There’s not much trouble with this herping life, except for the Too-Many-Too-Much problem: too many places to visit, too much to see, and too much to cram into a relatively short lifespan. It always boils down to money and time; choices have to be made, and there are too many bright and shiny objects to choose from in the herping world. I may regret not visiting the Everglades earlier, but what other experience would I have willingly missed to make room? You can probably guess the answer, but nevertheless I felt a bit irritated at taking so long to get there.
I’ve been to Florida a number of times, but never any further south than Orlando. A July work conference in Miami gave me an opportunity to finally visit Everglades National Park, and I pulled the trigger – time to spend a few days at the bottom of the Sunshine State and get a feel for the place. I checked in at a cheap hotel in Homestead, had a mango shake at Robert Is Here (another herper pilgrimage), and headed off to the park.
Getting to the park entrance at dusk, I wouldn’t see the full beauty of the ‘Glades until the next morning. It was time to road-cruise the 37 mile stretch from the gate down to Flamingo, a familiar run for many herpers, but it was all new to me. The first serpent of the night was an adult Florida Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana). The snake’s head was elevated and the neck was flattened, giving it a stocky cobra profile when I drove up to it. This was a lifer for me and I was glad to see it, and although I saw a number of neonates on subsequent nights, I never saw another adult of this common species.
I had been warned about the summer mosquitoes at ENP, but I was not prepared for just how bad they really were. My long-sleeved shirt and pants were soaked in permethrin, as were my arms, neck and ears, but the skeeters in their hundreds paid no mind to chemical barriers and had their way with me. When I stopped for a Striped Crayfish Snake (Liodytes alleni), they clustered on my face, flew up my nose, and got between my eyeglasses and eyeballs; bending over to take photos, I felt multiples of pinpricks as the little bastards bit me through my chemical shirt. Needless to say it was a bit distracting, and I didn’t get the quality time I wanted with some of my new herp friends. How in hell did the Seminole and Miccosukee live here?
During the day, I played tourist and visited all the waypoints of interest in the park. In spite of the water divergence and other controversies surrounding the Everglades, I found it stunningly beautiful, with great opportunities for watching wildlife. I didn’t see a Florida Panther, but I got my first long look at a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), enjoyed a nice array of wading birds, and watched a group of manatees lounging around the dock at Flamingo.
I also took a boat ride and got a glimpse of a young American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in the mangroves, complementing the large pair I saw hanging around the dock at Flamingo, which are lifer crocs for many herpers visiting the ‘Glades. At night I would go back to cruising on the main park road. Herp numbers were not high, but I saw some animals of note, including a nice Corn Snake, and a handful of brilliant Scarlet Snakes (Cemophora coccinea). Pig Frogs (Rana grylio) were also present, which made me happy; I know some of my snake-centric friends are shaking their heads as they read this, but a lifer amphibian is just as exciting to me as any serpent.
Three days and four nights gave me a window into the Everglades; good prep work for my eventual return, probably in the winter when the bugs have died back. What I didn’t see, in four nights of road cruising, was a python. I expected one to show up, but I’m not disappointed that one didn’t – I would prefer to get my lifer Burmese on their home turf somewhere in southeast Asia. Had I cruised up a python, I would have been sucked into the hype and hoopla surrounding this introduced species, and this blog post would be centered instead on the folly of humans, etc. I prefer it this way – light on words perhaps, but heavy on the highlight reel below.