Clouds: A predictor of changing weather

airboat everglades tourOne of the most overlooked aspects of Mother Nature can be found right overhead. Look, up there in the sky!

Clouds can tell us a lot about the coming weather, and when you’re out in the Everglades, it’s important to know if a storm is on its way. The movement of clouds can tell you the direction that a change in weather is originating from.

Here are a few cloud types to be familiar with.

–Cirrus: High-flying cirrus clouds, usually above 18,000 feet, look like delicate strands or tufts of hair, or a wispy patchwork of cloud fingers. Cirrus clouds hold ice crystals, and they’re often cast by yellow or red hues just before sunrise and just after sunset. They’re often fair weather clouds, but when they thicken, it usually means that a warm front is on its way and precipitation is on its way within a day or so.

–Cirrocumulus: Like cirrus clouds, cirrocumulus clouds are high-flying and hold ice crystals or super-cooled water droplets — but are often wavy or rippled in appearance. They can even look grainy. Cirrocumulus clouds are a predictor of a coming warm front and possible rain within a day or so; in tropical regions, they’re often a sign that a hurricane is coming.

–Altocumulus: These mid-level clouds, between 6,000 to 20,000 feet, have several visual varieties, but those indicating a weather change look like a patch or sheet of irregular clouds (especially if they’re thick or layered). Like cirrus and cirrocumulus, they hold super-cooled water droplets. They may herald that a thunderstorm is approaching quickly; if they’re observed on a humid summer morning, rain should arrive by the afternoon.

–Cumulonimbus: Cumulonimbus clouds, which can appear near ground level and up to 50,000 feet, are classic storm clouds. They’re heavy and dense, and look like a looming mountain or tower. Cumulonimbus clouds can produce hail, lightening, and tornadoes. When you see cumulonimbus clouds, it’s time to take cover!

Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours in Everglades City, Florida, is your source for outdoor exploration in the Everglades. To book a tour, visit our website or call 800-368-0065.

 

Everglades Plant Spotlight: The Ghost Orchid

ghost orchidThe Ghost Orchid is one of the Everglades’ most rare and endangered plants.

Known in the scientific world as Dendrophylax lindenii, the Ghost Orchid is prized for its delicate, white flower petals. It gets its name from the nocturnal movement of the flower, which resembles a ghost.

Ghost Orchids enjoy conservation protection in Florida, and it’s illegal to tamper with or collect them. As of December 2016, it was believed that only about 2,000 plants remained in the wild. Poaching, as well as human development, continues to threaten its existence.

The Ghost Orchid can be found locally in Big Cypress National Preserve, along with more than 30 other types of orchids.

Visually, the plant appears as a leafless, tangled mass of green roots hugging the trunk of a host tree. It’s often found in deep swamps of cypress, pond apple, and palm trees, and can be distinguished from other orchid varieties by thin white markings on its root system.

The Ghost Orchid requires very specific environmental conditions to grow: high humidity, mild temperatures, shade, and the presence of mycorrhizal fungi. It can also be found in the Bahamas and Cuba, but thrives under a different set of conditions than those in southern Florida.

The Ghost Orchid’s flower blooms in June and July, and it’s pollinated by the giant sphinx moth, which typically visits more than one plant in its nightly travels. The sphinx moth’s tongue easily reaches the plant’s pollen; other insects have difficulty getting to it.

The popularity of Ghost Orchids grew after Susan Orlean’s 1998 book, “The Orchid Thief,” which was later turned into the 2002 film, “Adaptation.” Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville recently developed a way to culture the seeds, grow the plants in greenhouses, and re-introduce them into the wild.

Want to go hunting for Ghost Orchids? Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours in Everglades City, Florida, can show you many of the flora and fauna found in the Everglades. To book a tour, visit our website 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

Everglades Regulations to Remember

regulationsThe Everglades is a 1.5 million-mile-acre wetland preserve, which means there’s a lot of land and water for you to explore. Being a fragile ecosystem and National Park filled with thousands of creatures and plant life, there are several regulations that must be followed when spending time here. The Everglades provides shelter to many species, and it also provides water to southern Florida, so it is important for visitors to respect this environment. If you’re planning a trip to the Everglades, we wanted to share with you some important regulations to keep in mind.

