Amazingly, we found all three in our two days in the Everglades—plus lots more. If you want to see exotic birds in an extraordinary landscape, this is the place. I must admit, though, that I didn’t always feel so positively about the Everglades.
It Can Be A Hellacious Place
I grew up in Miami, and my memories of the Everglades are of marathon fishing trips with my parents, where my sister and I ran shrieking through dense clouds of mosquitoes to jump into the boat. “Hold on!” my dad would yell, as he gunned the motor and took off from shore, blowing the mosquitoes away. The sun was scorching, the air thick with humidity, and the waters weren’t fit for swimming (too many bull sharks and gators). Not surprisingly, as soon as my sister and I were old enough to stay home alone, we bailed on those rugged expeditions.
I can understand why early settlers wanted to tame the Everglades, drain the swamp, and eliminate the mosquitoes and other vermin. Even Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the environmentalist and writer largely responsible for saving the Everglades, said, “To be a friend of the Everglades is not necessarily to spend time wandering around out there … it’s too buggy, too wet, too generally inhospitable.”
Learning To Appreciate The Everglades
So it was with trepidation that Eric and I visited the Everglades a couple of years ago (on my birthday, no less). To my surprise, we discovered a unique landscape rich with wildlife. The temperatures were pleasant and breezy, we weren’t eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I began to appreciate this special place.
We returned this year in mid-December to once again explore the beauty and wildness of the Everglades. In Shark Valley, we biked through 15 miles of sawgrass marshes that extend as far as the eye can see—a soothing palette of gold and green grasses with shallow, clear ponds reflecting an enormous cloud-filled sky. And in Big Cypress National Preserve, we explored primeval cypress strands that provide ideal habitat for beautiful and elegant wading birds.
Click on photos for a larger image
How One Woman Saved The Everglades
There’s no other place on earth like the Everglades. Created by a shallow, slow-moving sheet of water 120 miles long, 50 miles wide, and less than a foot deep, it’s fed by rainfall in the Kissimmee River Basin, and flows south from Lake Okeechobee to the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay. Ms. Douglas famously and poetically described the Everglades as a “River of Grass” in her book that transformed the public’s view of the glades; she observed that the grasses ripple like waves as the water languidly moves through the landscape.
Originally covering 3,000,000 acres, half of the Everglades fell to “progress” in the name of housing developments; canals, dams, and dikes to tame the water; and sugar cane fields. The southernmost 1,500,000 acres was dedicated in 1947 as Everglades National Park, thanks in large part to Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ tireless work to educate people about the necessity of saving this critical wetland habitat. Here’s the best part—she was 79 years old when she started her crusade to save the glades. She kept on going until the age of 108, a friend to the glades to the end.
“I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or of a longer life, are not necessary.” ~Marjory Stoneman Douglas
About The Campground: And A Few ‘Don’t Miss’ Attractions:
Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve nestles up to the northwestern edge of Everglades National Park. It’s the closest campground for exploring one of the most accessible and beautiful areas of the Everglades.
Every site is level, grassy, and lovely. The sites at the back of the loop are the furthest away from the two-lane highway and the quietest. Electric hookups, drinking water, restrooms, dump station, intermittent Verizon coverage. $30 per night/$15 with Senior Pass.
The Everglades has two very distinct seasons: mid-December through March is generally dry, breezy, pleasant, and with few bugs. This is also prime birding season because the warm winters attract lots of wading birds. April through November is rainy, hot, humid, buggy, and generally miserable.
Don’t miss the 15-mile loop trail in nearby Shark Valley, in the heart of the Everglades. We enjoyed biking it (rentals are available) but you can also take a tram tour. The birding is phenomenal and the views from the Observation Tower offer a 360-degree panorama of the “river of grass.”
In Big Cypress Preserve, just west of the campground, is a fantastic 27-mile scenic loop drive that travels through cypress and pine forests and deep clear water strands. It’s an excellent place to see wading birds.
Of the three birds you mentioned, the Snail Kite will remain on my wish list.
I spent my bday biking at Shark Valley two years ago and I so enjoyed it to be surrounded by all those wildlife! Thank you for taking me back there.
The Everglades is one place I won’t mind visiting again, given the chance. So much beauty and wildlife there.
So funny, MonaLiza — I spent my birthday a couple of years ago in the Everglades, too! I hope you have the opportunity for a return visit. We were thrilled to see the beautiful Snail Kite!
OMG, what incredibly gorgeous birds, I would
have just stood in awe to see these amazing
creatures, how lucky you are to be able to experience
this glorious place called the Everglades. The caption
for the alligator I think should have been “Just
Peggy, you would love seeing the gorgeous birds in the Everglades. You just need to make sure to not visit in the buggy season — I know how much mosquitoes love you!
Gorgeous pictures of the Everglades. I have seen your first two bird wishes several times but have never seen the third so I’m envying you that. The Everglades is one of our very favorite places and we are pained to hear just days ago that because of all the rains this winter the agricultural pollution from fields around Lake Okeechobee that should have been part of the Everglades is flowing down the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers to the Gulf and Atlantic. There is a clamor by tourist businesses on the coasts being impacted by the pollution to send it down into the Everglades. Will we NEVER learn that food grown chemicals is poisoning us, the land, the waters and the others with whom we share this planet. So very sad. Such a gorgeous place. I hope they fail in their attempts to pollute it to save their fields from flooding.
Glad you enjoyed the photos, Sherry. Agricultural pollution anywhere is a tragedy, but especially when it threatens entire ecosystems like the Everglades. That’s one primary reason why we always buy organic food, even though it’s harder to find and more expensive.
