Monday, January 14, 2013

Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp–visit #1

We decided that Saturday was going to be a good day to visit the Everglades, so after a quick breakfast we packed a lunch and headed south on 41. 

There are several distinct areas of the Everglades, and one of the closest ones to us is Everglades City and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. 

Everglades_Gulf Coast Visitor Center

This is the water portion of the Everglades, where they offer boat tours of either Ten Thousand Islands along the Gulf Coast, or the Mangrove Tunnels off the Turner river, an inland estuary.  We chose the 6-passenger tour of the mangrove wilderness, where our chances of seeing wildlife were better.

We had about an hour & a half until the next available tour, so we sat at one of the picnic tables and ate our lunch.  We still had some time, so we decided to hop in the car and do a little exploring.  There wasn’t much in Everglades City, so we drove down to the little village of Chokoloskee, on the Chokoloskee Bay.

Chokoloskee Bay

Long-needle pine

There wasn’t much in the village, just some houses, a 100-year-old store turned into a museum (we didn’t pay the $6/person to go in and look around), and an RV Park.  The RV Park looked pretty nice, if you don’t mind being that far away from everything!

Driftwood on the beach

Oh yea, and this great-looking swamp buggy!  I’d be willing to take a ride in that! NOT!

Homemade Swamp Buggy!

Back at the Visitor Center, it was almost time for our boat ride.  We watched several small tour planes take off from right next to the National Park,


and kept our eyes open for interesting birds.

Looking for Gators!

Nick waiting for the boat ride

While we waited, we all measured our “wingspan" against the white pelican – the bird with the largest wingspan.

Bryce's wingspan - brown pelican

Nick's wingspan - bald eagle

Tom's wingspan - osprey

Sorry – nobody took my picture! 

Finally it was time for our tour, and along with a couple from Ontario, we loaded up in our boat.

Our ride -- "The Beater"!

Our Captain

Our captain was Ned, from Wisconsin, and despite being a recent transplant to Florida, he was very knowledgeable about the area, and entertaining, too!

(Looks a little bit like Nick, don’t you think??)








We started out on the Chokoloskee Bay, where we saw quite a few animals/birds – including an osprey nest,

Osprey guarding the nest

a manatee, a dolphin, and a small button-head shark . . . none of which I was able to catch pictures of!

As we passed under the highway, we saw some of the locals fishing,

Family Fishing

 Fishing for mullett

including these guys who had caught something that was worthy of a picture – Ned said it was a redfish.

Caught a redfish!

Entering the Turner River, we started to see many of the same birds that we’ve been finding at Lovers Key – pelicans, herons, egrets, ibises,

Ibises in flight


Osprey Couple

double-crested cormorant,


and more Great Blue Heron than we’ve ever seen in one place!

Great Blue Heron in flight!

We also saw one bird that we’ve never seen before . . . the night heron,

Night Heron

which Ned said is rarely seen during the day.  I thought it looked like a little blue heron wearing a mask!

Making our way toward the mangrove tunnels, we passed by the island in the middle of turner river, where the old Turner Homestead was built on top of a shell mound created by the Calusa Indians. 

Turner Island . . . a Calusa Indian shell mound

I can’t even imagine living out in the middle of the everglades like they did!

As we turned into the mangrove tunnel,

Into the Mangrove Tunnels

most of the sun was shut out by the canopy over our heads, and the air around us cooled by several degrees.  all we could hear was the hum of our boat motor and the flap of wings as several birds were startled from their hiding places.

Air plants


Ned pointed out several air plants, which grow in the branches of the mangrove trees, without the presence of any soli at all.  They only need air to survive.



As we crept along through the tunnels, we kept on the lookout for alligators and snakes.  Ned alerted us to various spots where he’s seen gators hanging out, and to our question about snakes, he responded that he has never seen any.

Alligator waiting for fish

We finally spotted this alligator, as he laid at the base of a small waterfall waiting for little fish to swim into his path!  He wasn’t too concerned about us, and didn’t even bat an eye as we hovered next to him, snapping pictures.  That was our one and only gator-sighting!

On the way back to turner river, we were just coasting along when I spotted a snake curled around a mangrove branch on the right side of the boat. 

Nobody believed I saw a snake!

Nobody believed that I really saw a snake, so Ned backed up the boat until he pulled up next to the branch where I had seen it.

There it is!

Mangrove Tree Snake

Back in the warm sunshine, we enjoyed the relaxing ride back to the Visitor Center – it was so quiet in the boat, I almost thought everybody had drifted off to sleep!

Back to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center

It was a worthwhile tour, maybe not as thrilling as an airboat tour, but we did get to see more wildlife, and we enjoyed ourselves.

From Everglades City, we headed north on 29, back to Tamiami Trail. Along the road, we spotted tons of alligators in the canal along the side of the road!  There’s no place to stop, so we weren’t able to get any pictures, though.

We were headed back towards Naples, but since we had some time before mass, we stopped at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk Trail into the Big Cypress Swamp.

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

Along the 0.6 mile boardwalk, we saw giant cypress trees,

Giant Cypress Trees

Strangler Fig


and several strangler figs - growing on the outside of the cypress trees – it looks like it’s hugging the cypress tree!









There is a bald eagle nest that is visible from the boardwalk, and the pair of eagles have recently had chicks.  We could see one of the eagles and one chick in the nest, but just barely . . .

Bald Eagle Chick

Further into the swamp, there were several Royal Palms that towered above the majority of the trees,

Royal Palm

and barely let the sun come through its branches.


The boardwalk trail ended at a small pond, which was known to house alligators, although we did not see any while we were there.  Some people said there had been baby gators earlier, but all we saw was this red-shouldered hawk.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Back at the parking lot, we saw a group of people gathered together looking at something and taking pictures.  We thought it might be an alligator, but it turned out to be something much more interesting!

Great Blue Heron on our car!!

A Great Blue Heron had decided to land on the hood of our car!  As we watched, it slipped, and scratched up the hood pretty well while it tried to regain its footing! 

Sliding down (and scratching!) the hood!

When it started to peck at the windshield, Nicolas decided it was time to scare it off!

Walking around the pond to get to the car, this Anhinga jumped up out of the water onto a post.

Anahinga up close

It looks dressed for the winter in that thick brown scarf!  We were getting into the car when we spotted this little alligator in the pond across from us,

Little gator in the pond

and Bryce had to go around to the other side to get a close-up shot!

Bryce getting a picture of the gator

It was a long and busy day in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, but we’re looking forward to another trip down here when we can do some biking and hiking and get really close to some wildlife!  That will be visit #2!


  1. What a great day trip! I love the everglades and the wildlife that lives there. I am more afraid of the snakes than the gators!

  2. Found your link through another blog, love your shots on this post, especially the reflection of the Great Blue Heron as he scrambles for purchase. I'm sure you didn't love the scratches he left behind though!


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