Burmese Pythons Causing More Problems in the Everglades

pythonsAt this point, pythons are notoriously known to be bad news for the Everglades. They are an invasive species as they deplete mammal populations. Each year, pythons hunts are held to reduce the number of this species in the Everglades to try and help bring balance back to the ecosystem of the Everglades. Now, researchers are saying the Burmese pythons are eating/killing so many animals in the Everglades that mosquitos are starting to bite the hispid cotton rat that carries a virus that is dangerous to humans.

This rat carries the Everglades virus, which is an encephalitis-causing pathogen.

The hispid cotton rat’s virus can give a person a fever, headache, and encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain (in rare cases). A University of Florida research Nathan Burkett-Cadena said mosquitos are now biting this rat more than any other mammal living in the Everglades. The hispid cotton rats multiply fast, and since the Burmese python is depleting other mammals, the rat has become a main source of blood for the mosquitos to feast on.

In the past, mosquitos could frequently bite deer, rabbits, racoons, and other mammals, but their numbers are shrinking in the Everglades. There is a specific mosquito that is biting the rats; it’s called the Culex cedecei. Thankfully, this mosquito doesn’t go into urban areas, so it’s rare that humans will contract this virus. However, the Culex panocosa mosquito does go into cities, but has yet to bite the cotton rats. The University of Florida research team is keeping an eye on the mosquitos to see what is happening with these mosquitos and rats.

When visiting the Everglades, it’s always extremely important to cover up (long pants, long sleeves) or wear insect repellant. Even if there is no virus present, the Everglades is a living ecosystem where thousands of insects thrive, so it makes sense to protect oneself to keep bugs from biting.

The answer to restoring the wildlife and mosquito-biting balance in the Everglades lies in the reduction/eradication of the pythons. To get a permit to hunt for pythons, click here.

To explore the beautiful Everglades, click here or call 800-368-0065. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours show you the Everglades like you will never see it in any other way!

New Everglades Corridor Markers, Signage

signageThe Everglades is a living, breathing ecosystem, and as you may remember from previous blog posts or news stories, there is restoration work and improvements always happening in this wetland to make the park a better place while returning it back to its natural state.

The Everglades is also a popular place for anglers to catch fish. Just like anywhere else in Florida, there are special fishing regulations; however, with so many endangered species in the Everglades, it’s essential that people pay attention to the boating and fishing rules, regulations, and signage.

For this article, we wanted to share that there will be new access corridor markers and signs at Florida Bay. All corridors have been marked, with just a few minor adjustments pending. Here are the details of the signage:

  • On-plane: Dave Foy, Dump Keys (south of existing channel), Madeira Bay, Terrapin Bay, Roscoe Key, North Jimmy, Bob Allen Pass, Coon Key Pass, Crab Lake, Peterson Keys, Buchanan Keys
  • Idle-speed: Snake Bight East (off Snake Bight Channel), Porpoise Point, Garfield Bight, Rankin Bight, Santini Bight West, Santini Bight East, Terrapin Bay West (off Terrapin Bay corridor), Samphire Key, Brush Key, Twisty Mile, Little Blackwater, Little Buttonwood, Cluett Key, Topsy Key, Sid Key, Tarpon Basin/Marker 42 Creek
  • Slow-speed: Nine-mile Bank North, Nine-mile Bank South
  • On-plane and idle-speed: Frank Key (north segment on-plane, south segment idle-speed), Palm Key (from west end of Tin Can Channel on-plane, near island and to center of Tin Can Channel idle-speed)

Funding for this new signage was through the National Park Service and donations to the South Florida National Parks Trust from Yamaha and the American Sportsfishing Association. The signage was put up with the help from a contractor. These new signs were put in place to help protect the park’s marine areas, while still allowing people to enjoy their time in the park fishing.

For boaters and those interested, you can view the Florida Bay map book.

Looking to get around the Everglades on a different kind of boat? How about an airboat? Zip through the waters of this majestic place on a ride with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

All About the Roseate Spoonbill

roseate spoonbillDuring the winter season, Florida can look like a scene out of Jurassic Park. The sheer scale and variety of birds flocking down here is a sight to be seen. Hundreds of birds of varying species stand side by side bodies of water and make the area their home for the winter/nesting season. One bird that can be spotted in southern Florida is the roseate spoonbill, and it happens to be a threatened species.

The roseate spoonbill is the only spoonbill native to the Western Hemisphere. They are white and brightly pink colored (like a flamingo) do to the carotenoid pigment canthaxanthin in their diets. Depending on their age, roseate spoonbills can be a pale pink or a deep, bright magenta in color. They have a gray spoon-shaped bill, white neck, back, and breast. They are 28-34 inches in size with a wingspan up to 52 inches.

