Monday, December 7, 2009

The Great Florida Wildnerness

From the time I was a young kid, I've always wanted to visit the southern region of Florida. Thoughts of snakes, masses of alligators, and the rare American Crocodile dominated by mind. Finally, in June of 2008 my dad, cousin Robbie and I decided to make a trip down to southern Florida for a few days. Upon arrival, we experienced some of the most humid weather I've ever experienced, with temperatures in the high 90s. We immediately headed into the ENP, we were all surpised how different the area looked than we had expected.

We immediately stopped at one of the more frequently visited sites, and the park's most famous inhabitant made its presence known immediately. It's hard to think that American Alligators were once considered an endangered species in the 60s and 70s, now there are more than one million of them in the state of Florida. It's a great example of a success story in conservation work.

American Alligators - Alligator mississippiensis

Later that night, we headed to some other areas around the region to do a little road cruising for snakes. The night temps were very high and absolutely perfect for things to be moving on the roads. Our first snake was one of the highlights of the trip, and a species I had wanted to see for a long time.

South Florida Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula brooksi

We also manged to find a few of the more commoin snake species in the area, they seemed to be all over thr roadways on this particular night.

Florida Water Snake - Nerodia fasciata pictiventris

Hybrid Water Snake - Nerodia clarkii x fasciata

The following day we headed back to the the park to do some hiking throughout the trails. We started off at one of the hardwood hammocks found within the park. This area is dominated by large mohogany trees and is quite an escape from the dreaded humidity in the park. We spent a good hour meandering the boardwalks of the hammack and we ran into all kinds of interesting stuff.

Spiders have always been something that makes my skin crawl a little bit. But the spiders we found within the hammock were unlike anything I've seen. Their webs spanned several feet across and many were right over the boardwalk. I didn't know what kind of spider would make such a big web until I noticed Rob staring at a large shape in a web over head. I wasn't expecting the size of the Arachnid he was looking at.

Golden Orb Weaver - Nephila clavipes

This spider was easily 6-7" across, and was one of the largest spiders I've ever seen. There also was also an abundance of skinks within the hammock.They were along the boardwalk and also up in the mohagany trees. For the longest time, I though these were just Five-lined Skinks, but recently I discovered that these were indeed Southeastern Five-lined Skinks.

Southeastern Five-lined Skink - Plestiodon inexpectatus

Later on in the day, we headed to some other areas outside of the park and spent sometime searching the pinelands. During the heat of the day, not much of anything was out and about. But we did happen to find a few of these racers moving about the area.

Everglades Racer - Coluber constrictor paludicola

The heat of the day became to unbearable to be out in anymore, to we headed back to our hotel. We decided to head back to the park in the late evening as the weather began to cool off, we decided to stop and get a shot by the entrance of the park. To this day, this is one of my favorite photographs of Rob and I.

As we entered the park, we began to notice some storms brewing on the horizon. The area is as flat as can be, so storms can be seen developing way off in the distance. This particular thunderhead was quite the sight, and indicated we were in for some heavy rains later on in the evening.

Just as the sun began to set, some major storms rolled in and it rained heavily for an hour or so. And then it calmed down and the night came alive with a heavy chorus of amphibians. First the frogs began showing up on the roads, and then the snakes soon followed. Our first snake of the night was this pretty little Florida Cottonmouth.

Florida Cottonmouth - Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti

We also turned up a snake I had been long hoping to see. Although it is not a coral snake, it is a coral snake mimic. Red on black, friend of jack. Red on yellow, kill a fellow. This snake is more the friend of jack, and a very cool snake indeed. Although, this may be the ugliest example of this species ever found.

Florida Scarlet Snake - Cemaphora coccinea

As the night drew on, snake activity lulled. But the amphibians continued to thrive. A night hike provided a few Anurans out and about.

Southern Toad - Bufo terrestris

Green Tree Frog - Hyla cinerea

Cuban Tree Frog - Osteopilus septentrionalis

And then finally late at night, we made on more stop. The American Crocodile is an incredibly rare species in its United States range, as it is limited to southern Florida. Ever since it was placed on the endangered species list, it has began to make a comeback in Florida. It was recently delisted from endangered to threatened status and their numbers continue to rise. We were fortunate to observe several of these prehistoric beasts, including this monster male at around 1 AM.

American Crocodile - Crocodylus acutus

It was an amazing experience to visit on of the few primal environments left in Florida. The land of water, swamps, hammocks, pinelands is just an awesome place that drew me back a year later. But that story is for another time...

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