Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Florida Everglades

• The Florida Everglades •
 
• Everglades National Park •

Thursday, March 28, 2013: Alligator Alley

On Thursday, I went with my parents and cousins to photograph alligators.  Last August, my mom and I went to Sanibel Island at the recommendation of our cousin, Sue.  There, we saw an alligator up close for the first time ever.  Amazed by the giant, prehistoric armored creature observing us as we observed it, we desperately wanted to see more alligators.  We began our photo journey going north on Snake Road, also called Alligator Alley (right, below), toward the Seminole village.  As we drove, we stopped along the way whenever we spotted an alligator on the side of the road.  Our cousins, Sue and Steve, explained to us that since it was a cool "winter" day of 75º F, all the cold-blooded alligators were emerging from the water to catch some sun and warm up.  I also did a bit of sunning to warm myself up emerging from a frigid Chicago winter.







Would you dare swim in this water?









Swimming along Alligator Alley...Not Recommended
Everglades National Park: Shark Valley

Our second stop to see alligators was one that I have wanted to visit for quite some time now: The Everglades National Park.  There are many trails to go through the everglades, and we chose the Shark Valley Trail.  As soon as we arrived and started walking, we saw that the alligators were everywhere!  Visitors walked right up to them to snap photos, despite the danger of standing close to an alligator.  It seemed that as long as you respected the distance between you and the alligator and moved predictably that they were fairly tolerant of the visitors.  Then again, there's always a chance that a wild animal (or reptile) could attack.  We estimated that we had seen nearly 100 alligators throughout the entire day.  Like last time, I was amazed by their sturdy, scaly legs, which are short, stout, and powerful.  It's also pretty interesting to note that their teeth are outside of their mouth when their mouth is closed.  Today, I was fortunate to observe some alligators swimming in the grass rivers that make up the everglades, and noticed that most of their swimming motion is initiated from the spiky tail.








Oddly, this last photo is not the action shot it looks like.  The alligator was motionlessly sunning his/herself with his/her mouth open and stayed in this position for at least ten minutes.

The anhinga, a bird, is also very prevalent throughout the Shark Valley trail of the Everglades National Park.  I especially appreciate that the anhingas seem to pose for pictures.  All over the world, I have tried to catch photos of birds with their wings extended.  These birds just sit perched with their wings open - even when you walk right up to them to take a picture.  They are incredibly tolerant of visitors.  Of course, I think it would always be a bad idea to touch a wild bird or startle it.  Then again, even the alligators didn't scare these birds away.

The anhinga (above) is mostly black and has some white patterning on its wings.  The long, skinny neck makes it so that you can see their most recently eaten meal slowly making its way down from the beak to the bird's body.

Other animals we spotted in Shark Valley included blue herons, monarch butterflies (below), and egrets.  I have no doubt that there is much more wildlife that we didn't even see.  According to Siri, over 2000 types of grass grow in the everglades.

Before leaving the park, our cousin, Sue, suggested we climb through the Solution Hole trail, which she explained to us is a hard wood hammock that has grown and formed solid ground in the middle of the swampy everglades.  In this hard wood hammock, visitors can see holes in the ground that are dug by otters.  These holes are known as solution holes (below).


Passing through the gift shop on the way out, I learned that you can get a passport for national parks all over the United States, and that you can stamp this passport at each park.  Of course, I had to have one!  Lots of parks and monuments throughout the world have stamps for this type of unofficial passport.  Back in Taipei at the Taipei 101, they provided stamps, but I had nothing but my real passport to brand with their stamp.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Everglades National Park: Anhinga Trail

On Friday, we explored the Anhinga Trail on the way to Miami.  Here, we were fortunate to see birds hunting for food in the water.  They step carefully, stalk their prey, and then spear it with their beaks.







I also took a few more alligator photos and videos.  It's great to see how they plop their feet down as they walk and then switch to propelling their movement with their tale as they transition from walking on land to swimming in the water.



After leaving the Anhinga Trail, we drove back to Miami.  On the way there, we were pretty hungry, and stopped at a fruit stand called "Robert is here...".  As we drove up, we saw signs suggest we try their famous key lime milkshakes, and figured this was more than a fruit stand.



It turned out that this place, had milkshakes, fruit, many flavors of honey, and a petting zoo with a tractor guests could climb.    I wasted no time in hopping into the tractor, which I fully realized clashed with my Kate Spade sunglasses.  Photo opps like this shouldn't be missed.



Since their milkshakes are really famous, we decided to each try one.  I ordered a passion fruit milkshake, Mom chose mango, and Dad selected strawberry.  We also bought some tangerine honey and tasted cinnamon honey.  The petting zoo in the back has all sorts of birds and goats, and is still cool to see after photographing alligators up close all day.  By the way, I don't have a telephoto lens.  In fact, I just have a little pocket camera.  To get all those photos, I just walked right up to the alligators and hoped not to get eaten.





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