It’s the Journey…

Everglades National Park. It’s been an unreachable goal on so many of my Florida trips. Normally my visits take me to the Orlando area even when I am not visiting the Theme Parks and Orlando isn’t anywhere near Everglades National Park. Now that I’m in Fort Lauderdale finally getting to the park is a top priority.

I realize that all of my little adventures so far have taken me into the Everglades…but not the National Park. My first decision is which part of the park to visit. There are 3 entrances and they are nowhere near each other. Since wildlife is a priority I chose the Shark Valley entrance. My GPS put me about 45  minutes away so it wasn’t a bad drive. It was highway for the most part.

I was making good time until I got off the highway and made my last turn toward the park. At least there were plenty of signs so you don’t get lost. What I didn’t know was that the last part if the trip was all under construction so it was one lane…literaly. You stopped for the flagmen who let one lane go , then the other.

The Shark Valley entrance opens at 8:30 am and closes at 6pm. As I got closer I saw snake hunters with their snake hooks searching the perimeter of the park for invasive snakes. The state of Florida is sponsoring a snake hunt for pythons. Latest count is at 31. The hunt ended Feb 8. I’m not sure what the final counts came to. I will have to look it up and let you know in another post.

It was a little after 9am when I saw the entrance to the park come into sight. The entrance fee is $10.00 and is good for 7 days. It’s also good at any of the entrances. Too bad this is my last day in Florida for this trip. I’m flying out of Fort Lauderdale Airport in the morning.

The limited parking was almost filled even at this early hour but the rangers were great helping me squeeze my little rental into a spot that seemed way too small  by directing me in. I collected my gear and walked across the pavement to the sidewalk and almost stepped on my first “gator”…a big one! The ranger laughed and said ” Welcome to the Everglades. Watch where you step.”

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What an introduction! I walked the rest of the way to the information center on the road..not the sidewalk!

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The “Critters” of Sawgrass Recreational Park

Like most of the attractions I’ve come across in Florida the animals of Sawgrass Recreational Park are all rescues. If they had been left in the wild they would not survive and although they have now healed from their injuries, something prevents them from being released again. It could be that they are now disabled but it could also be that they have become accustomed to people. This loss of fear can put both the animal and the people who cross their path at risk so they live out their lives in captivity.

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Of course there was the reptile section. There were snakes and lizards including a black and white tegue, an invasive species in south Florida. They had alligators and crocodiles.  You could hold baby alligators and have a picture taken. One of the most interesting moments in this section was when a visitor standing by an alligator pit started humming. The large alligator inside raised itself up on its legs and began to respond to the humming by growling back. This back and forth went on for about 10 minutes. The gator was clearly responding to the visitor.

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I moved on to the mammal section. There were quite a few empty cages here. Maybe the animals were in their shelters to avoid the heat. I saw some skunks and moved on. Then I spotted the big cats. There was a bobcat but the Florida Panther was magnificent.

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Florida Panthers are endangered so to see one even in captivity was pretty special. This one was very active. One of the volunteers was playing  a game of tug of war with him with a rope toy. That cat was not going to give up.

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If the cage had not been labeled or the volunteer been there to tell us about this guy I might have mistaken it for a mountain lion. The tan coloring and facial features just brought that breed of wild cat to mind.

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In the cage next door were two black leopards. I made the stupid mistake of calling them black panthers..OOPS!, I was very quickly corrected. Although these cats look black when the light hits them just right you can see the leopard spots.

In a tiny little cage was the cutest little animal.

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It had huge ears but looked like a little dog, This animal isn’t native to Florida. It was a Fennec Fox which is native to the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa. This little guy was quite territorial, guarding its little cage by jumping up the wire sides when anyone came too close.

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They had a raptor section too. These winged predators had broken wings and broken beaks. So sad that they will never be able to fly free again.

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One of the keepers had his dog with him. What a beautiful animal! He had the most unusual eyes. They were 2 different colors.

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I spent quite a bit of time here chatting with the keepers and volunteers. I could see myself working someplace like that with animals too.

Heading back to the parking lot I spotted another one of those red, blue and black/brown birds.

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As another day began to wind down I put this one solidly in the win column.

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But tomorrow I will finally get to Everglades National Park. I am soooo excited!

Sawgrass Recreational Park

Sometimes I’m not sure what I am thinking about or even why I do some things.

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After wandering around Flamingo Gardens some more I decided it was time to move on…but where? I had a list of places and attractions. I know I had someplace in mind as I hopped on RT 75. I think I was headed to find the Seminole Reservation but somehow got misdirected.

