American Crocodile basking in Everglades National Park. Credit: Daniel Mlodozeniec

In early January, Earth Spirit staff Sandy, Jon, and Daniel ventured to south Florida’s unique habitats. Daniel went to Big Cypress National Preserve in an effort to see and photograph the critically endangered and elusive Florida Panther (Puma concolor couguar).  Although one of these reclusive cats was not seen, Daniel did manage to track one or more to a secluded pine forest, hidden deep within a cypress swamp.  There, he heard what he believed to be a screaming panther!  Sandy and Jon ventured to Everglades National Park, both to teach their own students about the ecology and history of this unique environment.  Daniel eventually caught up with them, and they all stayed at the Long Pine Key Campground at the Homestead entrance to the 1.5 million acre National Park.  The diverse array of habitats within result in memorable wildlife encounters every trip.  Just off of the 40 mile main road through the park, Ingraham highway, visitors can look for endemic wildflowers and snakes in the pine forests nearer to the entrance. They can also “slog” knee deep in the clear waters of the mystical cypress domes further down the road, searching for owls and epiphytic plants. They can hike through hardwood hammocks and near sloughs in search of American Alligators and a plethora of wading birds.  Closer to the end of the road, one can paddle through mangroves and share the water with the likes of American Crocodiles and West Indian Manatees. At the end of mainland Florida into Florida Bay, you can bear witness to the stunning scenery of Florida Bay and the tidally influenced menagerie of birds.  These are some of the things Jon and Sandy were able to do with their students!  The Everglades is a wildlife observers paradise and, as expected, the three left South Florida with a vast species list. Sandy and his class from the University at Buffalo documented 230 total species, while Jon and his Canisius University class encountered 238! Daniel forgot to keep track of his encounters…

It was hard to choose from such a large array of species, but below are some of the highlights our Earth Spirit staffers encountered:

  • American Alligators
  • American Crocodiles
  • Roseate Spoonbills
  • Barred, Eastern Screech, Barn, Burrowing, and Great Horned Owls
  • Ghost Orchid
  • West Indian Manatees
  • Atala Butterflies
  • Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle
  • Smalltooth Sawfish
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Great “White” Herons
  • Magnificent Frigatebirds
  • Common Loon
  • Vermillion and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers
  • Bobcat and Florida Panther tracks
  • Cowhorn orchids
  • Yellow-Crowned Night Herons
  • Chicken and Florida Softshell Turtles
  • American White Pelicans
  • Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins) 
  • Vanilla Orchids
South Florida Adventures!

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