We drove to the end of the Everglades (Flamingo), the Southern most part of peninsular Florida, to hit a few hikes and try to spot some crocodile and manatee. We learned that crocodile live in the brackish water between the saltwater bay and freshwater river. The manatee hang where the boats are, which is inside the saltwater marina. We tried to find some, but didn’t have any luck. We decided to take a walk along the bay instead. Mangrove trees stretched out their arms, seemingly crawling from shore to shallows.
I had to dip my feet in. I usually get that sensation whenever I’m near a body of water. No matter how cold, if I can’t swim in it, I have to at least give the toes a little taste. It was warmer than Rainbow Springs, and I would have gone for a swim if it weren’t for the jagged rocks and crocodile on the brain.
We saw the remnants of an old pier, a reminder of storms past. Those reminders are everywhere in Florida, especially the Everglades. The Flamingo visitor center is currently housed in a portable trailer, after recent storms destroyed their main structure.
After our walk along the bay, we turned inland toward Eco Pond and happened upon a lounging flock of roseate spoonbills.
I was interested in seeing these birds ever since my cousin Tiffany mentioned some sightings of them near St. Augustine. I remember seeing my first flamingo as a child, and imagined spotting one of these would lead to a similar feeling. It was just as I imagined it would be. I think I might have even fist pumped the air while quiet-yelling, “roseate spoonbills!” Here’s a picture with credit from the Audubon Society, so you can see just how cool these birds are.
Well now we were just totally birded up, high on feathers. We decided to hit Mrazek Pond next. As soon as we arrived, a man asked if I would like to look through his tripod telescope at a kingfisher across the lake. Yes, as fate would allow, we had stumbled upon a group of three couples led by Ranger Brian on a bird walk of the Everglades. Was it fate? I don’t know. Did we join the Bird Nerds? Of course we did.
We followed them to three more sites and learned a lot from Ranger Brian about not only birds, but the flora and fauna of the park. We even got to forage for coco plums. Ryan and I were the only brave ones willing to try them, probably because we were the youngest by about 25 years and are still blissfully unaware of our impending mortality. Also, I really love fruit. And Ryan didn’t want me to die alone in case it was poison. Thanks to Ranger Brian, it was a success, even though we learned that coco plums don’t taste that good.
One thing I really liked about the Bird Nerds was their tangible excitement. When one of the group heard a woodpecker, everyone stopped on their heels. They passed along binoculars until everyone had seen it. I mean, everyone. “Did you get a chance to see it,” they asked Ryan, who is generally that guy in the back corner of the classroom. He replied that he hadn’t. 12 eyes opened and smiled at him in anticipation. An arm reached out a pair of binoculars. He took hold and tried to find it. No luck. They waited, smiling. “Look here! Over there!” Hard to see. “Okay, try spotting it without the binoculars first.” Can’t seem to see it. Everyone wanted Ryan to find it. This group was not walking on until he did. One thing birders have is patience. I was beginning to get flashbacks of spending a half hour on a park bench waiting for my mom to be done looking for a nuthatch. And I knew I had found her people, and they were salt of the earth.
That evening we decided to walk the Anhinga trail again, as the park offered a night walk led by a Ranger. If you remember in Ryan’s post, the Anhinga trail was the trail filled with alligators. This time we would see them by starlight, and find them by flashlight, watching for their iridescent eyes to give up their spot.
We saw quite a few alligators, a great blue heron (oddly feeding at night, according to our guide who looked like Willie Nelson’s skinnier brother), and a nightjar called Chuck’s-will-widow. We also got some lessons about the cosmos and our connection to nature and time. The more Rangers I meet, the more I realize the magnitude of what they do. They are delighted in earth, conservation, and sharing, and it’s contagious.
The next morning we decided to take a little 50 minute getaway to Key Largo. We found a beach, grabbed a plot of sand, and took out our books.
I waded in the water, but we found too many of these little guys for me to bravely go in above the shin. I have been stung before, and it isn’t pleasant. But I enjoyed his little lacey feet…from afar.
I was happy to get a bit more vitamin D, especially as we opened our weather app to reveal freezing temperatures back home (sorry, loved ones).
We got some key lime pie (that was mediocre and way too sweet), and decided to head back to camp, making it in time for a glorious sunset. We looked at each other with smiles on our faces. Here we are, in this beautiful place, with this beautiful sky, and we get to do it together. Sometimes it feels like you are the richest person in the world, even when you’re living on $30 a day.