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I was driving along the highway and my cell phone rang. No one ever calls my cell phone? So when I heard from one of my friends still in Massachusetts I got to chatting until I lost signal but by then I’d also forgotten where I was going. At about that time I saw a sign for Sawgrass Recreation Park. That was on my list of possible places to visit so having wasted enough time driving I pulled off to check this out.

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Similar to Evergaldes Holiday Park, there are airboat rides, a snack bar and some souvenirs but instead of alligator wrestling they have a zoo of sorts. To explore the animals on exhibit you have to take the airboat ride. And that’s how I found myself back on another airboat. Not that I’m complaining. 🙂

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It was another full boat but this one was open, more like I’ve been on in the past.

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In fact, I’m pretty sure my mother and I stopped here when we visited Fort Lauderdale about 10 years ago.

As we pulled out from the dock our operator told us we can never get lost in the Everglades. He pointed out a row of high tension line towers. He said just follow those and it would lead you out of the “glades”. Because the land is so low these towers can be seen from anywhere in Everglades.

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The airboat ride followed the same pattern , a  little bit of “hot doggin'” to throw up some water and provide some thrills for the folks with a need for speed then a slower approach to the cuts and locations where the operators expect to see gators.

FloridaMexico 601 copySure enough we got to see a couple of good-sized ones in deeper water. They were swimming fast enough they even left a wake!

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Another one made a bee line for a neighboring boat.

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Our operator reminded us that gators can jump so keep hands and small children (swamp humor) inside the boat.

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It was another beautiful afternoon.

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Back at the dock we were reminded to check out the “critters” because they are part of our ticket price. I wasn’t sure exactly what “critters” they had but I headed down the path dodging one of the ever-present peacocks that decided the plop down right in the way.

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Beyond the Aviary

As much fun as I was having in the huge aviary I knew there was much more to see so I packed up my gear and bid good-by to the squawking, flapping crowd.

As I followed the path away from the aviary I approached a huge tree.

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It was so large it reminded me of the banyan trees I’d seen in Hawaii. But it’s no banyan, it’s a cluster fig tree.

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Trees like this always make my mouth drop open in awe. I can only imagine how I will react when I finally see a giant sequoia! This was one time I wished I had a person to stand next to the tree to show the perspective.

Not too far away was the Flamingo Cafe. It was easy to see why it was named that way. On one side was the Flamingo exhibit and on the other was the butterfly garden. On the back side was a Hummingbird Garden. No matter where you choose to sit there’s something to look at. Food offerings were limited to things like hotdogs and chips and like all places of this nature the cost was top dollar. Still if one is hungry you pay the price. As it turned out the hot dogs were giant ones so I can’t complain about the amount of food for the money.

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It was a slow day for humming birds and butterflies so I sat watching the flamingos.

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I have seen them in all the various shades of pink but these were really a deep, rich color. More of a coral than a pink.

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Nearby was a tram ride so after lunch I hopped on board for the tour of the rest of the grounds. This part seemed really familiar. It made me wonder if I had been here before. If so it must have been 10 years ago. Not much had changed. The little tram takes you through some fruit orchards and past the founder’s Historic Wray Home.

The tram driver tells a little of the history and points out some of the exhibits. It’s a nice little ride.

Back at the tram station I meandered over to the Florida Panthers exhibit but they were not around. They are diurnal so it was a bit early for them to be active. Same with the bobcats in the bobcat exhibit. I had better luck at the Geese, Swans and Cranes. I especially liked the pair of sand hill cranes in this exhibit.

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The otters were very active and there was a little bridge to stand on to watch them.

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And of course…Alligators. After all we are in Florida so what would a pond of water be without the alligator?

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A Foot Note to The Pelican Post

One of the great things about blogging is what you can learn from your followers. Because of the comment on the coloring of the Pelican in yesterday’s post I did some research and that is  mating plumage.

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But even more interesting to me is that the fibrous growth on the white pelican is not an injury! Sure looked like one to me but according to the internet (And we all know the internet doesn’t lie) it’s a breeding display :

In breeding season they get a light yellowish crest on the back of the head and males get a “nuptial tubercle” or fibrous plate on the upper part of their bill that is unique to white pelicans. The feet and bill turn more brilliant colors when breeding as well. The nuptial tubercle will fall off when mating season is over and the crest will turn gray.

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I hope that clears up any misinformation.

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