To catch its prey, the spoonbill swinging its spoon-shaped bill back and forth in shallow waters.  They eat crayfish, shrimp, crabs, frogs, newts, and small fish. They often travel and feed in groups. Its bill allows it to sift through mud to find food sources, as well.

They are considered to be a social bird who lives in a large colony with other birds like herons, storks, and egrets. They fly in flocks in a long, diagonal line.

When breeding, they will next in mangrove or trees, but they usually stay by the coast. Female spoonbills build the nest while the male provides the materials for the females to build. They can lay up to 3 eggs at a time.

In the mid-1800s, the roseate spoonbill was hunted for its feathers; they were used to make women’s hats and fans, but this practice is now illegal; the population has begun to grow since this regulation was put in place. In the early 20th century, there was only a few dozen pairs left. They were made a protected species in the 1940s. This bird is also threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, illegal shootings, and lower food sources. To protect this bird, it was named under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act to be protected and it is recognized as a state-designed threatened species.

In 2006, a tagged roseate spoonbill was seen; it was 16 years old, which made it the oldest wildest known spoonbill of its kind.

Want to catch a glimpse of the roseate spoonbill in the Everglades, along with many other birds? To get a great views of the skies and bodies of water (where birds will be) in the Everglades, you should opt for an airboat tour. An airboat ride can bring you to places in the Everglades not accessible by foot. To book a trip, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here

The Everglades’ Seagrass is Disappearing

seagrassYou might know that there’s a lot of seagrass around Florida and throughout the Everglades.; there’s 7 kinds of seagrass in Florida to be exact. But, did you know that this seagrass is dying? Much of the beautiful green, flowering seagrasses in the waters of the Everglades are turning brown and dying off. Last year, National Park Service researchers discovered a 40,000-acre section of seagrass in Florida Bay that is dying. Seagrass provides food and shelter for many different species for marine life, while also maintaining water quality. If this grass dies off, animals, fish, and even humans will be impacted negatively.

Why is the seagrass dying? There are a few reasons that attribute to the decline in this grass. Human development over the past 100 years has disrupted the natural flow of water in the Everglades. Between roads and homes, the ecosystem has been altered, which has resulted in declines in plant and animal life. Another cause of the seagrass’s decline is climate change. Climate change is causing the sea level to rise, which has increased the salinity of the water. Many droughts throughout the years have also caused stress on the seagrass.

In Florida Bay, sport fishing is popular and is a billion-dollar business, which will be disturbed if the seagrass continues to disappear.

The only way to combat this die off is through the work of restoration efforts in the Everglades to restore the natural flow of fresh water. Florida Bay, like most of the Everglades, needs fresh water to flow north to south from Lake Okeechobee to thrive and survive.

If the seagrass dies, not only will it take away a food and shelter source for many creatures, it will begin to release nutrients that will feed into algae blooms, which will take over the water and basically suffocate any remaining seagrass in the water as they have become blocked from the sunlight.

And it isn’t just the Everglades, seagrass decline is a world-wide problem. Since the late 1800s, seagrass has declined by 29 percent.

Right now, restoration efforts are being done to lift up 2.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail that is blocking the natural water flow southward. It is believed if this road is lifted, the water flow will return to its original state. This is set to be completed by 2020.

The Everglades is a delegate ecosystem; the seagrass produces oxygen and is a food and shelter source for so many livening organisms. It helps keep the water clean by trapping sediments, as well. If you’re interested in seeing this vital plant and the rest of the majestic Everglades, a great way to explore is on an airboat. Join Captain Mitch on an airboat tour! He’s been bringing people around the Everglades for decades. It’s an experience you’re sure to never forget. To book an airboat trip, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

The Everglades’ Old Ingraham Highway

One of the oldest and most historic roads in the Everglades is Old Ingraham Highway.  Work began on this road in 1916 and it was completed in 1922. The road was named after James E. Ingraham, who was the president of the Model Land Company and vice president of the Florida East Coast Railroad. Since this road goes through Royal State park and Florida East Coast Railroad helped making Royal Palm a State Park, it made sense the road was named after Ingraham.

This road was created to be a way to access the Flamingo area. People would drive their vehicles down to visit areas along Florida Bay. It was built on piles of limestone. The old road still exists from the Anhinga Trail to Snake Night. This road is no longer open to cars or bikes, and is considered a wilderness area.

