Everglades Bird Spotlight: the Limpkin

everglades airboat tourAt certain times of the year, the Everglades can look like a scene out of Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds. Thousands of birds flock down to this warm climate to spend the winter and breed. For this article, we wanted to spotlight one species of bird that can be found in the Everglades: the Limpkin. This bird can actually be found in the Everglades year-round.

Limpkins are notoriously known to be noisy. In fact, you may have a better chance of hearing a limpkin than seeing one. Limpkins begin to make sounds at dusk and continue all through the night until dawn. Their cries aren’t sweet, usually they are loud screams, which are unmistakable.

This bird is related to rails and cranes. It’s a brown bird with white spots and streaks along its body. They have long necks, legs, and bills. Their long bills help them easily remove apple snails from their shells; apple snails are the main food source of the limpkin. Their bills, when closed, have a gap at the end that acts like tweezers. You can usually find the limpkin around areas where apple snails are abundant, but if apple snails are not easily found, the limpkin will eat other types of snails, freshwater mussels, insects, frogs, crustaceans, lizards, and worms.

You can find limpkins mainly around shallow bodies of water; they are a slow-moving bird with a high-stepping gait. The “limp” in limpkin comes from this gait that often gives off the appearance that the bird is limping even though it is not.

Limpkins stick with their own kind and do not mix in with other wading birds.

While nesting in the Everglades or other parts of Florida, they build their nests on top of floating vegetation, as well as high tree limbs. They can lay 3 to 8 eggs at a time. Florida is actually as far north as this bird goes. Limpkins can be found throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Limpkins range from 25-28 inches in height with a wingspan of 39 to 42 inches in width.

Limpkins are not endangered or under watch, but at one point, their numbers were dwindling in Florida due to human development.

Want to have the chance to see (but most likely hear) this bird up close? Come out on an airboat tour to glide around the limpkin’s habitat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours are a great way to explore all the ins and outs of this wetland. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

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.


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.


The Everglades’ Threatened and Endangered Species

endangered species everglades airboat toursThe Everglades is an amazing and pristine ecosystem that is a unique biome that is home to a huge wealth of different flora and fauna. For nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike, the Everglades is a one-of-a-kind place that is unmatched. A lot of people, when planning a vacation to the Everglades, choose to experience Everglades National Park, which is a protected area of the Everglades where plants, animals, birds, and fish are protected and conserved.

One of the most interesting and humbling aspects of visiting the Park is that it (and the Everglades in general) are home to a number of threatened and endangered species of plant and animal. This means that in this environment, you have the opportunity to see truly endangered species that are at risk of extinction. These are species that need to be protected and saved because of their biological diversity and importance to the functioning of the overall ecosystem.

What a rare honor to have the chance to see creatures that may number in just the tens. Sadly, with each passing year, it seems that more plants and animals become threatened, endangered, or extinct, but with preservation efforts like those are many national parks, we can at least hope to save and protect small areas that these creatures can safely dwell within.

There are a number of different threatened and endangered species that you might encounter on a trip to the Everglades. What follows is a brief rundown of the same species that are included on the protected list.

Threatened or endangered species of animal that call the Everglades home include:

  • American Alligator
  • American Crocodile
  • Sea Turtles
  • Manatees
  • Florida Panther
  • Various Bird Species

The park is also home to a variety of threatened and endangered plants that include:

  • Buccaneer Palm
  • Florida Thatch Palm
  • Tree Cactus
  • Manchineel
  • King’s Holly
  • Silver Thatch Palm
  • Bitter Thatch Palm
  • Lignum-Vitae

The protection of these plants and animals is vital and also our responsibility. Man is the reason that these habitats have been continually encroached upon and altered beyond repair. Since the degradation is our doing, we have the moral responsibility to save and protect that which remains. The Everglades National Park is home to a number of threatened and endangered plants and animals that can be seen nowhere else. Visiting the park gives you the opportunity to experience the once-in-a-lifetime honor of witnessing something rare and majestic.

To experience the wonders of this park first hand, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To learn more, click the Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours page. Click here to book a airboat ride or call 800-368-0065 to reserve a spot today.

