It was stepping out into a watery wilderness a mere 7 miles from the headwaters of the River of Grass. Anyone local will tell you that you are too far north for the Everglades. They think of the southern end, near Fort Lauderdale, Shark Valley, Holiday Park, but the shallow waters start somewhere and East Lake Tohopekaliga is a good a place as any to explore if you are near St. Cloud, FL.
We tried a smaller airboat ride than I’ve done before. We floated out with Wild Willy’s and it was worth the effort to get there. Located in a RV campground on a dead end road, Wild Willy’s uses 6 person airboats, smaller and more personal than the bigger airboats I’ve been on on the past.
Our captain said he was the one and only Wild Willy. I’m not sure if that’s true or just what they all say but he was a crusty fellow who did his darndest to give us a fun and educational ride.
Without a word he used the airboat to coax birds into the air or drift quietly past them so I could get the best possible photos. Big difference from the frustrating experiences trying to get photos on some of the big airboats.
Willy pointed out an eagle nest with two eaglets while Mon and Dad perched in the tree tops a few trees away keeping a close eye.
Baby alligators chirped for mama gator and birds were everywhere.
One of the first we spotted was an osprey with a fish for lunch half as big as he was.
A great blue heron “photo bombed” some smaller wading birds…just because he could.
We scared up a flock of white pelicans.
We spotted quite as few Purple Gallinules.
I got a predator bird in flight. It was hardly more than a spot in the sky when Willy pointed the airboat toward it. I heard him say it was very rare and that he’d taken birder’s out days at a time looking for one. But I didn’t catch what he called it. So here’s my mystery bird. Any idea what it is?