If you’re looking to hike this road, please note there is little shade and it is around 10 miles, 20 miles round trip. Wear sunglasses, hats, and apply sunscreen. This takes around 5 hours to complete, one way. This is an easy to navigate path. The pavement has disintegrated, and the road is mostly gravel or potholes these days. Since it is a wilderness area, the trail isn’t maintained like some other trails in the Park. Be aware there could be a few plants or branches that you may have dodge.  You will come across mangroves and sawgrass, along with endless other plants.

Along the trail, there is a canal where birds and alligators can be spotted, especially during the dry season. The trail is open year-round.  There are also entrances to old campsites on the trail, but they are no longer in use.

Walking around the Everglades is a truly magical experience; however, it can also be extremely hot, tiring, and buggy. If you’d like a cooler, less exhaustive and equally-as-fun way to get around the Everglades, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Captain Mitch has been people around around the Everglades for decades. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

photo courtesy: npplan.com

 

Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

burmese pythonOne of the biggest threats to a balanced ecosystem in the Everglades is the Burmese pythons. These snakes are an invasive species in the wetland. The python happens to love the Everglades, but this wetland cannot handle its presence. Pythons prey on almost anything in their path, and have been known to cause a large depletion in the rabbit, opossum, wading birds, racoons and other small populations population in the area. Its only predators are the American alligator and the Florida panther. However, these pythons can put up a fight and a recent video take by someone in the Everglades showed an alligator losing a fight with a python in water.

The state of Florida currently pays $8.10 per hour for people to hunt the Burmese pythons living in the Everglades. Up until June 1, there were 25 hunters killing pythons in the Everglades. These hunters use traps, dogs, public round ups, and radio-tracking implants to find and capture these snakes.  According to the South Florida Water Management District, there could anywhere from 10,000 to even more than 100,000 pythons slithering around the Everglades; they are not easy to find. The District is paying $50 for every snake caught, and an additional $25 if the snake is more than 4 feet in length. In April, the 50th Burmese was caught. The hunt began on March 25.

With each capture, the District and hunters hope the populations of other species from birds and small mammals to deer will begin to rise. Not only to these pythons’ lower animal populations by eating them, but they harm the population who eats them! These snakes’ bodies hold high levels of mercury, which can poison any animal or reptile that eats them. The pythons’ presence in the Everglades is changing the entire ecosystem.

Earlier this year, the 2016 Python Challenge occurred from January 16 to February 14; it was held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.  106 pythons were turned in.

Unfortunately, these pythons found their way into the Everglades after being released by many people who had them as pets; they are native to Asia. If you want to participate in next year’s challenge, click here. There are plenty of things you need to know and do before going python hunting.

If python hunting isn’t your thing, visit the Everglades in a much more relaxing way… on an airboat tour! This is your chance to see the Everglade’s wonderful wildlife that is still around, despite pythons and climate change issues. To book a tour, click the Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours page or call 239-695-3377.

Fire in the Everglades, Good or Bad?

We’re headed into the wet season, thankfully. Florida has experienced a very dry winter. It’s been so dry that fires were lighting up across the state burning down acres and acres of trees. In the beginning of May, there were 125 active fires across the state burning around 31,000 acres. Since the start of the new year, the Sunshine state has experienced 2,000 fires. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner said on May 8th, “Florida is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight.”

Although these fires are destructive to both wildlife and people throughout the state, there are, believe it or not, benefits to some fires occurring in the ecosystem of the Everglades. Below, we wanted to share with you some information from the National Park Service on the benefits of fire to the Everglades.

For the Pinelands area of the Everglades, fires that come through this area kill off the hammock species that would end up overpowering pines and many other plants. The hammock species create so much shadow covering that the other plants receive no sunlight and die off. Pinelands respond well to fires that come through and bounce back quickly.

Hammocks have also adapted to fires and can protect themselves from burning out completely from fires. These hammocks are surrounded by wet depressions and are moist deep inside, which can help deter fires.

Fire always helps keep the grassy areas on prairies in check. When there is too much grass, it’s harder for the water to properly flow through the Everglades. With coastal prairies, fires maintain a diverse and balance ecosystem so mangroves and exotic plants don’t overwhelm other plants and areas. These fires are not near where people live, but they are still monitored.

Fire can be alarming and unhealthy for people and the environment, but they can also help keep a balanced ecosystem. Officials and firefighters work hard to fight and monitor all fires in the state, so the environment and buildings get the least amount of damage as possible.

If you’ve never been to the Everglades, a great way to experience this wetland is through an airboat tour. You’ll be able to see the ecosystem up-close-and-personal. Captain Mitch’ Everglades Airboat Tours has been giving tours to people in this wetland for more than 30 years. To book a tour. Click here or call 800-368-0065.