Plant profile: Pond Apple

pond appleThe Everglades is home to an array of plants that thrive in the wet, subtropical climate. Although mangroves and grasses come to many people’s minds when thinking about plant life in the Everglades, we’d like to profile a plant that many people might not know about that is native to the area: the pond apple.

The pond apple, Annona glabra, is a shrub or small tree with evergreen leaves, white/pale yellow thick-petal flowers and large fruit.  This plant is also known as alligator apple, swamp apple, corkwood, and monkey apple. Along with the Everglades, this plant is also native in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, and South Asia.

They can grow up to 30 to 40 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide. As a young pond apple tree, the bark is gray and scale; as the tree gets older, the bark becomes fissured and can turn to a reddish-brown color. These trees can be found along streams and rivers banks, canal banks, slough swamps, freshwater ponds, lakes, and strands. The pond apple is known to flourish around bald cypress trees. They tolerate salt water and cannot grow in dry soil.

In the past, there was a pond apple forest at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, but due do drainage over the years this habitat was destroyed. Still, the largest numbers of this species of tree are found in the Everglades, but they can also be found throughout other areas of Florida.

Native Indians and settlers to the Everglades ate the fruit off this tree, but it is now considered unsavory for humans to eat. Most of the fruit will mature and fall of the trees in the fall and winter. When they drop, they are green or green/yellow in color. The fruit has a sweet aroma and the pulp is fleshy, mealy, and pithy. The flesh is yellow/orange in color and is filled with more than 100 dark-colored seeds within. The seeds are poisonous, and powder from the seeds have been known to blind people. The seeds and leaves of this plant are known to be insecticidal. More recent studies are showing that the seeds contain anticancer compound, which may be able to be used medically. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, and alligators have been known to eat the pond apple fruit.

Not only does the pond apple provide food for many animals in the Everglades, it also provides shelter and creates a safe haven for many, as well.

Visit the Pond Apple’s Habitat

Explore where this fruit-filled tree thrives while on an airboat ride. An airboat can take you through many places in the Everglades with the opportunity to see this plant, along with hundreds of other species of plants, many of which are unique only to the River of Grass. To book an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

Safety in the Everglades

safety The Everglades is a beautiful, vast place that happens to be a National Park for people to experience in many different ways, year round. The “River of Grass” is full of all sorts of plant life, animal life, and landscapes; it also experiences lots of different weather. Being a park in nature, there’s a lot of unpredictable things that can happen, like bad weather, flooding, area restrictions, etc. When visiting the Everglades, it’s best to familiarize yourself with some of the park’s safety precautions and rules, so you can get the most out of your visit. Whether you’re taking an airboat tour, walking a trail, or going on a picnic, you should keep safety in mind.

Below, we’ve shared some of the Everglades National Park’s safety precautions, tips, and rules no matter what time of year you visit the area.

  1. Be mindful of the weather. It can get very hot and humid in the Everglades during the summer months. Make sure you and your group are all aware of the temperatures the day you’re visiting and prepare appropriately. Wear sunscreen, bring water, and wear proper clothing.
  2. Children should be supervised. The trails are surrounded by wilderness, so there are animals roaming freely all in the grasses and vegetation. For their safety and yours, make sure they stick to the trail with you.
  3. Pets are not allowed on the trails.
  4. Feeding wildlife of any kind is not allowed and is illegal. Over time, animals will become aggressive if they’re being fed by humans in their wild habitat.
  5. Be aware of vultures. Vultures live in the area and are federally protected. They have been known to damage the windshields, sun roofs, and windshield wipers of cars and other vehicles. The Park suggests that visitors avoid parking near groups of vultures, park in full sun, put a car cover over the car, cover any exposed runner with a towel or wet sheet, use loud noises to spook the vultures off the car or vehicle, and notify a ranger if one is on your car and it won’t leave.
  6. Leave the wildlife alone. If you harm, touch, or get in the way of the animals or birds, you can get in big trouble; it is illegal to bother the animals in any way.
  7. Attend to fires at all times
  8. Do not tie anything or attach anything to trees.
  9. Do not leave garbage out – this can attract wildlife.
  10. It can get very buggy in the Everglades, and mosquitos can come in droves during the wet season. The Park suggests on apply insect repellant before walking on any of the trails; the park also sells repellant at all stores in the Park. Light-colored, longsleeve shirts and pants are the best clothing to keep mosquitos from biting you. Also, it’s best to stick to walking on paved areas if you want to stay away from bugs as much as possible.

