Tales From The Camping House

Tales From The Camping House

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shark Valley Bike Tour

After completing the tram tour in less than ideal circumstances (way too many people), we decided to bring our bicycles the next day and bike the 15 miles.  Riding a bicycle in Florida is super easy since there are no hills, but we hadn't done a bike ride that long.

We arrived before the park opened at 8:30 and parked outside by the highway and rode our bikes into the park.  Once we got inside, we were surprised to see about 10 people on the banks taking pictures.

We caught a picture of this bird that I thought might be a Kingfisher or Shrike, but I don't think it is either.  Anyone know the identity????

Once we went down the road about half a mile, we had it all to ourselves.

The bikes are much quieter and the wildlife didn't seem to get as startled as they did when we came by in the tram yesterday.

These two Woodstorks let us ride right by them.

One of the things we learned on the tram tour was that the alligators do most of their feeding at night and then digest their food during the day.  They are pretty inactive during the day.  We also knew from the Everglades, they pretty much just sit there if you don't bother them or their babies.  We weren't too worried about them on the road, but I have to say I didn't stand around waiting for them to move. ;)

This is the same picture giving you some perspective of how close it was to the road.

We also got a glimpse of some more Spoonbills,

a Common Tern,

Great White Egret and another Spoonbill.  Seven miles into the ride, you come to the observation center where you can climb to the top and get an overview of Shark Valley in the Everglades.

On our ride back, we saw lots more gators and birds.  Each mile is marked with a number so you can keep up with where you are.  We finally came to

  One more mile to go!  We finished in a little under three hours even with all our stopping.  It was a pretty easy ride and we really enjoyed it.  The tram ride is certainly informative, but if you want to see the wildlife in a much more private setting, ride your bike or rent one there.

After we got back to the fifth wheel and had lunch, we decided to drive over to the other Visitor's Center we had not been to yet.

We stopped at the Ochopee Post Office, the smallest post office in the United States.  It was formerly an irrigation pipe shed, but was hurriedly pressed into service after a fire in 1953 burned the Ochopee General Store and Post Office.  The present structure has been in continual use ever since.

This was our last day in the Everglades. Tomorrow, we begin a journey north.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shark Valley Tram Tour

Monday, we left Flamingo Campground to begin our journey back to northern Florida and then back over to Texas in April.   Today, we were going approximately 120 miles back to Midway Campground on Highway 41.

We had several people tell us the tram tour was very good, so I made reservations for the 10:00 tour on Tuesday.

We arrived about 9:15, paid for our tickets and waited for our tour.  The cashier gave us a receipt, but no other tickets.  When the tour was called, we were told we needed a red ticket to show which tour we were on.  We made a beeline to the cashier to get our tickets and when we returned there were no seats left for us to sit together.  Jim snagged an outside seat, but I got stuck in the middle with two people on each side of me.

We headed out on our two hour tour.  The first thing the tram passed were these baby alligators.  The nice thing about the tour is they know exactly where some of these nests are.  We would have definitely passed it if we had been on our own.

Next, we got a glimpse of this Limpkin,

 a Pied-billed Grebe,

Halfway through the tour, the tram arrives at a viewing stand overlooking Shark Valley.

After a break, it was time to get back on and look for more nature.

Here is a Florida Redbelly Turtle,

Snowy Egret,

a closeup of one of the water lily flowers,

and the Walking Catfish.  You would look at the water and all of a sudden you would see all of these bubbles appear.  We were told it was Walking Catfish.

 At the end, we came up to an "Anhinga Rookery".  There are four Anhinga nests here

complete with their chicks.

We enjoyed the tram ride, but are planning to come back tomorrow with our bikes to ride the 14 mile trail on our own. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Everglades National Park Anhinga Trail & A Key Lime Milkshake

We have really been enjoying the warm days here.  We have had a couple of days with highs of 85.  I felt a little guilty (not really) when I talked to my daughter in Austin and it was icy and in the 20's there and we were running our air conditioner.

After our morning trip to Eco Pond, we left the campground to drive 30 miles in the park to the Anhinga Trail at the Royal Palm Visitor Center.  This trail is on the other end of the park as you enter.  

It is a beautifully developed trail and it did not disappoint us.

As we drove to the trail, there were quite a few Woodstorks in the tips of the trees.  It was pretty amazing to see such a large bird perched in the top of a tree.

We stopped at the Pahayokee Overlook where you can see some contrasts of the ecosystem, from grasslands

to canopied forests in a few steps.

