We had heard from many people that Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park was well worth a trip, so we planned a day there from our campsite in Naples – and it was a wonderful day!
Shark Valley is a 15 mile loop road that you can hike, bike or ride the tram. We started off hiking with Louise using her binoculars to spot and me with the 600mm and TC-17 on tripod and gimbal head over my shoulder. We did not plan to hike the entire loop road (certainly not with my payload) but we wanted to see what the action was for birding.
We spotted a few of the usual suspects – wading birds – but we were surprised to find Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) in the Sawgrass. And of course the American Alligator in great supply!
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
I then changed camera and lens to take some landscape images, or should I say cloudscapes? The Sawgrass Prairies seem to go on forever!
We headed back via the boardwalk to have our picnic lunch and buy tickets for the 2:00pm tram. Earlier, when we arrived, we went into the visitor centre to ask about birding and getting around Shark Valley. Fortunately we were talking to Shaun, a very knowledgeable and exuberant Park Ranger, so when I heard that he was guiding the 2:00pm tram, naturally we wanted to get tickets.
Shaun didn’t disappoint. He was totally enthusiastic and provided an excellent commentary. We learnt a lot about The Everglades, past and future with the enormous restoration program underway. At one point Shaun was telling us about how wonderful Periphyton was as it cleanses the water but also how under threat it was with the new level of pollution in the water seeping down through Florida – he even leapt out of the tram, jumped into the marsh and grabbed a whole handful so that he could pass it around for us all to feel!
We learnt that the American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) bask through the day to get warmth as they are nocturnal hunters, but this one was too hot so it has its mouth open in order to cool down (not because it was hungry!).
We also learnt that Alligators live in fresh water habitats and Crocodiles live in salt water habitats. The Everglades is a freshwater habitat (except where it meets the Gulf of Mexico). However, we were shown an American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) that didn’t know the difference. It turned up last year in the fresh waters of Shark Valley and has lived there ever since!
Halfway through the tram ride there was a stop at the Observation Tower. Shaun explained to us how importance of prescribed burns are to slow encroachment by invasive plants and replace natural burns which do not happen frequently enough now to maintain the Everglades natural balance. We could see the controlled burn off in the distance – and we could smell it too.
Towards the end of the tram rides we saw an Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) nest with two chicks that had hatched the day before.
We thoroughly recommend a visit here, not for the birding – it wasn’t that busy, but to learn a lot about the Everglades National Park and what it contributes to our planet. Maybe you will be lucky enough to meet Shaun Miller and be on his guided tram tour!