The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness 

marjory stoneman douglas wildernessFor unfortunate reasons, we heard this name mentioned in the news back in February, but the Parkland high school and parts of the Everglades were named after the American journalist, conversationalist and women’s suffrage advocate.  

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness makes up around 1.3 million acres of the Everglades National Park. In 1964, the Wilderness Act was created, and stated ““A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” 

Within this act, 86 percent of the Everglades was designated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness in 1978. The designated land is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and it’s the largest wilderness east of the Rocky Mountains. This area of land has the highest level of protection on it as possible. Within the Everglades, the largest protect stand of sawgrass in North America exists and the largest protect mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere lives. Also, this protected area is home to 21 federally threatened and endangered species.  

In the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness area, people have the chance to explore the Park both during the day and night. One-third of this protected area is submerged, as the seal floor is designated wilderness. Since it’s protected, this area helps keep the South Florida’s water source protected; this area also protects other parts of Florida from incoming storms (like hurricanes).  

Regulation on land and in water are put in place in this area to assure animals safety and promote nesting. Be prepared for rules in the Park! There are rules regarding camping, pets, motor vehicles, generators, and more. To find out these rules, visit www.nps.gov 

Fire Can Be Good for the Everglades 

fireIt’s dry season in Florida and the Everglades, which means fires (unfortunately) pop up across the state. Last year was a particularly bad year for fires. In just the beginning of May alone last year, there was 125 active fires across the state burning 31,000 acres.  Although these fires are harmful to wildlife, plant life and humans, there actually beneficial (in moderation) to the ecosystem.  

For the Pinelands area of the Everglades, fires kill off the hammock species that would end up overpowering pines and many other plants. The hammock species create too much shadow 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.  

Fires can also help keep grassy prairies in check; too much grass keeps the water from flowing properly in the Everglades, and the fire can burn away some grass. Fires also help mangroves from overpowering other plants in the wetland.  

Park officials monitor all fires in the Everglades, regardless if they are near people or not.   

The River of Grass Prescribed Fire Plan uses fire to help restore and maintain wet prairies and sawgrass marshes and to reduce hazardous fuels in proximity of occupied Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. These are conducted in the Pay-Hay-Okee, East Everglades, Shark Valley, Stair-Steps and Taylor Slough areas. These fires alone are started because relying on natural fires alone would not slow the shrub encroachment. These prescribed fires work with naturals fires and are not created to replace natural fires.  

Other fires are started to reduce the invasion of exotic plants into natural areas. These invasive exotic plants can kill the Everglades’ natural flora.  

Although fire is unhealthy for humans to be around and can hurt good plants, it can also help keep a balanced ecosystem. Park officals and firefighters work tirelessly throughout the year to keep the fires from spreading into developments.  

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

Bromeliads in the Everglades  

bromeliadsWhat is a bromeliad? A bromeliad is an air plant that can be found within the Everglades.  Many are native to Florida. All of these bromeliads belong to the pineapple family.  

In the Everglades, the type that can be found are genus Tillandsia. All of this plants within this particular species of bromeliads have silvery-green leaves. The top of this species often resembles the top of a pineapple.  

You can find these plants in abundance all over the parks, in all habitats, including dwarf cypress forests and cypress domes. They also can be found in hardwood hammocks, tree islands, mangrove forests, lone trees in sawgrass marshes, and on the branches of planted trees in parking lots of the park. You can’t escape these bromeliads!  

Some bromeliads, like the giant airplant, hold water; they do this so when dry/drought conditions occur, they will have a water source to survive from. However, the giant airplant isn’t the only life form that benefits from this water. Insects, snakes, and tree frogs can be found in this plant’s leaves to take in the water.  

Other bromeliads don’t old water, but they do have a hollow chamber in their base where acrobat ants make their home. The bromeliad gets its nutrients from the ants’ waste.  

Not all bromeliads are insect/other creature-friendly. Some bromeliads, like the powdery catopsis, are covered with fine scales, which makes it hard for insects to get a grip on the leaves. The insects end up slipping into the water and drown. Some researchers believe these particular bromeliads may be a carnivorous plant for this reason.  

Although bromeliads are abundant in the Everglades, they do have an “enemy.” The invasive Mexican bromeliad weevil feed on the tissue of bromeliads as a larva. This insect can easily decimate bromeliad populations; however, it has not been spotted in the Everglades since the 1990s.  

Come see these bromeliads for yourself on an airboat tour! Captain Mitch’s Everglades airboat tours give you access to the expansive wildlife and plant life the region has to offer. To book your Everglades airboat tour today, click our everglades airboat tour page  or call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377. 

