We started our trip in Royal Palm, where there are two small trails that boast a ton of photo opportunities. Anhinga Trail is known as the best spot for birding, and it definitely did not disappoint!
As soon as we pulled into Royal Palm, we spotted an unusual number of black vultures. At first, I figured there might be a source of food nearby, but as we rounded a corner into the parking lot, things took a curious turn. Each of the cars were covered with blue tarps – and there were vultures on each of the tarp covered cars, picking at the threads and scratching around the windshields. There was a sign warning that vultures would cause damage to vehicles, and we took special care to park our shiny rental in the back of the lot, away from all the birds and the other cars.
No use. As soon as we parked and I got out to start putting my hiking pack together for our hike, a big vulture lumbered over. I chased him off three or four times, but he was persistent – absolutely intent on his “fresh kill”.
We lucked out as about 10 more cars pulled into the parking lot and caught the attention of our suitor. Intent on new victims, we slipped off to complete our hike.
This cute little juvenile white ibis was the first to greet us, happily plucking earthworms from the damp ground. It was a bit odd to see him completely on his own, as I usually see Ibis in greater numbers – but perhaps his companions were somewhere near, just out of sight.
Next, the namesake Anhinga! I love these quirky little birds! They are such remarkable swimmers, in part because they are not waterproof in any way, so when they get done swimming, they can often be seen on the banks and in the trees with their wings outstretched, warming and drying in the sun.
Just mere feet from the Anhinga, we spotted the double-crested cormorant, another skilled swimmer. I crept closer and closer to him, hoping he wouldn’t startle. He was cool as a cucumber, obviously very used to having throngs of adoring fans.
Cormorants were plentiful on the Anhinga trail – almost as numerous as the black vultures. We spotted them swimming and diving for fish, much like the Anhinga, but you can see from the photos that unlike the Anhinga, Cormorants are waterproof, which makes them not quite as skilled with deeper diving.
The Anhinga Trail is a boardwalk that winds it way out into the marshland, revealing the ecodiversity that Everglades is renowned for. One of the things I found to be surprising was the clarity of the water – you could very easily spot many fish swimming among the lily pads.
Also spotted amongst the lily pads, a purple gallinule! These funny little ‘marsh chickens’ make me laugh, with their long awkward legs and enormous feet. This beautiful specimen busied themselves looking for food, and stayed on the move. If they lingered for too long, they and their entire lily pad would sink down into the water.
The lily pads were heavy with buds, probably less than a week from blooming. What a treat those flashes of color will be for the next set of visitors! While we missed out on those blooms, we were fortunate to witness the bromeliads blooming in the trees. These air-plants are commonly spotted in modern office environments, but it’s not often that they bloom in those types of environments. The red and yellow blooms were striking against the pastel hues of the plant.
When Im deep in the photographic zone, my husband scouts ahead and finds the next interesting sight – in this case, a juvenile Eastern Lubber. While this one is small, it could grow to nearly three inches in length, and pack a mighty punch with thick, spiny legs that it will use for self defense. I remember seeing them when I visited my grandparents home as a child, and was struck with wonder at their enormity – they truly look like wind up toys.
After a short walk on the boardwalk, we headed back towards the parking lot where the Gumbo Limbo trail begins.
Unlike the Anhinga Trail, which takes you out into the open marshland, Gumbo Limbo winds into the hardwood hammock, giving you a glimpse of the dense tropical underbrush that many animals call home.
Almost immediately, we spotted a zebra longwing butterfly. I was fortunate enough to see this species earlier this year when I visited Hilton Head, but was unable to photograph them there. I had ample opportunity throughout the Everglades visit this year, as they were seemingly at home on every trail.
We also spotted scissor-tailed kites soaring overhead. I’ve never seen a kite, so that was a special treat. It’s the start of their breeding season, so I even witnessed some individuals flying giant sticks to their chosen nesting tree.
I am always mesmerized by the beautiful colors and textures to be found in the tropics. I love the delicate leaves of the ferns, and the beautiful filtered light through the giant palms.
Both Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails are easy hikes amongst the diverse ecosystems of the Everglades, and truly the best opportunity to spot wildlife.
And as it turns out, the Vultures really will attack your car in the Everglades, and scientist aren’t really sure why. We lucked out that our rental (Tom the Toyota) was totally fine, and we had the additional insurance. So…always get the rental insurance. You just really never know what you’re going to run into out there.