  • It is prohibited to collect or disturb animals, plants, artifacts, seashells or anything else that is naturally occurring in the Park.
  • Pets are not allowed on backcountry campsites, beaches or in the wilderness of the Everglades.
  • Feeding animals (of any kind) is not allowed.
  • All trash must be taken out of the Park with you or placed in Park’s trash cans.
  • You must bring your own fresh drinking water; it is not available everywhere in the Park.
  • Fires are only allowed at designated beach sites.
  • Firearms and fireworks are prohibited.
  • If you are aboard a vessel in the Everglades, you must abide by the U.S. Coast Guard’s regulations.
  • Personal watercraft, like jet skis, are not allowed in the Park’s waters.
  • If you need tide information, it is available at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast visitor centers, or online.
  • Be extra cautious if your boating by any manatee signs.
  • Generators and other portable motors are not allowed in backcountry campsites.
  • If you need to use a bathroom and are not near any facilities, it is asked that you dig a hole in the ground at least 6 inches deep; the hole should be covered when you’re done. If you’re near a coastal ground site or at a beach, you can urinate directly into the water.
  • Wash dishes and your body away from waterways.

These are just some of the Park’s regulations. To view more of the Park’s regulations, visit www.nps.gov.

Thinking about heading into the Everglades? There’s so many different ways to explore it, including an airboat tour. A ride on an airboat gives you an up-close-and-personal view of the Everglades; it’s a trip you’ll never forget. To book an airboat trip, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0005 or click here.

Facts About the Everglades

airboat tours evergladesHow much do you know about the Everglades? Even though this area is a National Park, the average person may not know a lot of details about this wetland, especially if they do not live near it. In the national news, people are hearing about the Everglades restoration, but may not know a whole lot about the Park itself and its importance to the ecosystem of the area. The Everglades is a truly mystical place, so we wanted to share with you some fun, interesting, and maybe even little-known facts, about it.

  • The Everglades is a slow-moving river.
  • Before mankind moved into southern Florida, the Everglades was a much bigger place. In fact, it was 50 percent bigger, but construction and drainage has caused the Everglades to shrink in size. It used to be around 8 million acres.
  • It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.
  • Around 7-8 million Florida residents get their water from the Everglades.
  • It is the largest continuous sawgrass prairie in North America.
  • It is a World Heritage, a Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Significance.
  • 13 endangered species and 10 threatened species live in the Everglades.
  • It is home to the Western hemisphere’s largest mangrove ecosystem.
  • Native Americans, who lived around the Everglades referred to it as Pahayokee, which translates to “grassy waters.”
  • It is the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in North America.
  • The most dominant life form in the Everglades is the periphyton, an algae/microbe that floats on the surface of the water.
  • The first people to inhabit the Everglades were the Calusa Indians around 1000 B.C.
  • Although iconic now, airboats weren’t common in the Everglades until the 1950s.
  • There are no underground springs in the Everglades, but the Floridian Aquifer (reservoir) lies 1,000 feet below.
  • 36 protected species live in the Everglades.

It’s certainly interesting to read fun facts about the Everglades, but it’s even more amazing to experience this River of Grass in person. There’s no place like it in the world! An airboat tour through the Park is a great way to take in all the sights, smells, and sounds. To book an airboat trip with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

Chameleons Are Invading the Everglades

chameleonsThe Burmese python is notorious for being an invasive species slithering all over the Everglades, but there are many other invasive species living and breeding in the wetlands.  In fact, there are around 139 species of reptiles and amphibians living in Florida, not to mention all the invasive mammals and plants! According to researchers at the University of Florida, there are more invasive species of reptiles and amphibians living in the wild in Florida than anywhere else in the world. Thanks to humans releasing their pets into the wild, there are now six different chameleon species in the wild in Florida. Chameleons are not native to Florida; they are an invasive reptile that hail from Africa, Madagascar, and parts of Asia and Europe.

