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.

Bird Watching in the Everglades

Bird watching is a relaxing, slow-paced, way to enjoy nature and animals. There is something very exciting and rewarding about picking out that bird in the sky and being able to find out what it is from a birding book or website. It’s a bit like ecological detective work.

Bird watching is a popular past time for people across a wide range of ages and interests. Everglades National Park is a great place to bird watch in southern Florida, giving you the opportunity to see some 350 species of bird that call the Everglades home.

Birding takes a variety of forms and Everglades National Park boasts three main types of bird groups depending on which you prefer to view. These groups include: wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey.

Wading birds are the most prevalent in the Everglades, followed by land birds, and finally the elusive birds of prey.  There are a variety of rare and beautiful birds that can be seen in the Everglades, such as the roseate spoonbill, Green-backed Heron, Great Blue Heron, wood stork, white ibis, and more. These wading birds can be found in a variety of places within the mangroves and estuaries.

Land birds are the next most common category of birds found in the Everglades and these come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are tons of different types of sparrows, jays, buntings, wrens, cardinals, and more. These birds tend to be most heavily located in the wooded and piny areas of the park.

The most common birds of prey in the Everglades belong to the falcon family. A variety of different breeds of falcon, eagle, osprey, and even kites make their home in the Everglades. These birds are found throughout the varied sub-biomes of the Everglades, often seen soaring about the tree tops looking for food. Seeing these creatures in their natural landscape is a honor and an experience of a lifetime for a bird lover.

For the avid bird watcher, the Everglades is a rich and variety ecosystem that boasts a ton of different bird species. The most commonly seen types of birds include wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey. These birds make their home in the varied environments of the Everglades. Birding-oriented tours will take visitors to the locations where they are most likely to catch a peek at one of these amazing creatures. With patience and diligence, you can enjoy the varied aviary life the Everglades has on offer.

Come check out some birds on an airboat ride with Captain Mitch. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book an airboat tour in the Everglades today.

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

Update on Everglades Funding

evergladesIn December, President Obama signed a bill that authorized $2 billion to go towards restoration efforts in the Everglades. This bill was called The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016. This act provides half the funding needed for the Central Everglades Planning Project, and the other half of the funding will come from Florida.

According to the Everglades foundation, the Central Everglades Planning Project will remove levees, so a more natural flow of the water will flow across the plain. As of now, and for decades, the water is diverted east and west. With this project, the water will no longer be restricted from flowing south from Lake Okeechobee, which is the natural flow. For many years, people have been complaining about the negative impact of this water restriction and were looking for a permanent fix to redirect the water to its natural flow.

This issue is important to many Floridians because they want to ensure their water is clean; the water people used to drink, shower, water their lawn, and so on, comes from the Everglades.

This bill was pushed by Congresswoman Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Congressman Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, and Congressman Patrick Murphy of Stuart. Congressman Deutch hopes there will be a future commitment on the federal level for funding.

With this project, the state is also looking for solutions on where to put the water. It has been proposed that the state could by 60,000 acres of land in western Palm Beach County, which is currently owned by sugar producers. This land would be used as a reservoir to store water from the Lake, so it will no longer run east and west. This will be further discussed by state lawmakers in March of this year (2017).

Visit the Everglades

The Everglades is one of the world’s gems, and thankfully more efforts are being taken to restore it before it disappears. If you want to take a trip through this beautiful wetland, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s airboat tours will give you an up-close-and-personal look into this mystical place. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Cacti and Succulents of the Everglades

cacti Did you know cacti and succulents grow in the Everglades? Surprising, right? These plants don’t just grow in deserts. In fact, many grow in tropical and subtropical climates. The species, native to the Everglades, thrive off the frequent rainfall and the sunny dates. They require a balance of wet and dry conditions.

In the Everglades, the Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii) is listed as endangered by Florida. This cacti has white, large, night-blooming flowers that are quite fragrant, and it produces a prickly fruit. It is known as “Queen of the Night” because the flowers open only during the night. Bats, moths, and other insects pollinate the flowers. Along with the Simpson’s applecactus, the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is also endangered and hasn’t been seen in the park in 12 years after the last plant was destroyed by a hurricane.

Many species of the prickly-pear cactus exist in the Everglades; these cacti is known by its fleshy green pads, large yellow/orange/red cup-shaped flowers and reddish-purple pear-shaped fruits. The fruits it produces are called tunas. Each flower only blooms for one day.

Lastly, the columnar dildo (triangle cactus) is in the Everglades and can grow up to 23 feet; it has large, white flowers that open from midnight to dawn. This plant produces shiny, red fruit.

As far as succulents go, the agave decipiens grows on shells mounts in the Everglades that were created years ago by Native Americans; they are bright green and have spiny leaves. Tequila, mescal, and other drinks come from the Agave. The wormvine vanilla (Vanilla barbellata) is an endangered succulent with a thick stem that stores water; they product beautiful flowers. Shoreline seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) grows on coastal prairies and beach dunes in the Everglades. It has thick leaves and a reddish/green stem with pink flowers that only open a few hours a day. It is a ground-covering species that stabilizing sand dunes, which helps prevent beach erosion.

