Sunday, February 14, 2016

Everglades 2016... Part 2 Feb. 7th and 8th

My camera, it turns out, was working fine. Everything except the screen. I could still use it, but 'd have to take pictures the old fashioned way... through the viewfinder. Barbaric, but its a sacrifice I would have to take.

It was still unclear how we were going to spend our Sunday. We had a potential invite from our friend Tim about going to the keys to meet up with him and herp and hang out. Nothing had yet been confirmed by the time we were ready to herp, so we went out for some early morning road cruising and canal walking while we awaited Tim's response. It was cold... walking the canals was a very cold endeavour. The skies were cloudy and the wind was whipping.

We got a message that the Keys wasn't going to happen, so we finished up our cruising (with, finally, an Alligator to show for it.)

We stopped off at Anhinga Trail to use the restrooms and were delighted to the the Black Vultures terrorizing cars in the parking lot again. Tarps? We don't care 'bout no stinking tarps!
Black Vulture #36
The meal of choice this day was a Fiat parked away from the crowd. We saw the woman whose car it was when she got back to it and she laughed... "it's a rental anyway!"

So, we hit the road and headed north to Big Cypress. The sun was starting to shine and we were happy to look at some new roads.

Big Cypress is a place of incredible beauty. Sometimes you can just look out into the wilderness and get lost in the pristine beauty.

Even though herps were difficult to see this weekend, the scenery more than made up for it. This Brown Anole threw us a bone, though.

Where the herps were absent, the birds filled in. We spent some time watching some Purple Galinules.

A Great Blue Heron that Andrea photographed right next to the car.

We heard the strains of Beethoven from far away and when we got closer, we realized it was this Snowy Egret's spot-on impression of Ludwig von.
Snowy Egret #37

Big Cypress is usually filthy with 'Gators but not this day. We were happy to finally see a pair floating in the distance.
Thanks to Wee Matty Cub Cub for pointing out that there's a very prominent Green Heron in the branches above.

This adorable if scrawny Brown Anole was trying to warm up.
And it definitely was warming up. Still in the mid-60s but the sun was nice. We even saw a slim, blackish snake slither across the road at one point, lifting our spirits. We were unable to find him, or even ID him (looked like a Racer but scurried across the road like a Nerodia... we're guessing the latter).

We saw plenty of Red-shouldered Hawks.

One thing that had our attention for quite a while was a Black Fox Squirrel.
It moved nothing like the squirrels that we're familiar with so we had no clue what it was at first. But when it stopped to nibble on something, it gave itself away. We eventually got pretty close to it and got to observe it for a while.

A short walk on a soon-to-flood-out trail got us this Brown Anole wearing his finest argyle.

We eventually hit a series of roads that we were eager to road cruise. Gators, turtles, snakes and panthers were our main goals. Of course, the water levels were super-high. But this early Alligator was practically on the road so we thought we might get lucky.

It was pretty busy on this stretch. Lots of people were looking for animals. We spotted this big guy far from the maddening crowd.
That's about a 3-foot noggin!

We nabbed a lifer bird along the way... an American Bittern, Lifer #142 and #38 on the year.
American Bittern #38 Lifer 142

The shadows were getting long and we decided to keep cruising the roads until dark, putting off dinner until later. We had enough snacks and water to hold out. So on we cruised.

And on.

We were exactly where we wanted to be at exactly the right time. The temps didn't drop too fast and we slowly drove along the roads, deep in concentration. But it just was not to be. Nothing was on the move. No Moccasins, no Garters. Nuthin'.

We hit the long road that runs right through the swamp... 24 miles of possibilities. Last year is was full of Moccasins, toads, frogs and even a Rat Snake. This year, nothing. We stopped for every stick and leaf again but were foiled every time. Frankly, it was ridiculous. We'd been herping the hell out of the 'Glades all day... for over 12 hours already... and had two species to show for it. TWO!

One thing that we kept talking about was the Skunk Ape. Florida's Bigfoot. Every time I would do a 3-point turn in the dark and the head lamps would illuminate the bushes at the side of the road, we'd point and say "skunk ape!"

Imagine our surprise when, about 10 miles from the end, in the pitch dark, we saw a human-shaped figure just off the road.

