Good Morning, Everglades

Beth, of Wandering Dawgs, is hosting this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge and her theme is A Change of Scenery. I didn’t go out to find new scenery, instead I saw old scenery in a new way. Maybe I changed the way I interacted with familiar scenery.

We were out the door at 7:00 this morning with coffee in travel mugs, me with my camera equipment and Jim with the morning newspaper. We were headed down US-41 (Tamiami Trail) to the southeast into the Everglades. It was dawn and I wanted to catch the sun’s first rays as they shown over the Everglades grassland and most of all I wanted to take some photographs of wading birds at the shallow ponds along the south side of the road. We had seen a lot of them there the last time we made this drive, but didn’t stop because I was eager to photograph the birds at the waterholes along the Loop Road.

Usually Jim likes to drive and I like to look for potential photo opportunities. This arrangement doesn’t seem to work because by the time I say “Pull over here,” and he checks out if there is a safe place to pull over and checks traffic while saying “Where?” I have to say “Back there.” This time I drove so I could quickly pull over when I saw birds. It also gave me an opportunity to pull into some parking areas that I haven’t visited before – for a different view of the familiar Everglade scenery and maybe new opportunities for photos.

What a perfect morning for photography. There was a cloud bank to the east giving me nice, even light and a little more time before the harsh sun hit the grasslands. And there was a light fog. My first stop was onto the grass shoulder of US-41, hoping to photograph the patchy morning fog and the first light from the sun-rise. There weren’t any birds on the ground looking for breakfast but I saw a few small flocks flying around high overhead. I didn’t need to hurry so I just enjoyed the quiet, peaceful time spent exploring what the Everglades offered on this spring morning. It’s like I have become friends with this environment through my many visits over the years, so now the landscape is familiar but I am eager to experience the changes in the scenery due to season and weather. There seems to be a freedom within this kind of familiarity, like being with old friends when I feel comfortable enough to just let life happen.

This was a trip without a destination – each roadside park, trailhead parking, unpaved road became a potential place to pull into and explore with all my senses and my camera. My favorite spot turned out to be the parking lot across the street from an air boat ride establishment. There is evidence that this was once the place to buy a ticket and board an air boat. On this day the only worker present was this fellow who appears to be directing traffic or telling me to remove myself from the premises.

I probably shouldn’t project human intentions on these Black Vultures, but they seem to be having a discussion about what to do with this elderly lady trespasser with a bright pink hat. I showed them my camera and they seemed to understand my intentions and didn’t make any threatening moves. I went about my pleasures and they sat a while before flying off. I think there were alligators in the pond because I heard some splashing and some strange grunting (it is alligator mating season) but when I glanced in that direction I only saw ripples on the surface.

I pulled into this parking lot because it didn’t look used much and I liked the rope fencing. I wasn’t sure there would be much to photograph, but I’ve learned to just be still and pay attention to what is around me. The air was cool on my skin, there were birds calling to each other, and the dampness of humid, Florida air smelled fresh. What fun I had finding all kinds of surprises. Notice the dew-drops on the grasshopper.

Another place I pulled off was the H. P. Williams Roadside Park because there is a short boardwalk along the canal that runs the length of US-41 between Miami and Naples. The canal was trenched of blown up hard rock that was used to build the Tamiami Trail (US-41) through the Everglades between 1915 and 1928. More about that in a future post.

Across the canal is what appears to be a hardwood hammock, one of five habitats that make up the Big Cypress National Preserve. The other habitats are pinelands, prairies of saw grass, cypress swamps, and estuaries with mangrove strands. Don’t you think the Spanish moss hanging from the trees is a nice decorative touch? There is a lot of it growing north of Orlando but I don’t see it much on the coast in SW Florida.

Still no wading birds, although by this time I was happy with what the Everglades scenery had given me. I walked back to the car, and when I neared the end of the boardwalk I saw, through a thin hole in the brush growing between the boardwalk and the canal, a Great Blue Heron and a Snowy Egret. There wasn’t a spot big enough to photograph them, but at least I got a record of seeing them.

You know, sometimes we take what we can get and if we cop the right attitude we may get more than we expected. Sometimes we can change our scenery and sometimes we need to change how we see the scenery we are familiar with.

In The Wild: Big Cypress National Preserve

20150302-amazon botanical garden 125We took another trip into the Everglades a few weeks ago and it didn’t disappoint. This time of year the water levels are low so the birds congregate where there is water to fish. We didn’t see as many as I had hoped – maybe because we were there during midday.

We spent some time watching a Great Egret fishing. He was actively moving from spot to spot, seeming to be oblivious to us where we stood close by.

20150302-amazon botanical garden 046This favorite place is the Loop Road that runs off US-41, the Tamiami Trail, between Naples and Miami. It was originally built up to be the highway until plans were changed. About the only work done on this road is trimming the brush that grows close to the road and some grading. It continues to be a wild and protected part of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

20150302-amazon botanical garden 107The fun part of traversing the Loop Road is that there is always something new to see. As the seasons change, the plant life changes and there are always new critters to see. On this trip we spent some time watching a squirrel that looked and moved very differently than what we are familiar with.

20150302-amazon botanical garden 099And my favorite siting was a Barred Owl, who was perched in the brush a few feet from the road. He seemed as interested in us as we were in him.20150302-amazon botanical garden 111