Check Out These Everglades Plants in Real Life

Looking to catch a glimpse of some of these beautiful cacti and succulents? Well, then it’s time to take a trip to the Everglades. While you’re there, try out an airboat tour. You won’t be disappointed. To schedule an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

The False Killer Whale in the Everglades

False Killer WhaleWhat is a false killer whale? Well, its name is misleading. The false killer whale isn’t actually related to the killer whale, but rather, it’s a member of the dolphin family. This dolphin is also known as ‘blackfish.’ In mid-January, 95 dolphins stranded themselves on a remote coast along Hog Key in the Everglades National Park.  Despite rescue efforts, 82 of the dolphins died. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this event is the largest mass stranding of fall killer whales ever in Florida.  Many of the whales were deeply stuck in the mangroves and it was extremely difficult for rescue efforts to be successful. The last time a stranding occurred was back in 1986 when 3 false killer whales out of a group of 40 were stranded close to Cedar Key.

The Park has decided to leave the carcasses of the dolphins on the beach and coastline; this is a move to preserve the natural ecosystem of the area. By keeping the dolphins there, scavengers like vultures, sharks, and crabs will have an additional food source. Because of this unfortunate stranding, the Park has closed Wood Key Cove and the Hog Key backcountry campsite to ensure public safety while also protecting the area.

The dolphins are the fourth largest species of dolphin and can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They are long, slender, and dark or gray (resembling an orca whale). They have a narrow, pointed head and pointed flippers with an S-shaped elbow and a large falcate dorsal fin in the middle of their body.

False killer whales are fast moving, active, and playful. They can be found in warm to tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They primarily eat tuna, mahi-mahi, other fish, and cephalopods. Not too much is truly known about this dolphin; it usually stays in deep waters, so it hasn’t been studied a lot.

As of now, there is no definite reason for this most recent stranding, but biologists and responders from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration are conducting forensic evidence to figure out why this may have happened. One theory is the dolphins may have been overcome by the tide and dragged to shore.

Visit the Everglades

The Everglades is home to hundreds of species, including the false killer whale. On an airboat tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see a lot of the different wildlife in the area. To book a trip with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Stargazing in the Everglades

stargazingIn the United States, the National Parks are some of the last places left in the country that provide true, natural darkness at night. This darkness makes for ideal stargazing opportunities. The Everglades is an ideal place to view a starry sky, while also providing a perfect nocturnal habitat for hundreds of creatures. The wildlife relies on the Park’s natural lightscape for navigation, and knowing when to hide from predators.

The Park is dedicated to protecting the natural lightscape. Any lighting placed in the park is determined by the location, energy need, cost, maintenance efficiency, light pollution, and effects on wildlife. The Park Service has installed efficient lightings in new buildings and facilities, including solar-powered light fixtures in the parking lot at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center.  All the new fixtures outside direct light downward, which prevents glare and light pollination.

Every month during and around the new moon, the Everglades is a great spot to view the Milky Way. When viewing the glowing band of light with binoculars, you can better see some individual stars. During the winter season, park rangers lead numerous programs where people can star gaze; telescopes are often available to view the starry night. Visitors are asked to arrive early for their eyes to adjust to  the darkness; they are also asked to bring a flashlight and to dress appropriately for the weather. One such program is a ranger-led moon bicycle ride on the Shark Valley Tram Road. To book or view schedules, click here.

Explore the Everglades

The starry sky in the Everglades is surely a sight to see – breathtaking views of the stars that you cannot see quite like this anywhere else. If you’re planning on staying late in the Park, take an airboat ride during the day to get a whole different view and perspective of the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun airboat adventure. To book a trip, clic

Mercury Poisoning Found in Dolphins in the Everglades

dolphinsAt the end of last year, a study was released revealing that the bottlenose dolphins in the Everglades show signs of mercury poisoning. Florida International University (FIU) scientists have been examining the dolphins, and released the study that stated the dolphins have a high mercury concentration on both their skin and blubber. These dolphins that were examined live around the Everglades National Park, the lower Florida Keys, and Florida Bay. These dolphins have a high mercury concentration them than any other dolphin population in the world. In fact, the level of mercury these scientists found was the highest level ever recorded.

The scientists believe the mercury has come from natural and man-made sources. Mercury is a metallic element, and is extremely toxic. Because of its toxicity, the mercury can affect and harm dolphins’ immune and reproductive systems, which can make them susceptible to catching and contracting illnesses and diseases easier and more often.

FIU has reported that mercury is produced from the mangroves in these areas. This occurs when the mangroves’ leaves fall into the water and come in contact with bacteria; the combination converts into mercury. In this area, pesticides are the culprit for the mercury production.

The Everglades has been known to have high concentrations of mercury, which is alarming to scientists. FIU scientists, along with scientists from the University of Liège in Belgium, the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation in the United States,  are working to understand the impact of these contaminations and pollutants on marine ecosystems to better know how to implement conversation efforts. These scientists are trying to find the extent of mercury poisoning in the Everglades, and will also study sharks, alligators, and fish to see if they also have been affected.