The Everglades is the Ultimate Protector

evergladesWhy is the Everglades such an important asset to the world? Why should we spend so much money restoring it? Well, there’s many reasons, but for this article, we wanted to focus on one. The Everglades is a wetland, which means it’s a natural defense or buffer against disasters. Wetlands can be used to minimize damage from disasters such as flooding, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, and tsunamis, and droughts.

Back in 2012, it was estimated that wetlands helped avoid an additional $625 million in damages because they acted like a sponge to reduce flooding. Wetland truly can make a difference in the amount of damage from a natural disaster. In the city of Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka damage from the 2004 tsunami reached out 50 meters inland; this city was near offshore coral reefs. In a nearby city of Peraliya, the damage reached inland by 1.5 kilometers, because the coral reefs around this area were damaged due to coral mining.

Throughout the year, if there is a dry season, wetlands release stored water, which reducing the chances of a drought or water shortage. They also can make a difference after a disaster occurs. Wetlands can help restore proper water and nutrients to the environment after a storm hits. In 1999, a cyclone hit a town in eastern India; it was found that rice paddies protected by mangroves recovered and produced far more quickly than those that were not protected.

By protecting, restoring and saving the Everglades, we are not only protecting the wildlife and plant life that live within it, but we are also protecting nearby farms and communities from taking the brunt of any natural disaster or hazard. The healthier the Everglades is, the better surrounding communities can bounce back from a disaster.

Want to explore this mystical wetland for yourself? You can on an airboat tour. Fly through the grass and swamps while getting to see some beautiful views and animal life. To book a tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airtboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

 

Everglades Bird Spotlight: Laughing Gull

laughing gullDo you know what the most common gull in the Everglades is? The laughing gull! These gulls are medium in size with long wings and legs. They are a coastal warm-weather species, which is why they can be found hanging around the Everglades year round. Below, we wanted to share some fun facts about this bird.

  • They can even be found inland around plowed fields, rivers, garbage dumps, and parking lots.
  • As their name reveals, this species of gull is very vocal; their call is loud with a series of “laughing” notes that last at least three seconds long. When threatened, laughing gulls make a short alarm call, but this can get more intense and last a long time if they are defending a nest.
  • When in the Everglades, on the shoreline or a beach, you can identify this gull by its black hood and red bills. Their back and wings are also a bit darker than other similar-sized gulls. They stand in groups.
  • Laughing gulls eat a variety of different species including crustaceans, worms, insects, snails, crabs, fish, squid, berries, offal, and human food found on the beaches.
  • When mating, both the male and female laughing gull build the nest. Often, the male will start to build the nest in hope of attracting a female.
  • Their nests can be found on sand, rocks, or hidden in plants or dead plants.
  • They remove the egg shells from the nest after each bird hatches; the shells can potentially get lodged on top of another egg and cause the bird not to hatch.
  • In the late 19th century, this bird was overhunted for its eggs and plumes (hate trade). But since 1966, the population has increased.

Want to see and hear these birds? Take a trip on an airboat ride that can bring you all around where these birds live. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours today to have an experience of a lifetime. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to schedule your tour through an American gem.

Learn About Royal Palm State Park

Royal Palm State ParkThe Everglades is vast, and it has so many different areas for people to explore. One such area is Royal Palm State Park. This Park was established in 1916, but it was surveyed back in 1847 by Jack Jackson. Scientists studied the area and it became known for its botanical diversity and hammock.

In 1916, the state of Florida said 960 acres would be set aside as a state park so it could be safe from  development. At the time, Henry Flagler owned much land in the area and the Florida Federation of Women’s Club was afraid he would build on this land. This group’s campaign to save this land is what made the state grant the land to them as a park. Five years later, the state donated 2,080 more acres to the park. Now, Royal Palm State Park is 4,000 acres in size.

In this park, visitors can find lots of trails, Research Road, the Nike Missile Site HM-69, bird watching, camping, biking, programs, boating, slogging, horseback riding, tours, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and the Pine Rocklands. There is also an information station and bookstore that is worth visiting; there are vending machines and restrooms. The information station/visitor center offers ranger-led walks and talks in the area. The center is a little over a mile from the Homestead Park entrance.  The Park stretches from the Homestead entrance to the Flamingo Entrance.

Visit the Park

If you’re looking for a great place to explore, Royal Palm State Park is a great place. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (December to April) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May to November).  If you want a more expansive way to view the Everglades, you can jump on an airboat and take a tour. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book a tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours today.

Photo courtesy: National Park Service