Fantastic – looks like my cup of tea, although I can do without the gators. They always make me nervous. Glad you had a great visit.
You would love the birding and photo opportunities in the Everglades, Ingrid. I’m always cautious around gators, but even with all of the time we spend kayaking in waters where there are lots of gators, we’ve never had any cause to be worried. But I wouldn’t swim with them, that’s for sure. ;-)
When we biked Shark Valley, that pavement was littered with fabulous alligators. Such sweet memories, Thanks for the photos and the wonderful description of an incredible part of the world
I’m glad this brought back good memories for you, Sue. The wild parts of Florida are special, indeed! We had dozens of gators in Shark Valley a couple of years ago when we biked the trail — this year, not many at all. I must admit biking within a couple of feet of them made me a bit anxious!
We visited the Everglades mid December and had a wonderful time. I don’t remember any bugs so they couldn’t have been bad. We loved biking Shark Valley and how tame all the birds and gators were along the path. We enjoy Midway Campground, as well. You are right about a lot of birds being in the area. Even I enjoyed them:) Love your beautiful photos, especially the Green Heron.
Thanks, Pam. :-) Mid-December seems to be the beginning of the “bug free” time to be in the glades. I don’t think I’d venture there much earlier, given my childhood memories of misery in the Everglades. That bike path in Shark Valley is a great ride, isn’t it?
This is such a gorgeous area. It’s too bad about the bugs and humidity making it inhospitable for much of the year. Perhaps we’ll make it out there some year…if not, I can thank you for showing me how lovely it is!
Lisa, I think you and Hans would really enjoy the Everglades — in the cool winter months, of course! I’m glad I could show you some of the unique beauty and wildness of the glades.
Never smile at a crocodile…you’ll be taken in by his friendly grin….thanks again for the tour! Even the vulture shows a fuzzy head..and the red/green heron and Mr. Crayola head! Wow! Such an adventure shared with humor and thoughtful insight.
Haha, never heard that crocodile rhyme! There are crocs in the glades, but we’ve not seen them. So happy to have you along for the tour, Diana. I always think of you when I see such amazingly colorful wildlife.
thanks for your wonderful, thoughtful post on the Everglades. In the past our visits have brought only frustration. The bugs and humidity were SO bad that we spent the entire time either in the car or the motorhome looking out on a landscape just begging to be explored. Of course, we were there at the wrong time of year, now I know. I thought it was always that way!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Sue — and also hope that it will be helpful when you once again venture to the Everglades. It’s a fantastic place in the right season. One of these days we’re going to visit Flamingo, the site of my childhood torture….but I guarantee it will be in the middle of January or February. I’m not taking any chances!
we didn’t do shark valley this year even though we had planned to… not sure why… loved the kite picture – great shot
Thanks! We were definitely lucky to see the Snail Kite. If you haven’t done Shark Valley, I highly recommend it. You’re sure to see lots of wildlife.
The Everglades is where I first spotted the purple gallinule and the limpkin. The snail kite will have to remain on my hope-to-see list as well. Before we visited the Everglades a few years ago, I was a bit reticent at the thought of spending 10 days there, but once we arrived, 10 days was not near enough time. I fell in love! We enjoyed our stay at Midway but really loved our time at Flamingo. I was expecting huge mosquito problems but we were lucky. Lovely photos, as always.
So glad you enjoyed the photos, LuAnn. Flamingo is still on our list — knowing how much you enjoyed it, we’ll definitely visit. Want to come with us? :-)
What a wonderful variety of such beautiful birds. Glad you included the regal vulture/buzzard – they always get a bad rap :-) Anhingas are my favorites. We are looking forward to the old growth Cypress groves, and the swamps when we make our way down there. Will have to make sure we hit the sweet spot times!
Jodee, those black vultures have quite brazen personalities! You’ll enjoy your time in these exotic locales. In the winter, of course.
Henry and I love the Everglades! You should do an overnight kayak trip while there. It is quite amazing. Looks like you saw all the good birds – of course.
Wow, you guys did an overnight kayak trip in the Everglades? We want to hear all about it!
It is always a pleasure to read of your adventures and see the accompanying photos. You seem to write with such ease and your pieces are engaging and informative, Laurel. Great photos, Eric, too. We “consulted” your blog when we traveled to Texas last spring (loved South Llano River SP!) and the Everglades posting was perfect timing for Nick and me. We’re soon to visit my sister who lives in Coral Gables for a couple of weeks.Our days will be filled with exploration of that amazing land. Where the most expensive water system in the world, is hopefully beginning to mitigate the human caused disruption of the slow movement of water to the Florida Bay. “River of Grass” will be with us as we continue to learn from our National Treasure, MSDouglas. Visiting the Corkscrew Swamp is always a treat! Where did you pick up the apple snail?
Thank you for your lovely comment, Sooney. Your trip to Coral Gables sounds wonderful — lots of birding and tropical adventures ahead for you! Corkscrew Swamp is on our list for next year — Eric has never been and I’m looking forward to exploring it with him. We found the apple snail on our bike ride through Shark Valley. I was surprised at how big they are! I hope you have Shark Valley on your list. You will LOVE it!
Thanks for the tip of when to visit Laurel, I was planning a South East trip Oct to Dec next year. Even though Florida would be at the end, probably mid November to mid December, it sounds like I may need to try and rework our time….
Jane, if you’re planning on South Florida, you’ll probably enjoy it more January through March. More people, for sure, but less bugs, heat, and humidity. Sanibel Island and further north would be lovely, though.