Saturday after lunch we pulled out of Bradenton and headed south for the Everglades National Park. We pulled into Long Pine Key campground in the evening, and started our adventure the next morning.
We headed first to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to get Minnie Mouse’s junior ranger book. We looked around here for bit, then headed back up the road to Royal Palm where we took a ranger guided tour of the Anhinga Trail. A fun side note is that, here in particular, these black vultures are a real problem—they like to tear the rubber off of cars! So, the park provides tarps for visitors to put over their cars for protection. And, apparently, they really do like the cars!
This trail was a great place to start. Minnie Mouse got to carry a bird identification card for the group, and we certainly saw lots of different birds! First, we saw the namesake of the trail—the Anhinga bird. This bird is unique in that its feathers aren’t buoyant like a duck’s, so it can dive and swim under water. Then, after it comes up, it will sit in a tree with its feathers wide open to dry them.
We also saw a blue heron resting beside the stream of water. And, then we saw my personal favorite, the purple gallanule. And no, it isn’t my favorite just because it has purple in its name! The variety of color on this bird is amazing. It was stunning! Oh, and then I guess I should mention that we saw alligators! And, not just one, but THREE alligators!
As we came around the last bend in the trail I was taken aback by the view of the coastal prairie. The prairie grass waving in the breeze reminded me so much of our trip out west last spring. Yet, the eco-system here is so very different! Near the very end of the trail, we came up on a bird sitting right near the trail. Ranger Lori had told us that there was a black bird that looked a lot like an anhinga, but there were slight differences—a double-crested cormorant. That was what was staring at us! Its beak has a crook on the end, and its tail feathers are slightly shorter than the anhinga. This bird let us get right up close to it!
From Royal Palm we headed back to the campsite for lunch, then on to Flamingo Visitor Center. Now, we aren’t sure what came first, the building or the name, but we sure thought the building looked a lot like a flamingo! This visitor center is basically at the end of the road—the southern most point in Florida (without crossing over to the Keys). It sits right on Florida Bay, which is an estuary (where fresh water from land meets salt water from the ocean) that is home to manatee, sea turtles, and many other sea creatures. And, yes, we did see some manatee feeding on some sea grass in the marina!
While at the visitor center, we listened to a ranger talk on sea turtles given by Ranger Mike. It was fun to hear about the varieties of sea turtles that live and nest along the coastline from Florida up to South Carolina. He even had these cool shells we could touch, and then pretend to be turtles!
On our way back to our campsite we decided to stop at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook. As soon as we entered the trail, we looked up and saw two gorgeous Barred Owls in a tree, preening each other. So sweet! We continued on the 1/4-mile boardwalk to the observation tower where we looked out over the River of Grass—again reminding me of the great prairies out west.
We also, FINALLY, saw a turtle on this trail! But, as it was in the water, we didn’t get a picture of it. Evening was setting in so we headed back to camp for the night. We were looking forward to another great adventure on Monday!