Monday, November 15, 2010

Fakahatchee Strand

Today we joined Al and Roz Katz for a trip to Fakahatchee Strand, sometimes known as the "Amazon of North America." Al likened it to Jurassic Park, full of swamp and ferns. It is also famous for Ghost Orchids, but we were on the watch for alligators, panthers and bears today. Since they are about to do some road maintenance on the single unpaved road, we had the place to ourselves as we drove into the cypress swamps in Al's yellow Mustang convertible with the top down. I was amazed at the water's clarity as it moved slowly towards the Everglades.
The ferns are everywhere and every size. Small spores cling to the bottom of some fronds, blowing into the breeze if you brush against them.
Roz finally found the small slender shoestring fern growing on the side of a tree. It looks like small green spaghetti hanging on the bark, and I would never have known it was a fern at all just by looking at it. Nope, this isn't it, but some other kind of fern that caught my eye. Plenty of birds perch along the edge of the shallow water, including Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, Ibis, Little Blue Herons and others. The larger birds would fly before us down the road, surely an easier task then dodging between branches in the heavy growth.
Numerous Red Shouldered Hawks called from sky and tree top. These Florida birds appear a bit paler in color than ours in Kentucky.
The last time Al came to Fakahatchee, he saw a panther (similar to a puma) walking down the road, and this time he hoped to find a black bear. We did not find either, but as we left, we stopped by the ranger's office, and park workers said they had, indeed, seen a black bear earlier this morning! We did, however, find plenty of ALLIGATORS!
The first gator lounged in the water...
...and another sunned itself on the sunny gravel road. If our eyes weren't sharp enough, we still heard the sudden SPLASH of a gator plopping into the water at our approach.
Gator eyes watched us constantly. "What is that yellow thing? Can I swallow it?" they seemed to think.
At one point, we walked down a trail for a bit balanced on boards above the water. Nowhere near the end of the path, Al suddenly hollered and said, "This is as far as we can go today!" when he saw a large gator resting across the path in front of us. We all agreed and headed back to the car, hoping that another would not be waiting behind us. Look at the size of those claws!
A nearby rustle caught my attention. A toad? A crawdad? No, this creature has too many legs, and I think I see antennae too. Oh, that's a lubber! Roz says they change colors all year, and this will be about the last of them. Looks like they have been painted and released by some pop artist!
The long-winged Zebra butterflies were much easier to identify.
We commented that there didn't seem to be a large amount of invasive plants. This is a native wild coffee that the Native Americans used to make a drink.
Most of the Royal Palms you see in Florida are actually not native to Florida at all. Fakahatchee has a stand of native ones though. Near the entrance was a prairie, and cypress stumps remaining from logging intersperced the living trees. Remnants of a large cypress forest, they still act as nursery trees, with ferns and small trees growing along the trunks.
When we stopped at Everglades City for a lunch of stone crabs, we watched this blue crab swimming by. It's legs really are blue, but it only used two of them for swimming.

Naturalists are always friendly people, and love to share their enthusiasm and knowledge even with strangers such as ourselves. Roz and Al are both active with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and travelled to Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in October for their son's recent wedding. Thanks for spending the day with us. If you return to Kentucky, maybe we can do the same for you!

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