Stay Safe in the Everglades

These are just a few tips and safety rules that visitors should keep in mind and follow while visiting the Everglades. The trip will be much more enjoyable if you prepare for the trip properly, and don’t bother the animals of environment in any way. Riding on an airboat is a safe way to explore the Everglades. Captain Mitch has many years of experience navigating through the wetland. To book a trip for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, call 800-368-0065 or click here.

Trails of the Everglades

trailsThe Everglades is a beautifully mysterious place to visit. So, why not experience it up-close-and-personal? The Everglades National Park allows visitors to explore their surroundings with several hiking and bike trails winding throughout the wetlands.

The Park asks that visitors bring plenty of water with them and to pay attention to the weather forecast. If visitors hear thunder, the Park suggests people take cover in a building or vehicle. Being such a warm climate, there will be lots of insects around and visitors should prepare themselves. Pets are not allowed on any of the Park’s trails.

Below is a list of a few trails within the Park that allows people to explore the flora and fauna of the area. These trails can be walked through but there may be some vegetation on the trail.

The following trails are currently not being maintained because there are endangered species nearby.

Coastal Prairie Trail – This trail is 11.2 miles long. This trail isn’t recommended due to its exposure to mosquitos and sun. The marl prairie is a breeding ground for the mosquitos and can be very muddy. It can be a very tiring walk. This trail is a critical habitat for the Cape Sable thoroughwort.

Snake Bight – Snake Bite is a 7.6-mile loop. This moderately-difficult trail leads from the forest to the shoreline of the Florida Bay. Visitors may spot crocodiles, flamingos (in December), mosquitos, and pythons and anacondas. People can walk and/or bike this trail. This trail is very buggy. This trail is considered a critical habitat for the Cable Sable thoroughwort.

Christian Point Trail – This trail is considered challenging; it leads people deep into a mangrove forest along the Florida Bay. After the forest, the trail will lead people to a small prairie and opens up later into a large mark prairie. This trail is a critical habitat for Cape Sable thoroughwort. It is 4.2 miles round trip. It can be very buggy on this specific trail being surrounded by heavy vegetation.

Other Non-Maintained Trails:
Rowdy Bend
Bear Lake
LPK Bike Trail

These trails are maintained:

Anhinga Trail – This trail is an easy trip and is .8 of a mile long. It’s close to the Park entrance, which is why most visitors travel on this trail. Wildlife is easily spotted along this trail, especially alligators and birds. People can look into the vegetation and see much of the wildlife on several observation decks throughout the trail.

Bayshore Loop – Bayshore Loop is an easy to moderate level trail that is 1.3 miles long. This trail is known to be aggressively buggy. This loop brings visitors along the edge of the Florida Bay through the coastal prairie habitat. It passes through the original fishing village of Flamingo, a relic stands where this place used to be. It’s a great bird-watching trail.

Pa-Hay-Okee Boardwalk – The Boardwalk is an easy .2 loop that leads visitors through the “River of Grass” (Pa-Hay-Okee) within the Park for a close look at the area. It leads people to an observation tower.

Other Maintained Trails:
Bear Lake Trail
Bobcat Boardwalk
Gumbo Limbo Trail
Guy Bradley Trail
Mahogany Hammock Trail
Old Ingraham Highway
Otter Cave Hammock Trail
Pinelands Ecotone
West Lake Mangrove Trail

Explore The Everglades Further

These trails offer beautiful views to those within while fully immersing them in the mystical wetlands. For a different look at the Everglades, an airboat tour can bring you around areas of the Everglades that these trails do not reach. Airboats are great especially when your feet get tired from all the walking! To schedule an airboat trip when you’re visiting the Everglades, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

How Do Hurricanes Affect Florida Wildlife?