Unlike the Burmese python, chameleons aren’t as dangerous of a creature and are not having a drastic negative impact on the ecosystem of Florida or the Everglades; they are not a top priority for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. However, they do prey on insects, small frogs, lizards, small mammals and birds. They are known to eat a lot of pests like stinkbugs, caterpillars, geckos and weevils, but scientists are afraid they will begin to eat more native species.

Chameleons, like the Oustalet chameleon, are known to have a high reproductive rate and can thrive in many different environments, including forests and agricultural land. This particular kind of chameleon can grow up to 24 inches long; the male Oustalets are a tan color with brown and black stripes while the females are green with white dotes. Another chameleon found in Florida is the veiled chameleon; this chameleon is native to the Arabian Peninsula. They range in size from 1 to 2 feet; the males are green with bands of yellow with blue, orange, or black and the females are green with white, orange or yellow spots.

These breeds, along with the other breeds of chameleons, have been found in Miami-Dade, Broward, Lee, Collier counties, as well as other areas of Florida.

Just like with the pythons, there are groups of people that head out into the Florida wilderness to hunt for these chameleons. These hunters are known as “herpers” who catch invasive chameleons in rural and residential areas, and will adopt or sell them. They head out at night and shine flashlights into trees to spot these reptiles. It’s easier to find chameleons at night; since they can change their skin color, they aren’t so easy to find during daylight hours.

These herpers gather in online forums to share popular hiding spots for chameleons and tips on how to find and catch them. “Ranchers” are also out there; ranchers breed and raise the chameleons they find to sell them; this is considered to be a controversial activity. The panther chameleon, which is roaming in rural spots of Florida, can sell for up to $1,000.

All of the species of chameleons in Florida where brought to the United States in the pet trade. Because they are not native, it is OK to take them out of the trees and flora in Florida; they are not protected here. However, if someone catches one, he or she cannot put it back, since it’s illegal to release them into the wild.

If you spot one in the Everglades or other area of Florida, take a photo, write down the location and report your siting to IveGot1.org or download the IveGot1 app.

Interested in spending some time in the Everglades among all the varied species? A great and safe way to explore is on an airboat tour. You’ll see an array of sights and sounds right from the airboat. To book an airboat ride, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

Dangerous Water Levels in the Everglades

First, there was not enough water. Now, there’s too much. This past year, Florida’s weather has certainly been erratic. During the winter, Florida, including the Everglades, was experiencing a significant drought. Come summer, the rain is beating down hard, so hard that certain spots of the Everglades are flooded and waterlogged. Certain species of birds and animals are leaving the area due to the excess water, including deer and wading birds.

Back in July, the water levels in the area were around 2 feet above normal. In some areas of the Everglades, there has been more than 20 inches of rain. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation, the flooding is as bad as its ever bee this early in the summer, rainy season. The animals, who usually seek dry higher areas in the Everglades, are seeking other places, because everything is under water.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that animals are in crisis and some will even die. One bird that could potentially become extinct from this year’s rainfall is the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Right now, there is around 3,000 sparrows in the Everglades, but if there population drops to below 300, it is believed they will go extinct.

Other threatened and affected species include: wood storks, indigo snakes, deer, racoons, snail kites.

In June, the South Florida Water Management District was allowed to back pump clean water into Lake Okeechobee to reduce the overflow in different conservation areas. This will lower the water one quarter inch per week. Because this is an emergency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection allowed for this change in the water-management schedule.

These high-water levels don’t just affect the birds and animals, but the plant life and entire environment, as well. It is essential to move the water out of the Everglades for the area to be able to thrive and survive after this year’s rainy season is done.

The Everglades is a very delicate ecosystem, and small shifts in water levels or weather can truly bring damage and catastrophe to the area.

