 19 feet, and was killed in Louisiana in perhaps the early 20th century. I'm too lazy to look that up in our book. Take my word for it.
We settled for much smaller.
We were surprised to see green anoles this far south! I think we saw a total of three the whole weekend, which is more than we saw on our honeymoon in Orlando (and we were there for 5 days!). Most of Florida's anoles are brown (Cuban) anoles, and the greens are much further north (up to the Carolinas) and west (that's all you see in New Orleans, and I think they go into Texas).
What was cool was how he changed from yellow to green while we had him.
(for LindyDiva -- your arrogant, elegant green boyfriend!)
This is the same one. Presto! Chango! He's green!
Moving on. ..
As I said, we saw LOTS of baby gators.
There are eight in that photo alone.
We saw lots of adult gators as well.
In the far left upper corner of this photo, there's some quicksand. Quicksand! Remember when people used to be afraid of that stuff? Every horror movie from the 50s through the 70s seemed to have someone getting swallowed up by quicksand. Then in the 70s they moved on to the Burmuda Triangle, which people also don't seem to be afraid of anymore.
We ended up walking about 7 miles that day. We both got sunburned, although I only got it on the backs of my hands and a little on my collarbone. My left hand is starting to peel now and itches like a mo-fo. ZMrK got some fire ants on his ankle but luckily only got about 7-8 bites. If you do a google image search for "fire ant bites", you'll see what I mean. NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. I may have one of my foot, but it just started to itch yesterday (one week later!) and there are a couple of more red bumps, so it's possible I got chiggers again. I got them up HERE last July, but it clears up fast.
We walked to the tower, which is about the halfway point (so probably 7.5 miles), and the tram was parked there (they stay for 20 minutes so folks can go up the tower and take a gander at the sea of grass). We didn't go up the tower since we were EXHAUSTED at this point, but the tram driver (whose name I wish I remember, because she was AWESOME) was kind enough to let us have a ride back. We were also lucky enough that she had two extra seats. I have a feeling it happens often.
The tram driver was an ex-New Yorker, maybe in her early 50s. I repeat: she was awesome. She compared the birds of the Everglades to the early NY punk scene, and said the male anhingas have their "David Bowie makeup on" because they have blue rings around their eyes. I think the next time we're in the area (and there will be a next time!), we'll try to take her tram ride.
As you can imagine, we slept well that night.