Well, it was human and he waved us down. I pulled over and he said he was a survivalist that had been out in the swamp for 5 days but had been caught unprepared for the dark this night. He wanted a ride to the highway. Hmmm... do we pick up a total stranger in the middle of the swamp, in the middle of the night? Truthfully, I got a pretty good vibe from him, so we made room.

We warned him that we were herping and he told us that we'd missed a Moccasin by just a bit. Also that he'd found a Burm during his stay and ate it. Survival. He was actually a fascinating guy... ex-Army who had served all over the world in crazy situations. Cool dude. We saw no more animals but having roadcruised a cool guy (named Mike), we felt OK.

The highway back to our hotel is notorious for roadkill. Red asphalt. Last year I got very upset at all of the mayhem. This year, we saw none. No roadkill at all. Talk about things just not moving.

After we ate and reached the hotel, I decided I had to take a shot at some of those Glasshouse Frogs that I'd missed the day before. I didn't see any but I rustled up a Mediterranean Gecko for our third herp of the day.

Nope. This just wasn't shaping up to be a slam-bang species count this year.

We awoke early for our last day. Our flight was Monday afternoon at 3:45 PM. So, we did the usual. After breakfast, birding the parking lot (two more species), and checking out of the hotel, we did the usual canal walks and road cruising.

With a sigh, after a couple of hours of just staring at the empty roads again, we admitted that is was just fucking boring. We didn't have much time and we'd rather walk. So, we went to a good walking trail and hit the dirt. At least we were moving and we might see something.

This Great Egret was hunting and putting on quite a show right in front of us.
Great Egret #43

Andrea found an empty Mud Turtle shell.
Perhaps he was a cartoon turtle and had just stepped out for a moment.

Some Zebra Longwing Butterflies were flitting around, being all beautiful.

It was pleasant out. Sunny and cool. Finally, a Brown Anole emerged and we had our first herp of the day.

We ran into some hikers and got to talking. They said they had been at Anhinga and saw some turtles, including a "hognosed one". Hmm... Softshell? We decided to end our trip on a walk through the sun at Anhinga Trail. Usually Gatoriffic, too.

Our first sight was indeed a Gator... patrolling the waters about 40 feet out.

Anhinga is known for Alligators hanging out close to the trail, though our previous hike didn't have any. Today, however, a big guy was catching some rays just beyond the barrier. Lots of people were taking advantage of a great photo-op, us included.
But there's one in every crowd. An asshole decided that he was cool and reached over and picked up the 'Gator's tail, laughing. I yelled at him straight away... "Don't do that, Sir! No! Behave yourself, Sir!" He put it down and backed away. Bagged. He was French and probably didn't understand my full reprimand but he got the NO and the tone. What a tool.

By the way, "Behave yourself, sir" has already become a part of our everyday language.

We carried on, walking the dock. It was warm and sunny... just what we needed. Another Alligator was floating nearby.

What looked like the same two turtles from two days prior were up basking again, joined by a smaller Penninsula Cooter in the water next to them

We pointed these guys out to a woman who was a self-described "turtle freak" who then asked us if we'd seen the one up on land. We hadn't. She told us where to look so we headed over that way. Sure enough, it was a Penninsula Cooter and I'll be damned if she didn't look like she was digging to lay.
Not sure if her spot is a good one or not... I guess it gets plenty of sun.

We decided that it was time to get heading out. Andrea got a nice shot of the big Gator on the way out now that there were no annoying Frenchmen around.

Our last piece of wildlife, in fact our last picture of the trip, was of an endangered Tree Snail.

We headed out, we missed our flight, we got on the next one, we had a small delay, we made it home by midnight. Another storm was pummelling the Boston area. We thought back to our weekend. Not the greatest herp adventure of all time but we were together, more or less in the sun, and we were doing what we loved. Sure, we unsuccessfully roadcruised until we were just bored with it but we both had nice sunburns and got to immerse ourselves in nature. A small handful of Gators is better than no Gators at all.

Since being home, we've both been sick and the temp outside today in 5°. Windchill -27°.

Man, I want to go back now.


  1. -8 degrees this morning- welcome back to reality guys!
    Looks like the trip was a blast. I'd kill to see an American croc.

    1. Yup! Even though it was light compared to previous years... it was heavenly!