 We passed this sign and had to get a picture.  It seemed really funny to us after being in the west and northwest this summer.

Next stop, the Anhinga Trail.  We were so amazed at how close you could come to the animals there.  As long as you came up slowly and quietly, you could get close enough to touch them.

Here's a black vulture.  One interesting thing we learned in one of the ranger talks we attended was that the vultures mate for life.

Here is a Great Blue Heron in its plumage.

From this point, you can actually see where the ecosystems meet, grasslands to forest.

Here's a Purple Gallinule.

I had to add a picture of the trail's namesake, the Anhinga.  This one just stayed on the rail as we walked by it.

Of course, the alligators were out as well.  We saw them in the water and there was this one right on the trail.  I have to say we walked on the other side as we passed it, but it didn't move.  We certainly didn't want to test it though.

There was also a Roseate Spoonbill

and Stilts in the water.

A Woodstork stretched out its wings.

I didn't mind posing with this alligator in the background.  It was far enough away from me.

 As we completed the trail, we caught this gator with its toothy grin.

We were close enough to the entrance of the park now that we drove into Florida City to visit Robert Is Here, a very well known local fruit stand.

They have a large variety of fruits, many from the Caribbean.  They also have fresh fruit milkshakes in a variety of flavors.

We both got the Key Lime Milkshake and it was delicious!

It was the perfect treat for the warm afternoon.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Everglades Back Country Boat Tour & Croc Talk

After our adventure with the car, we decided to stay close to the campground and take the Everglades Back Country Boat Tour at the Flamingo Marina.

We purchased our tickets for the 9 a.m. boat tour and joined approximately 8 other passengers.

It was really nice to not be on a crowded boat because in the afternoon the boat seems to always go out at full capacity.

It was a clear morning as we headed out the man made channel towards Whitewater Bay.

 During the tour, we were provided commentary regarding the history and nature in the area.

There are three different types of Mangrove trees in the area and this is an example of one of them.


There are also lots of air plants growing in the trees.

As we headed into the bay, we saw this Royal Tern on one of the mile markers.

 The wind picked up quite a bit as we journeyed into the bay.  We also passed people in their own kayaks fishing or just enjoying some time out on the water.

 We found out you could take your kayak out on the waterway where there are "chickees" placed along the route where you can camp.  A chickee is an elevated wooden platform (10ft. x 12 ft.) with a roof.  It is usually constructed on open water, well away from mangrove trees.  A narrow walkway leads to a self-contained toilet.  Your tent must be free standing since there is no place to use stakes.  I don't think we'll be doing that anytime soon.

In the afternoon, we returned to the marina for a ranger led Croc Talk.  The Everglades is the only place where you can see both alligators and crocodiles.  

The ranger had two skulls to help us distinguish between the two.
     Crocodiles have long, pointed snouts shaped like a V, whereas alligators have a more rounded           
     snouts like the letter U.

     The alligator jaw is broader than the crocodile jaw.

     Crocodiles have toothier smiles, their upper and lower teeth interlock giving you an eyeful of both 
     sets of teeth.

The alligator skull is the one in the front of the picture.

And here is a crocodile soaking up the sun's rays.

We spied another one laying on the bank. We saw three different crocodiles in the water by the marina.

After our Croc Talk, we hung out at the Osprey nest watching the family interact.

It was a great day observing nature!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How To Catch Up On Your Blogs

Well, I was two weeks behind in posting my blogs and was trying to figure out how I would do it.  We have no internet where we are staying.  This morning we began by going back to Eco Pond to watch the birds.

It's still amazes us watching them flying across the pond and down to a feeding spot.  They feed a little while and then begin the flying and moving to a different spot.

Our plan today was to drive out of the park and head to the Keys.  We were about 20 miles from the entrance and the check engine light went on in the car, then we lost all acceleration.  Jim pulled over and turned the car off and restarted it.  We went another 10 miles and it did it again.  We also had zero cell phone service in this area.  Needless to say it was a quiet ride out of the park.  Once we got to the entrance of the park, I was able to find a Nissan dealer in Homestead about 15 miles away.  We got to the dealer and had to wait several hours for them to be able to check it.  Apparently, there were a couple of warranty issues.  Scary, and thank goodness we were able to get somewhere for service.

So, we probably will not make it to the keys this time.  There is a lot to do in the Everglades and we have to get back to our boys.

However,  it was a way for me to catch up on my blogs. :)