All good things are wild and free. ―Henry David Thoreau
At the beginning of what would be a 10-12 mile hike through the SWA system, along the Owahee Trail (near Grassy Waters Preserve) in northern Palm Beach County, this curious and bold fellow — majestic and magnificent, always — offered a steady and seemingly condescending gaze.
May your weekends be as wild and free as this beautiful creature!!
Sorry Mr. Red-shouldered Hawk — we simply cannot compete with that poise
Everglades Poster Celebrating Marjory Stoneman Douglas
The first-ever EVERGLADES DAY is this Sunday, April 7…. Fantastic! Many thanks to all of those who worked so hard to make this a legislative priority, highlighting and escalating issues surrounding the Everglades, as well as renewing the area’s restoration efforts. What a perfect time to visit and explore the ‘glades — and love this beautifully vital, rare, but endangered and always-threatened ecosystem. Check out the link below for events from Miami to Naples to West Palm Beach!
From the Everglades Foundation:
The first official Everglades Day will be celebrated on April 7, 2013. In addition to recognizing what an important resource this ecosystem is, not only to the state of Florida, but to America, the day will also honor Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as it is designated to be held on her birthday.
The Florida Legislature voted in favor of an Everglades Day on March 7, 2012. From a National Parks Conservation Association press release: “The state’s support for an official Everglades Day will ensure that the Everglades ecosystem remains a top priority for elected officials and all Floridians while honoring Douglas’s legacy for protecting the River of Grass. . . Each time we turn dirt on an Everglades restoration project, we are protecting our drinking water supply, creating jobs and fulfilling a promise to protect our national parks, wildlife, and family memories….”
Some of the sights from one of the event locations, Grassy Waters:
Love and respect this place. Please.
Everglades Vista Along the Hog Hammock Trail
Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone. —Miller Williams
One special hike along the Rookery Trail (within the SWA Trail network of Grassy Waters Preserve) brought an unbelievable number of alligator sightings — I lost track at 30 in the space of 2-3 hours. By far the most of any hike! One of the guys we stumbled upon was this handsome fella.
He’s not hissing, or being hostile — far from it, he was as mellow as could be. As with other cold-blooded reptiles, he was basking in the sun, regulating his body temperature. Occasionally alligators will keep their mouths open, akin to a dog panting…. It’s a cooling mechanism.
Cooling down on a warm day
Out of 20-50 eggs that are laid by the mother alligator, only a few will survive to adulthood — usually less than five. Many predators prey upon the juvenile alligators, include snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, bobcats, raptors, wading birds, and even larger alligators. This guy (or girl?) is a survivor, having encountered a mishap resulting in a missing foot as a hatchling or young adult — the injury appears long, and well-healed. And he/she was doing just fine, enjoying the beautiful land and wetlands of this magnificent preserved Everglades watershed.
Relaxing in my wonderful Everglades
Walking the Malachite Trail in the SWA portion of the most wonderfully pristine Everglades watershed of the Grassy Waters Preserve, an old tree displayed new life with a whimsical fungi arrangement — a fairy staircase!
We recently hiked the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail. Today, the Preserve serves as the freshwater supply for the city and its associated municipalities — but historically the area was the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River (Seminole for River of Turtles). It was also a key component of the Everglades watershed, which began north of Orlando and flowed through rivers that emptied into the vast Lake Okeechobee, where the lake’s waters flooded into the Everglades Basin and slowly flowed into the Florida Bay.
So while we expected to see alligators (as always!) during the hike in the Rookery Loop section of the Preserve, such numbers as those we encountered were not expected. I lost count at 40…in 3 hours! And in this area, as warned by the signage, the gators are in very close proximity to the human visitors. But as is often the case, they were very shy, perhaps not quite as accustomed to humans. And I was thrilled to spy such numbers of these amazing creatures in this beautiful and thankfully preserved ecosystem — they always make wonderful models. I don’t even know where to begin with my alligator collection from this outing, but this duo made me smile.
Seeing Double: Alligator Pair in the Everglades
On an especially soggy day — we underestimated the might of the day’s thunderstorms — we pushed ahead with our continued exploration of West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve. We hadn’t explored the SWA Trails within the Preserve, and had been searching to see how they linked to the outer Owahee Trail. While we couldn’t do much on this particular day — the rains and lightning proved too much, even for us — we were able to stretch our legs a bit, and visit with hundreds of egrets, herons, and ibis.
And even better? I collected feathers; oh, I collected feathers. If there’s anyone in blog-land who’s equally enamored with the loveliness and power of Everglades’ feathers, just holler. I have plenty that I’d be willing to share — and one can make only so many smudge sticks out of found feathers….
Heading into the SWA Trails: We should be good. Sure.
Further into the trails: Whoops. Looking a bit dark; where’s our ponchos?
Sabal Palm Tree along the trail
Graceful as ever, a Great Blue Heron flies down a waterway on the Rookery Loop
Flying Ibis against invasive Australian Pines
Rookery Loop Signage: CLOSED! Nooo…! But how wonderful they’re protected.
And, of course…. An alligator encounter! This guy was a juvenile, very small. But most amusing about him (her?) was that, as I was praising his loveliness and snapping shots, he swam ever closer. Unbeknownst to me, my guy had silently crept up to take a peek, and this little gator’s calm demeanor suddenly changed — he thrashed wildly in the water, like a bezerker on acid. We both jumped like jackrabbits, and the human male skulked away, muttering something about a “big dumb lizard”…. I think he was just jealous. And as if on cue, up popped the gator, swimming back towards me for another cooing session.
Alligator Near the Rookery Loop Trail: A Lovely Friend
Alligator Near the Rookery Loop: Come Closer, Cutie
There are myriad lizards in our Florida wilds — chirping geckos, monitors, prehistoric basilisks, stealthy iguanas, invasive curlytails, skinks, lined racerunners, and colorful anoles, just to name a few. But the anoles stand out in ever-lovely radiance. I’ve had the luck to spot not only green, but rare yellow-phased anoles — and now, a newly discovered (and as yet, unwritten) mutation — orange!
While I haven’t seen anything scientific written on this new color variant to date, a few others have noted their existence in South Florida in the last few months. At first, it was considered an oddity — or perhaps a side-effect of the high concentration of iron in the ground water. However, I captured this guy in the wilds of the northern section of the Everglades, not in an urban neighborhood with sprinkler systems. FASCINATING! The red/orange coloration of these anoles is curious and striking, and it will be interesting to read further input of their new color-phased mutation in the upcoming months.
An Orange Anole knows he’s special in the Grassy Waters Preserve
Orange Anole shows off his equally orange dewlap in the Grassy Waters Preserve
During a walk through Fern Forest, a magnificent 247-acre conservation site and wildlife refuge characterized as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida,” we spied a rare yellow anole (aka yellow-phased green anole). Unfortunately, anoles with this unique color mutation don’t usually live long in the wild, as the green coloring offers them valuable camouflage for hunting prey and hiding from predators. Colonies of these rare color-phased anoles have been reported — and I like to think this guy was part of one….
A Yellow-phased Green Anole in Fern Forest
Far into our hike on the Hog Hammock Trail in the Grassy Waters Preserve — on a particularly hot and humid, but fortunately cloudy day — I spied a flash of green at the water’s edge. Luckily it was a *small* green flash. A green anole kindly took the time to pose for me and my camera.
A Green Anole poses along the Hog Hammock Trails in Grassy Waters