If you would like to explore this majestic place, go for an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. He’s been zipping around the Everglades for decades. You’ll see so much plant and animal life on these airboat adventures. Click here to book a trip or call 800-368-0065.

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.

 

Ribbit, Ribbit: Frogs and Toads of the Everglades

frogsDo you know the lovely creatures that sing their song at night in the Everglades? Frogs and toads! These amphibians are no strangers to Florida, and can be spotted all over the Everglades. The wetland is home to many different species of frogs and toads, including:

 

 

 

Florida cricket frog
Greenhouse frog
Green treefrog
Squirrel treefrog
Cuban treefrog
Florida chorus frog
Little grass frog
Pig frog
Southern leopard frog
Oak toad
Southern toad
Eastern narrow-mouth toad
Eastern spadefoot toad
The Everglades is a perfect environment for frogs and toads to live in. Amphibians like both dry and wet areas; when laying eggs, they remain close to bodies of water, which are abundant in the Everglades. Adult amphibians spend most of their adult life on land, while their babies and young grow and live in bodies of water.

Here is some more information on a couple of the frogs listed above. The pig frog’s croak sounds similar to the sound of a pig’s grunt, hence where the frog got its name. These frogs are brown and gray in color when they are adults. Their bellies are a yellow/brown pattern. Their skin is permeable and actually reflects toxins in the ecosystem.  They are similar looking to both green frogs and bullfrogs. They can grow up to 6 inches in length. In the Everglades, scientists are studying the pig frog, because of their importance in the food chain in the wetland; they believe these frogs can tell them a lot about the overall health of the Everglades. In the Everglades, they can be found by marshes and ponds. Their breeding season is from later spring to August.

The Florida chorus frog can be found in many parts of Florida, including the Everglades. They are smaller in size and grow to be 1.25 inches. Their coloring depends on the weather. When it’s warm, they appear to be a light gray color with dark gray spots and when it’s colder, they are a darker gray in color, and their spots aren’t noticeable. The Florida chorus frog can be found in near the edges of water sources or near grass clumps. They also frequent marshes, ponds, and drainage ditches. This frog’s breeding season is dependent on the rain, so in the Everglades this stretches from late spring to the fall.

Want a glimpse of some of these frogs up close? A great way to see these amphibians and other creatures in the Everglades is on an airboat! Come join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for an adventure through a mystical place that you’ll never forget. To book a trip, click here or call 800-368-0065.

 

Frontcountry camping in the Everglades

Love spending time in nature? How about overnight? Camp in the Everglades! This camping trip is surely one you’ll never forget. Camping, both frontcountry and backcountry, is available year-round. Even during this rainy season, people do head out and camp in the Everglades. The National Park Service notes that during the rainy season, camping can be more difficult and uncomfortable.

The Park does not have camping equipment to rent or purchase, so you must bring everything you will need to set up camp.

If you’re looking for a frontcountry camping experience, the Everglades has two places: Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground. Right now, the Long Pine Key Campground is closed for summer months. The Flamingo Campground is accessible from the Homestead Entrance of the Everglades. It can accommodate both tents and RVs. Since it is the summer season, reservations aren’t necessary, but you are still able to make one if you’d prefer. Flamingo has 234 drive-up sites, which are $20 per night for a campsite with no electric hookup and 41 sites are $30 per night with electric hookups. Many of the sites have a view of Florida Bay, as this site is on the southernmost tip of Florida.

The summer time is a good time to camp in this area if you prefer fewer people around. There is a visitor center at the campground, a store, and canoe and kayak rentals. This campground is a large open field with strong breezes coming off the bay. There are solar-heated showers, dump stations, picnic tables, grills and an amphitheater for winter programs. The Flamingo area also has lots of hiking and canoe trails. To make a reservation at Flamingo Campground, call 1-877-444-6777.

While camping in the Everglades, you can explore even more of the wetland on an airboat tour during your trip. An airboat ride can bring you around areas of the Everglades you are unable to reach by trails. If you’d like to go on an airboat tour, join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for an adventure. To book a trip, click here or call 800-368-0065.