A developing hurricane.

A developing hurricane.

Even though Hurricane Erika may have lost its steam before hitting southern Florida this past weekend, its the perfect time to think about how a hurricane might have affected the Florida Everglades, and more specifically the wildlife that can be found here. Usually following a hurricane, a large majority of the media coverage is centered around ways that human beings were affected by the storm – through loss of life or home – but not much attention is given to the local wildlife. Sadly, a hurricane can be detrimental to wildlife and nature, affecting everything from the fish in the waters, to the birds in the skies, to the plants that form the structure for it all.

Strong winds and water can dislocate individuals and even small populations. Dolphins and manatees have been washed or blown ashore during strong storms, but it is perhaps birds that take the biggest hit. Strong winds can separate flocks and isolate individuals, but can also blow large groups of birds completely off course, leaving them hundreds of miles from their homes.

Strong winds and water can destroy habitats. Both the unwelcome erosion caused by storm surges and the loss of trees, and even entire forests, from fast moving winds can have detrimental affects on the local wildlife. Not only do many species lose their homes and shelter during these times, but because high winds can also strip trees of their nuts and fruits, many lose important food sources as well.

Saltwater and freshwater areas can mix and be thrown off balance. Species are typically heavily adapted and accustomed to the delicate balance of salinity in their usual environments. During storm surges, large amounts of saltwater are pushed inland into freshwater rivers and lakes while heavy rains can overwhelm river basins and cause freshwater to flood the oceans, putting a great deal of pressure on species to survive in their drastically changed environments.

Rainfall and run-off can pollute oceans and streams. The mixing of freshwater and saltwater is not the only thing that can harm the oceans and its wildlife during and after a hurricane. Heavy rain and its run-off through populated areas back into oceans and streams can pollute marine environments and coastal areas that had previously been healthy and vibrant.

Strong weather can cause direct injury to wildlife. Fast winds and rough waves can cause direct harm to local wildlife, though marine life is arguably the worst to suffer. During the violent conditions produced by category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was estimated that more than 180 million fish were killed in the Everglades and close to another 10 million in the oceans offshore.

The next time a hurricane or tropical storm is making its way to Florida, take a moment to think about Florida’s native creatures and how resilient these species are to have survived through millions of years of stormy weather in Florida. And, you can always enjoy the local wildlife in good weather by taking an airboat tour through the Everglades with Captain Mitch and his crew. Everglades airboat rides are not just educational, but fun for the whole family too!

The Dangers of Non-Native Species in the Everglades

burmese python

The Burmese python is non-native to the Everglades.

While the Everglades are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of unique species of birds, reptiles, fish, mammals, and insects, not every creature that inhabits the area today can say that they’ve always called this area “home.” Some have found there way here accidentally, while others were brought here due to human intervention, and while introducing non-native species can be beneficial in certain instances, in others, it can spiral quickly out of control.

Many non-native species in Florida and other parts of the world have become so commonplace and blend in so well with the natural ecosystem, that many natives to the area don’t even realize they are in the presence of relative newcomers. Others make their presence known fiercely, eradicating those who stand in their path and causing horrific and permanent impacts to the original ecosystem. While scientists can attempt to predict the results of such introductions and avoid any negative consequences, nature is at heart unpredictable.

Though no one can predict the results of introducing non-native species to new environments, it is the result of human involvement in nearly all instances. There are generally five major reasons why non-native species are introduced intentionally:

  1. To make money – Most commonly, the introduction of non-native species has economic motivations. Fish have been introduced as sources of food, mammals as sources of fur, and even trees as sources of lumber.
  2. To remind people of home – Though not so much the case in present day, in the past some species were brought along with immigrants as they started lives in new places. Though the intentions were often innocent, the effects could be detrimental.
  3. To look nice – Sometimes species are brought to new places for reasons as simple as their aesthetic appeal. This is more often the case with plants, which are sometimes transported for decorative purposes.
  4. To provide sport – This is more often the case with fish, for example, when brown trout were brought over to America from England. In some instances, the introduction of a single non-native species can bring both financial and recreational gains.
  5. To solve problems – In modern times, this is why invasive species are most commonly introduced – with good intentions and to solve a current economic or ecologic problem. For instance, one such invasive species that poses a particular threat in South Florida, the cane toad, was initially introduced to control sugar cane beetle populations that were decimating crops.