 

Everglades Reptile Spotlight: Sea Turtle

sea turtleWhen you think of Florida, what comes to mind? Sunshine? Beaches? Oranges? You wouldn’t be wrong. However, there’s something else that’s known to be a symbol of this state: the sea turtle. Sea turtles can be found in the Everglades, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Five species of the sea turtle are found in the southern Florida waters:  loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempi), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). Unfortunately in present day, all five of these species are either threatened or endangered.

Because of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, it is illegal to take, harm, hunt, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, capture, trap, or collect any endangered fish of wildlife species. Sea turtles and their nests can be spotted along many beaches in Florida and it is illegal to disturb the nests.

In the Everglades, Cape Sable has one of the most active turtle nesting areas in the south Florida region. Park biologists monitor these nests and their activity to document the turtles’ presence. People can easily spot turtles’ tracks, which are known as a crawl. If the female sea turtle abandons her attempt at nesting (for whatever reason), the tracks are called a false crawl. A person can tell the direction of travel from the orientation of the comma-shaped flipper marks and superposition of turtle tracks. Each species of turtle leaves behind a specific set of tracks.

A biologist can find a sea turtle nest by looking for certain-shaped mounts of sand on the beach. These biologists mark and record the nests and check for signs of hatching 45 days later. Incubation takes about 60 days. The temperature of the sand determines how fast the baby sea turtles develop and hatch.

Biologists find sea turtle nests by looking for a characteristically shaped mound of sand on the beach. They mark and record each nest and begin checking for signs of hatchlings about 45 days later. Although incubation takes about 60 days, the temperature of the sand determines the speed of embryo development, so the hatching period can cover a broad period of time. The speed of embryo development increases with increasing nest temperature. Cooler nests generally produce more males, and warmer nests generally produce more females. Hatching usually occurs at night.

Unfortunately, predators sometimes get to the eggs before they hatch. The eggs are the size of a ping pong ball. The baby turtles leave the nest and make their way to the ocean. Biologists will keep watch of the nest to see how many eggs hatches and how many survived.

On an airboat tour, you’ll have you chance to see so much wildlife! Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades like no other. Captain Mitch has been navigating the Everglades for decades! To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Reptile Spotlight: Tokay Gecko

tokay geckoThe Everglades has more than 50 distinct kinds of reptiles in the Park – they happen to be the Park’s most well-known and fascinating inhabitants. Unfortunately, some of these reptiles are invited guests who decided to make the Everglades their home. Many reptilian species are invasive. For this article, we wanted to spotlight one such invasive reptile: the Tokay Gecko.

The Tokay gecko was first spotted in Florida around 1965.  Coming from Southeast Asia, they are not native to the Everglades and they eat arboreal lizards, frogs and can even prey on nesting birds and rodents. They’ve even been seen to eat a young corn snake. How did they end up in the Everglades? This gecko was often sold in pet trade, and it has been released by people to control cockroaches.

Primarily, this gecko is nocturnal, but it can be spotted in the morning. If they are approached and feel threated, they will bite aggressively and hold on.

They have a gray/blue body with orange spots/markings.  It’s known for its beauty and decent price, so it’s quickly become a pet store favorite.  They are an easy-to-care-for pet, but they can be aggressive, so many people return or release them. It’s definitely not a docile species, so for those who like to handle their reptiles, the Tokay gecko isn’t the first recommendation. They are known to be a mean lizard and are very territorial.

This lizard can grow over a foot long in length. They also have the ability to make their skin patterns lighter or darker to blend into the background, and also as a way to communicate. They have no eyelids and lick their eyeballs to clean them.

They have the name “tokay” from the sound they make; it’s a two-part clicking mating call. They usually lay eggs in pairs. A breeding female can lay a pair of eggs every month for 4 to 5 months consecutively. In the wild, these geckos can live around 8 to 10 years.

Florida wildlife officials consider the introduction of Tokays to be a mild threat to native wildlife, and there is no major effort to eradicate them, whereas more resources are focused on more threatening invasive species like pythons.

Overall, they can be found in the Everglades, but they do prefer to stay in an urban area inside people’s houses, which shows they are not (yet) a major threat to Florida’s wildlife.

Come spot some reptiles on an airboat ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades like no other. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

Everglades Bird Profile: White-Crowned Pigeon

white-crowned pigeonWhen you think of a pigeon, you probably think of park benches and cities, but pigeons can be found in rural areas, as well. In fact, the white-crowned pigeon nests nowhere else in the United States except for south Florida.

They can be found in the mangrove forests in the Everglades and south Florida. They will nest in the mangroves but spend a lot of time in the wooded areas, as well.  They will lay one to three white eggs at time. Both the male and female will incubate the eggs. After hatching, the baby pigeons will leave the nest after 3 weeks. The parents both feed their young “pigeon milk.” Nesting usually occurs in July and August.

