Late March we decided it was time to visit our youngest daughter in Florida. Not being fans of hot weather, we dreaded the temperatures we might face but we hoped that Florida in early spring would not be too unbearable. It was ironic then, that we drove through a snow squall on our way to the airport and were greeted at our destination with temperatures in the mid-70s. It was also amusing to hear from people during the course of our weekend that the weather was a bit cool for this time of year. For us, mid-70s was absolutely perfect. I certainly would not have wanted it any warmer.
During our first full day in Florida, our daughter took us to a section of the Everglades near Miami called Shark Valley. As we left the populated areas, we noticed that the road was surrounded on both sides by tall grass as far as we could see. We later discovered that this was actually known as a sawgrass prairie and that the sawgrass was actually a sedge rather than grass. I also found it interesting that the occasional cluster of trees dotting the landscape was referred to as an island of trees.
Once we arrived at our destination, we signed up for a tram tour that would take us around the 15 mile loop within this area of the Everglades. This was a very informative two hour tour narrated by one of the park rangers assigned to Shark Valley. The first thing we learned was that the area was named for the Shark River and that this was indeed a valley. The Shark Valley was actually only 7 feet above sea level, surrounded on one side by the Western Coastal Ridge rising 14-17 feet and the Atlantic Ridge rising to almost 20 feet on the other. So yes, we were technically in a valley.
Our driver kept a sharp lookout for the various wildlife in the area, slowing down so we could get a good look at our surroundings. We certainly saw plenty of alligators that day. These beasts just lay there sunning themselves along the side of the road. I think we saw alligators every few yards. We even saw quite a few that were surrounded by their young. Our guide also pointed out the turtles a number of times but to be honest I never found them; could be because I was in the center seat or they blended in with their surroundings. I finally spotted one turtle when we were walking along the road near the visitor’s center.
As we rode around the loop, I noticed a number of birds that I thought were cormorants for they were drying their wings in the same manner. On closer inspection, I discovered that their wings actually had a silvery sheen to them and the beaks were a different shape. Our guide informed us that this bird was an Anhinga and had similar behaviors to the cormorant. The female however, was quite distinctive with her light colored neck and head. It wasn’t long before we discovered that we were in a bird watcher’s paradise. I soon lost count of the different birds that we spotted. Along our journey, I do remember seeing Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, a Red Shouldered Hawk and a Green Heron to name just a few.
On our return to the Visitor’s Center, we found a bench where we could watch the wildlife nearby while we enjoyed a snack. It was here that I had my sole sighting of a turtle. We also had a clear view of a female Anhinga and a Green Heron. After our snack, we strolled along a short boardwalk trail that wandered through a hardwood forest before retreating from the heat and turning back towards our home base.