Wednesday, 20 March:
0700 up and out into the crisp but warming pinelands morning in the Everglades
National Park. A little windy this morning in Long Pine Key Campground,
but a beautiful sunny morning and the resident birds are hollering their
heads off. A house wren is scolding constantly by my tent, cardinals are
singing their territorial songs, red shouldered hawks, crows and great crested
flycatchers call repeatedly; all of this from the moment of first light.
By the time we humans are stirring, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers and
catbirds have begun adding their opinions to the general clamor; in a way
it is fortunate that the summer's insects aren't active yet - or the warbler
invasions! After breakfast and numerous phoning individuals (vocal proclamations
to join the birds?), we first see an edge of the "River
of Grass" on a check of the visitor center as we prepare to go
first to the Keys.
Day Six - Long Pine Key to Long Key
Traffic on US 1, as well as stops for mail, bathrooms and snorkeling information,
delay us somewhat, but we do reach our objective by lunch time. Long Key
State Recreation Area is a great one-stop introduction to the Keys. We picnicked
under Australian pines (another south Florida exotic) right on the beach.
After lunch, some relaxed, sunned, photographed or explored, while half
of the group rented snorkeling equipment and checked out the reef. The reef
here is very close to shore in shallow water - you can walk right out to
it at low tide, which we timed correctly. Various fish, sea stars, sponges
and even a sea turtle were found by Samurai
John and the snorkelers.
Even better was the Golden Orb Spider Nature
Trail, which winds its way through a couple of miles of keys habitats.
We spent a couple of hours here, late in the afternoon. A boardwalk leads
through a mangrove zone, where red and black mangroves and buttonwood dominate
the shallow water and adjacent shell-sand zones. Here the water channels
are populated with Cassiopea, a cnidarian with symbiotic algae, upside down
and photosynthesizing. At one site, we saw a small group of barnacles, legs
out, feeding. Wading birds are frequently
heard, and almost as often seen scrambling around among the mangrove roots
stabbing into the water for lunch. Several of us were lucky enough to see,
in addition to the herons, egrets and white ibis, roseate spoonbills and
a scarlet ibis. Along the edge of the bay, exposed by the low tide, was
some of the debris of the bay, both biological and refuse; crabs scuttled
around between debris and their tunnels.
And the best of the Nature Trail was the more terrestrial (somewhat hard
to say convincingly, when you can still hear and smell the water!) sand-shell
ridge. This is a habitat that is totally distinct from those common on the
mainland. Many of the species we could recognize were the same: poison ivy
and grape vines, sea grape, poisonwood, gumbo
limbo and tamarind trees were in the hammock; bay cedar, now full of
tiny yellow blossoms, dominated the open areas (where I was disappointed
at failing to find any racerunners). Several bracket fungi were abundant
at some sites, though dried out now, and sea purslane and sea oxeye daisy
were found blooming in open areas. We even saw several of the golden
orb spiders for which the trail is named.
We headed back toward the mainland about 1800, stopping while still in the
Keys for a seafood dinner. A bit expensive, but good seafood.
2200-2300 a night hike at Anhinga Trail. Neat, but possibly a result of
the noticeable night chill, not a great deal of wildlife was visible. It
was, however, very impressive to shine a light across the water of Taylor
Slough and see the red-eyed shine of reflected light from the eyes of gators;
up to two dozen of them at one spot. Some of them appeared to ignore us,
but several gators, upon sensing us, moved toward us as we spied on them.
The sporadic croak of a bird out in the darkness, or the more frequent splash
from the slough, appeared a bit disconcerting to some of the novices among
us. Ah, wilderness! Everywhere in the water we could see fish, lots of fish.
Some gar were humongous!
Back to camp, and many of us were more than ready to turn in.