This pigeon’s body is a black/gray color with a white-capped head. They have iridescent green feathers on the back of their neck. They are around 13-14 inches in size. The oldest recorded white-crown pigeon was 14 years, 5 months old.

The pigeons are known to move more inland during the day to feed on fruit from the Poisonwood tree. They also eat strangler fig, pigeon plum, mastic, sea grape, seeds, insects, and other tropical fruits.

This pigeon can be easily spotted perching in trees. Unlike many “city” pigeons, they don’t spend much time on the ground. In the Everglades, they can be seen around Nine-Mile Pond, Snake Bight Trailhead, Eco Pond, and Bear Lake Road. Their population. There’s about 7,500 pairs of this pigeon living in Florida.

Along with Florida, this bird can also be found in the Caribbean and parts of Central America.

There is believed to be a global population of 550,000 of this bird. In 2014, they were on risk of becoming threatened or endangered. They are protected in Florida but are still hunted for food in the Caribbean. When mangrove forests are lost due to hurricanes, their habitat is compromised, which is a concern.

If you’re a bird watcher of just a fan of birds, the Everglades is the ideal place to see so many different species, including the white-crowned pigeon. Come explore the Everglades by airboat on a ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a fun and exciting glimpse of the Everglades. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Mammal Profile: The Florida Black Bear

florida black bearOutside of Florida, people are often surprised to hear that bears are wandering the streets in this state, but they are! This state is full of many different species. In fact, earlier this year a bear bit a man in the face in a neighborhood in Naples, Florida, which is not to far away from the Everglades. Black bears are the kind people will spot in the Everglades and south Florida. While in the Everglades, there is a chance you will catch a site of a bear; they can be spotted in forested sloughs and oak scrub.

Florida black bears have an average 300 pounds though they can get up to 500 pounds in weight. They have long, sharp claws, which are great for climbing trees and digging for food. Florida black bears are omnivores (eat both meat and vegetation). Some of the food they feast on includes: armadillos, honey, berries, insets, acorns, sabal palm fruits, acorns, and saw palmetto.

The Florida black bear is the state’s largest land mammal. They enjoy life in the Everglades, because it’s a protected wildlife area, where they can roam freely and avoid humans. These bears prefer to live in isolated subpopulations throughout the state. They have adapted to the state’s subtropical climate and habitat, which other black bears in other parts of the country could not withstand. The Park has plenty of food sources for this bear, which makes it an ideal habitat for the bear.

Habitat loss is a serious issue for the black bear. They are losing 20 acres of their habitat per hour. Human development has separated and isolated the bear population in Florida.

In Florida, the primary cause of death for a bear is becoming roadkill. Around 100 bears die each year due to car-related accidents.

If you’re in the Everglades and come across a bear, you should back away slowly, don’t turn your back, don’t run, don’t climb a tree, make noise to scare the bear, and don’t feed the bear. Bears aren’t known to attack humans in Florida but people have been hurt when a bear feels it, its cubs, or food sources has been threatened.

Explore the Everglades on an Airboat

If you’d like a chance to see the Florida black bear and other Everglades wildlife, book an airboat tour! Everglades airboat tours give you access to the expansive wildlife and plant life the region has to offer. To book your Everglades airboat tour today, click here or call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.

Everglades Species Profile: The Wood Duck

duckThere are numerous species of birds that can be found in the Everglades. At times in the winter, the sight of these birds can look like a scene out of the famous film, “The Birds.” Why? Well, birds migrate down to the Everglades for the winter so hundreds of birds are flying and gathering in the area. For this article, we wanted to focus on one bird so calls the Everglades its home: the wood duck.

The wood duck is a North American bird with very colorful features; it has blues, greens, purples mixed with white and black stripes and patches. Because of its coloring, it is known to be a popular birdwatching bird and its sought after by hunters.

In Florida, the wood duck is also known as the “summer duck” or “acorn duck.”  It was nearly extinct in the early 1900s, but its numbers were able to increase due the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act  in 9 1918 that restricted hunting of these birds. Because of this act, the wood ducks is now one of the most abundant waterfowl species on the continent.

Wood ducks have a large head, short neck, long square tail, and a long, slicked-back head crest. The males are more colorful than the females with a red bill and eyes whereas the females are mostly gray and brown with a white ring around their eyes.

Wood ducks’ habitat ranges from Quebec, Canada to south Florida. They migrate up north around March. This type of duck prefers to be around swamps and upland forests near freshwater, which is why the Everglades is an ideal location. They like to be surrounded by shrubs and plants so they have areas where they can find insects, seeds, and fruit.

Wood ducks nest in tree cavities, which keeps them out of harm’s way from foxes, opossums, raccoons, snakes, skunks, and other predators, including other ducks. After nesting, wood ducks molt all their feathers at once and cannot fly again until their new flight feathers emerge in 3 to 4 weeks.