It’s important to remember that while you can pinpoint various reasons for intentional release of non-native species, not all instances involve intentional release. Furthermore, because the original source can be so difficult to pinpoint, it can be difficult to truly know whether release was accidental or not. A good example is the Burmese python, another invasive species that can be found throughout the Everglades. While there is much speculation, it is actually unclear whether the Burmese python explosion in South Florida was the result of the snakes finding their way onto ships headed from Asia to Miami or simply the result of locals releasing their unwanted pets into the wild.

Fortunately, the Florida Everglades has many beautiful and unique native species that still call the area “home.” These include American alligators, flamingoes, and the Florida panther, just to name a few. To view any of these magnificent animals in their natural habitats, as well as possibly one or two species that don’t belong, take an airboat ride through the Everglades with Captain Mitch. Florida swampland tours were meant to be enjoyed by the entire family, and offer plenty of educational opportunities as well as entertainment.

The Florida Panther is the Everglades’ Single Most Endangered Animal

Florida panther

A Florida panther in the wild.

While the Florida Everglades are home to thirty-six federally protected species, none is in more danger of extinction than the Florida panther. A species once prevalent throughout Southern Florida, the Florida panther was once hunted to near extinction, and, during a particularly low point in the 1970’s, there were estimated to be less than twenty individuals left in the wild. Recent conservation efforts over the last few decades have resulted in an increased population of between 100 and 160, but the Florida panther still has a long way to go before the species is considered out of the red zone.

Because the only natural predators of Florida panthers are American alligators and American crocodiles, the drastic decline in Florida panther populations can be blamed almost entirely on human encroachment. Southwest Florida is one of the fastest developing areas in all of the United States, and the addition of major roads and housing communities within prime panther habitats has been an issue of controversy in the area for some time. When you consider that one of the leading causes of death amongst Florida panthers is automobile collisions, it is obvious that this construction is having a major impact. What is less obvious is the fact that roadways also separate male and female panthers from each other and prevent breeding. Recent studies have shown that the great majority of panthers hit on the road are male and that females tend to be more reluctant about crossing roads in general, offering them protection from accidents but unfortunately also separating them from the males and inhibiting the future growth of their species.

In addition to roadside collisions, the other leading cause of death amongst Florida panthers is territorial disputes between panthers. While this aggression has always naturally existed between panthers, it becomes much more of a danger when panthers are limited to smaller areas, a natural result as more and more of their prime habitats are destroyed to make way for more humans. In addition to the territorial disputes that arise in such close quarters, Florida panthers are also heavily prone to inbreeding. In fact, of all puma species, the Florida panther has the lowest genetic diversity, and inbreeding leads to such complications in individuals as cardiac defects and weakened immune systems, further lowering the survival chances of those who manage to pass infancy.

Furthermore, in addition to the threats previously mentioned, because of their weakened immune systems Florida panthers are also more susceptible to certain diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus. Pollution in and around their environments has also exposed Florida panthers to harmful chemicals, chemicals which further inhibit their reproduction. In some cases, tests have even shown that male Florida panthers have the ability to become feminized after certain levels of chemical exposure. Unfortunately, what you end up with is a feminized male, who because he thinks of himself as female, is highly unlikely to then reproduce with the true females around him.

Despite the rareness of an encounter with a Florida panther, these beautiful and large cats can still be occasionally observed in South Florida, though more and more instances of sightings are occurring around homes or public parks, places where it is more than likely that a lost panther just happened to wander into a zone inhabited by humans. To take your chances of spotting a Florida panther for yourself in the wild, you can always try a trip on a local airboat tour, where much of the local Everglades wildlife can be viewed from a safe distance. Everglades tours are a great opportunity to not only observe an abundance of animals and plants unique to the area, but you will also step off the boat with a newfound appreciation for the native species that call this area home and a greater understanding of why exactly these animals need to be saved and protected.