Shark Valley, Shlurping, and Showers

January 15th

The day began with an early departure from Trail Lakes Campground (AKA Skunkape Headquarters). The groups made their way to Shark Valley, located in the renowned Everglades National Park. We set foot down a 1.4 mile walking trail for an up-close look at local species. Tourists were nearly tripping over the American Alligators sunbathing on and near the trail, who didn’t seem to bat an eye at the humans passing by for photos. Over the course of the walk, we also saw many birds, including a wood stork, a few great blue herons, a green heron, many anhingas, double-crested cormorants, boat-tailed grackles, northern mockingbirds, palm warblers, and even a purple gallinule, which was new to many of us. Other intriguing sights included the abundance of gars (a primarily freshwater species of fish), as well as a few baby alligators. After this magnificent spectacle of so many cool species, we set off for Flamingo Campground. Along the way, we spotted an area that had recently been treated with a prescribed burn, which was especially exciting, as we learned details about this process back at Tall Timber’s Research Station a few days back. When we arrived to our campsite, groups split off to prepare their dinner. We went to bed satisfied with full bellies and tired bodies after our journey of the day.

January 16th

After a restless night full of strong winds and flimsy tents, we awoke for our day of rest with another ominous weather forecast hanging over our heads. We were expecting storms for around 4 hours of the day, and were forced to pack up the campsite, leaving no trace for the rain to wet. A group of birders left for a nearby trail shortly after breakfast to see as many species as possible. Chris and Charlie then took off for a bike ride around the local trails within the Everglades National Park, and the 11 remaining campers embarked on a drive to a nearby trail in attempts to add new species to our birding life-lists, as well as enjoy the natural landscape before the expected storm. About 30 minutes into our hike, the rain began to fall with speed increasing at an exponential rate. Campers fled back to the van, and Nathen (AKA Slim Jim) was spotted sprinting down the trail at full speed, both to escape the rain and avoid mosquitoes. The group then visited a dock at the campground, where a family of manatees was spotted “shlurping” the fresh rainwater off the surface of the marina. A large crocodile was also among the species spotted in this area. As we grew delirious while taking cover in the van, we were greeted by other campers, who informed us that half our campsite was flooded (thankfully our tents were elsewhere), drawing in hundreds of black skimmers and laughing gulls. In addition to these species, we spotted a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron, and some upset campers discovering their submerged tents. Once the rain stopped, we returned to our site, set up our tents, and began a pasta cook off. Each group won one of the three categories: best tomato based dish, best use of mushrooms, and best comfort food. Everyone’s a winner! After the competition, Ben worked over a stubborn fire to make a berry dessert for the group.

Posted on January 19, 2022 03:28 AM by crsmithant crsmithant


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