Where to See Dolphins in the Everglades 

The bottlenose dolphins mainly reside in the Everglades’ Florida Bay, which is the wetland’s largest body of water. There is about 450 dolphins that live there. Hopefully with attention and awareness on the mercury issue, these dolphins will continue to thrive and live in the Everglades for years to come. Jump on an airboat ride to get a spectacular view of these brilliant, beautiful creatures.

By taking an airboat right with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, you will have the opportunity to see dolphins and lots of other animals, birds, and marine life. To schedule a tour, click here of call 239-695-3377.

Wildlife Viewing in the Everglades

wildlifeIt’s officially the dry season in the Everglades and Florida, which is the best time to head down to the area to view an array of different wildlife species. During this time of year, the good weather combined with low water levels creates the perfect conditions and environment for animals and birds to congregate near bodies of water.

Great spots in the Everglades to view wildlife include: Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail (Royal Palm), Eco Pond (a mile past the Flamingo Visitor Center), Snake Bight (near Flamingo), and Chokoloskee Bay (Gulf Coast).

Visitors to the Park have the opportunity to see alligators, wading birds, freshwater wildlife, and a few other land creatures. Since the animals are in their natural habitat, they are wild and visitors should be respectful to both the animals and the environment in which they call home.

Below, we’ve shared a few rules and tips on viewing the animals in the Park.

  • Keep your space from animals and birds. Remember you’re in their home and shouldn’t disturb them (do not pick up or chase). Binoculars provide a great way to get a closer, detailed look at the wildlife without bothering or spooking them.
  • Back away from animals if you feel they have been disturbed by you and leave the area. Animals and birds may feel threatened and start to act strangely (excessive flapping, pacing, muscle tension, staring, screaming/making frequent noises). Animals, especially when they feel threatened, can be dangerous.
  • Stay away from nesting or den areas. By entering one of these areas, you could potentially drive the parents to leave, which means the offspring will not be able to survive on their own. Stick to the trails to avoid running into one of these breeding grounds.
  • If you see an animal that you think may be sick or abandoned, leave it be; it’s family could be nearby.
  • Pets are not allowed on trails or the wilderness areas of the Park.
  • Refrain from feeding the animals; it’s not a good idea for the animals to become reliant on being fed, unnaturally, by humans.
  • Listen to all safety signs and warning signals in the park.

It is illegal to feed or harass animals in the Everglades. You’re in THEIR home, and the Park asks that you respect them. If you’re looking for a way to see wildlife in the Everglades, an airboat tour is a great way to view animals and birds from afar without worrying about bothering them or putting yourself in a dangerous situation.  To book an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800368-0065.

Tegu Lizards in the Everglades

tegu lizardsBurmese pythons are well-known to be a major problem in the Everglades; however, there are other invasive species in this vast wetland that are a problem to the local ecosystem. One such species is the tegu lizard, which originated in South America. In fact, they are on the state’s list of most aggressive invasive species. So, how did the tegu lizards end up in the Everglades in Florida? They either escaped or were released from people who owned them as pets.

The tegu lizard is a threat to native birds, alligators, sea turtles, small mammals, and crocodiles; biologists from the University of Florida said it is believed this lizard could be as destructive as the Burmese python. This lizard is still currently sold in pet stores in the state. As of right now, trapping and selling them is legal. State workers, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and biologists from UF have seen these lizards in places they haven’t been before, which means there is a growing number of them.

Tegus live in burrows and forage around water; they eat fruit, seeds, eggs, dog or cat food, insects, and small mammals. They are active during the day and can often be spotted on roadsides and other disturbed areas. During the colder months, they stay covered or in a burrow. Since they are able to withstand colder temps (as low as 35 degrees), biologists believe they can threaten more species than the pythons can.

The can grow up to four feet long and are black and white with a banding pattern on the tail. Gold tegus and Red tegus have also been found in South Florida. The gold tegu grows to two to three feet and has black and gold stripes while the red tegu can grow up to four-and-a-half feet in size and the males have large jowls.

Right now, black-and-white tegus and gold tegus are breeding in parts of Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

Right now, officials are trying to capture as many tegus as possible so that the population does not replenish itself; there are a lot more tegus in the Everglades than they thought. In 2015, they captured around 500 and in 2009 they captured only 13 tegus. Some tegus are being tracked, so biologists can better understand their patterns for trapping efforts to go more successfully.

The biologists are trying to compile convincing evidence of the tegu’s impact on mammals like the python’s, so that hopefully the state will create a plan on how to deal with this invasive species in the future.

If you see a tegu in the Everglades, take a picture and report your location and sighting at 1-888-IVE-GOT1,, or the IveGot1 app.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades is a beautiful place full of some amazing creatures; unfortunately, from climate change and invasive species, the Everglades is at risk of shrinking and even disappearing. See this breathtaking wetland while you still can. A great way to explore this Park is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.