April 21, 2014

Exploring the Everglades

For us, no road trip to Florida is complete without a visit to the Everglades, especially since we have become interested in butterflies. Unfortunately, the habitats that support many rare butterflies, particularly the pine rocklands, are disappearing rapidly. 

The centerpiece of the Everglades is Everglades National Park, a vast area of land and water that is well worth visiting. The actual Everglades habitat was originally much larger than the park boundaries, and in certain areas it still remains. One stop that we make prior to entering the park is pineland preserve which is near the park entrance. This is one area where the rare Bartram's scrub-hairstreak butterfly can be found, and when we visited there in February we were very fortunate to see this beauty for the first time:

This is a very tiny butterfly, smaller than my thumbnail. When we were there in March we didn't see them, but we did see lots and lots of a dragonfly called the Halloween pennant:

Hopefully the pennants didn't eat all the Bartram's scrub-hairstreaks!

One of the first stops in the national park is the Anhinga Trail. Most visitors stop here and it can get crowded. We were there in the morning after a rain and the black vultures were drying their wings, which was a good thing because often they can be found pecking on the rubber on the cars in the parking lot!

I loved this look at an anhinga:

and here is a pair of anhingas tending their chick:

All sorts of birds were in full view and standing still. Here is an American bittern, waiting for prey to come by:

And we couldn't pass up the chance to photograph this intense-looking green-backed heron:

Most park visitors want to see alligators, and they generally aren't disappointed along the Anhinga Trail. We counted at least 30 of the big reptiles:

And I couldn't resist taking a picture of this glamorous purple gallinule:

After the crowds at the Anhinga Trail we enjoyed a quiet hike along a dirt road nearby that is closed to traffic. Rarely are there more than a couple of other people there. The trail has good wildflowers including one of our favorites, the lovely pine-pink orchid:

We saw a viceroy butterfly along the road--it is much darker than the viceroys here in Ohio. The speculation is that in Ohio the lighter form imitates monarchs while in Florida the viceroy mimics the darker queen butterfly.

Also present was the zebra heliconian, a butterfly that has such a graceful, undulating flight:

We couldn't miss the Julia heliconian--what a stunner!

We were really thrilled to see this Florida leafwing butterfly right after we got out of our car to start our hike:

It looks very "tree colored" in this picture, but the upperside is brilliant orange. This is one of the rarest butterflies in North America; suitable habitat for it is limited to just a small area of pine rockland in south Florida. Its near-term fate is unknown at the moment; hopefully there is enough habitat to sustain and increase the population.

Eventually we drove all the way down the main park road to the Flamingo area. Many, many years ago we stayed at the hotel there, but it was completely destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005; now the area is much quieter. We were looking for one of my favorite butterflies, the silver-banded hairstreak. Apparently the hurricanes devastated its population by eliminating much of its caterpillar food plant, the balloon vine. Since then, though, the balloon vine has staged a comeback. 

So off we went following some pretty good directions. Eventually we found the balloon vine, so named because its seed pods look like little inflated balloons:

With a little hard looking we found the silver-banded hairstreaks. These gorgeous butterflies are tiny--maybe 1/2 inch wide. 

One of the highlights of any trip to Florida is getting a good look at one of our most beautiful birds, the roseate spoonbill.

Here in the Everglades it was feeding in a quiet pond, along with some elegant-looking black-necked stilts:

As these recent blog posts show, there is much more to Florida than high rise condominiums, fancy shopping malls, crowded beaches and Disney! Many pockets of the "old Florida" remain and are well worth visiting.

1 comment:

  1. Oh! I loved this post and burst out laughing when I read the last two sentences. Thank you! I will share this.