Although the wood duck gets most of its food in shallow waters, it does obtain a lot of food by foraging on the ground in woody swamps and forests, unlike other ducks. Wood ducks eat seeds, fruits, parts of plants, small acorns, some insects, some snails and crawfish.

The wood ducks are one of the only duck species that nest in Florida. Pairing takes place in winter and egg-laying occurs between February and March.  They lay around 10 to 15 eggs.  After hatching, ducklings will leave the nest the next day. The mother wood duck will stay with her babies until they can fly (around 9 weeks). Due to predators, only 3-4 ducks will survive long enough to fly.

Maximum lifespan of a wood duck is 15 years, but the majority don’t live longer than 3 to 4 years old. To hunt a wood duck or any duck species in Florida, you must have a Florida hunting license and a free Florida Waterfowl permit. These can be obtained from county tax collectors and their subagents, such as hunting supply stores. There are hunting regulations on these ducks including season length and the number of killed ducks allowed per person per day.

If you’re a fan of ducks, you’ll want to visit the Everglades where you’ll see a ton of them! Come explore the Everglades by airboat on a ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades and a possible glimpse of some wood ducks like no other. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

Fishing Basics to Follow in the Everglades

fishingDid you know that one third of the Everglades is covered by water? It’s true! This makes it an ideal place for visitors and anglers to go fishing. There are many species of fish found in the waterways of the Everglades, but snapper, sea trout, redfish, bass, and bluegill are known to be abundant in this area.

There are thousands of acres of shallow water flats, channels, and mangrove keys for people to fish. However, fishing from the shore is very limited.

When fishing, removing/collecting plants and marine life from the water is prohibited. For example, please do not take orchids, seahorses, starfish, coral, sea shells, driftwood, sponges, tropical fish, etc., out of the water.

When fishing in the Everglades, both freshwater and saltwater fishing requires separate Florida fishing licenses. It’s important for you to be aware and follow these rules/regulations so you do not get in trouble for fishing illegally. Visitors fishing in the park need to be aware of bag limits for individual species. The bag limit for many species is less than 10 fish. Licensed anglers are limited to possession of 20 fish/person at any time, but may possess no more than 10 fish of any one species. There is no possession limit for non-native species.

People are not allowed to fish with nets, seines, spears, firearms, and lobster snares. Dip nets, cast nets, and landing nets that are 10’ or smaller are allowed.

People are allowed four (4) fillets per person for immediate consumption at designated campsites or on-board vessels equipped with cooking facilities. All other fish must remain whole while in park waters.

Freshwater and saltwater fishing licenses are required for park visitors 16 years old and older. Digging for bait inside the park is prohibited.

For more rules and specifics regarding saltwater and freshwater fishing in the Everglades, visit: https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/upload/Ever-Fishing-Regulations-June-FY12.pdf. For more  information on licensing and fishing regulations visit www. marinefisheries.org or www.myfwc.com.

If fishing isn’t your thing but you like being on the water, come enjoy the Everglades on an airboat tour. You may catch a glimpse of many fish species without being on a fishing trip! Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours in the Everglades today.

Fun Things to Do in the Everglades

evegladesThe Everglades are vast, so if you’re planning a visit…where do you begin? What do you do? There are seemingly endless fun things to do in the Everglades, so it can be a bit overwhelming to decide what you will do and see. For this article, we wanted to share with you a few things to do that we think are great fun, and will give you a great glimpse into this majestic wetland.

Anhinga Amble – Daily at 10:30 a.m. there are 50-minute ranger-led tours on the Anhinga Trail. On this tour, you may get the opportunity to see alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife.

Nike Missile Base – Daily through March 31 at 2 p.m., visitors can have a tour of the historic Cold War U.S. Army Nike Missile Site HM-69. Reservations are not required.

Shark Valley – Shark Valley is a great area to take a tram or bike the 15-mile loop. Visitors can see birds and alligators along the path. Bike rentals are available.

Wet Walks –  A Wet Walk is a free, 2-hour strenuous wade through the River of Grass into a cypress dome. Visitors should wear long pants, lace up shoes and socks (all that can get wet and muddy).

Airboat Tour – Last, but certainly not least, is an airboat tour. An airboat tour can bring you to parts of the Everglades you cannot see by foot on a trail. You’ll have the opportunity to see different and more kinds of wildlife. On an airboat ride with Captain Mitch, adults cost $40 and children cost $20 for the one-hour ride. The ride is 8 to 10 miles.  For a discount, click here. If you’re looking to book an airboat trip, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat tours at 800-368-0065 or click here. Airboat tours are a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will surely not forget.!