When the Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s, it created an enormous dam across the shallow, 70-mile-wide River of Grass and blocked the main corridor of fresh-flowing water into Everglades National Park. Although 19 culverts built beneath the Tamiami Trail permit some flow of water, the amount of water entering the Everglades is much diminished. Unnaturally low water levels for over 90 years have significantly damaged sawgrass marshes, tree islands, fish reproduction, wading-bird nesting sites, and the habitats of many endangered species unique to the Everglades. The southerly-flowing fresh water no longer counterbalances the seepage of salt water inland, upsetting the delicate balance of nature. In order to increase the water’s flow, one bridge has already been built to replace a mile of the old road, but it will take years for the remaining 5.5 miles’ worth of bridges to be built and assist in the restoration of the Everglades.
We saw Ospreys and Double-crested Cormorants perching on structures along the canal, a couple of turtles basking on rocks in the water, and numerous vultures and water birds flying over the road. Every now and then we would pass an opening into the wetland; one scene looked like this:
Doran immediately found a place to turn around and go back. There was a large parking space in front of the water, so I was able to get out and take some pictures. Altogether there were about 10 White Ibises, 5 Roseate Spoonbills, and a white heron which had black legs and yellow feet: my first Snowy Egret! Alligators were also swimming in the water, turning it into a scene that epitomized Florida.
Immature Ibises with brown markings were hunting with the pure white adults.
I was thrilled to see the spoonbills up close. One of Florida’s most striking birds, the Roseate Spoonbill attains its pink coloration from the pigments of the crustaceans it feeds on. It feeds by walking through the water with its bill partially submerged, swinging it from side to side until it feels a small fish, amphibian, crustacean, or aquatic invertebrate enter its mouth, then rapidly closes its bill to consume the prey.
Back on the road, we saw another Swallow-tailed Kite gliding over the highway, but there was nowhere to stop and take pictures. We arrived at our hotel around 4:30, checked in, and spent some time exploring. The resort sits between the highway and the marina, which provides direct access not only to the Gulf of Mexico but also to the Ten Thousand Islands, the famed backwaters of the Everglades.
The rooms were nice, though the water pressure in the shower left much to be desired. We were on the second floor, which had a door opening directly onto the balcony.
As it was stifling hot, we took a swim in the pool. The temperature was perfect.
After dinner at the Angler’s Cove restaurant within the hotel (the food was delicious!), I went for a walk by myself. There were lots of grackles on the hotel grounds, all of which I identified as Common Grackles. I saw them walking on the hedges, landing on tree trunks, foraging in the palm trees, and bathing in the shallow water of the ledge that ran around the inside of the pool.
I saw a few Northern Mockingbirds as well. This young bird was sitting on a tree stump near the marina.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something emerge from the water of the marina; by the time I turned to look, it had vanished. Then it appeared again a little further away, and I realized I was looking at a pair of dolphins! The sight was so unexpected I didn’t know whether to watch their graceful movements or try to take their pictures!
I am guessing these are Bottlenose Dolphins, the most common species in Florida. Both the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin and the Common Dolphin are found in the Atlantic Ocean, and Common Dolphins are more colorful, with a dark back and a white or cream-coloured underside. I didn’t get a good look at their “bottle noses” to be sure.
I returned to the hotel via the pool area and found another Common Grackle taking a bath. I wasn’t able to get a photo of it actually bathing.
Then I heard a familiar sound and couldn’t believe it when I saw a pair of Blue Jays in a tree. I wasn’t expecting to find this northern species in the Deep South, especially since I associate the Blue Jay with the snowy woods and winter feeders of Ontario. Clearly they are residents of Florida as well, since one of the jays was a young bird following its parent and begging for food.
As usual, there were plenty of dragonflies hanging about the vegetation of the grounds surrounding the hotel. I had noticed several large, yellow Needham’s Skimmers and some smaller blue dragonflies perching on some spiky plants just outside of the pool area earlier; by the time I returned with my camera the Needham’s Skimmers had gone, but the small blue dragonflies remained. I later identified them as Seaside Dragonlets, a species that is most commonly encountered at salt marshes and brackish tidal estuaries. As the water of the marina is brackish (a mixture of fresh and salt water), it didn’t surprise me to see them here.
I was pleased with our decision to stay here for the last two nights of our trip; the location was perfect, the resort itself had all the amenities I could want, and it was full of birds, dragonflies and dolphins!