After our boat tour of the Everglades backcountry on Sunday, April 12, it was time to say goodbye to Flamingo at the end of the park road and begin the journey back to Lake Ashton. Although it was early afternoon, none of us was particularly hungry. So instead of grabbing a bite at Buttonwood Cafe, we began the drive, knowing that we’d stop at least a few times before we left the park.
The first stop, not far from Flamingo, was small Mrazek Pond, visible from the road with an area to pull over and park. We’d noticed the pond and that it boasted bird life on the way to Flamingo the previous afternoon. Now we were going to have a look.
And what we saw was ridiculous: fifteen charismatic (mostly wading) birds, mostly white, strung like a necklace across the pond. At first it felt like there was one each of a bunch of species, but then we noticed some fellows and companions. Sean: “It’s like they all just punched in for work.”
Some of the birds we didn’t even see until later reviewing the images. In the photo above, for example, I didn’t notice the Tri-Colored Heron until looking at it zoomed in.
Sean noted that the Wood Stork was feeding with its characteristic tacto-locution, wherein it walks slowly through shallow water feeling for small fish while sweeping its open bill back and forth. When it touches a fish, the bill reflexively snaps shut.
And I finally got to see a Roseate Spoonbill in the wild. At first it was on the right side of the pond, somewhat obscured by mangroves. Then it suddenly flew across the pond, but I wasn’t able to capture an image. Once it landed, i was able to get some good ones, and I was able to capture it in flight at it returned to its original position, landing with an explosion of pink feathers.
The water nearest the road was stagnant, and my parents returned to the car after a few moments. Once I was certain I’d captured at least one decent image of each bird or group of birds, Sean and I hurried back to the car too.
We continued a short way down the road and pulled into the parking area for Nine-Mile Pond to see if there were any interesting birds there, but all that greeted us were Turkey Vultures in the grass, so we continued on.
As we drove, we remarked how little of a ranger presence we’d seen in the Park. We’d seen no ranger vehicles along the park road and only one ranger at Flamingo. In fact the only place where we’d really felt a National Park Service presence was Coe Visitor Center and the entrance station.
Later, back in Lake Ashton, Sean and I would expand on that impression. For such a famous Park close to such a large metropolis, we’d felt a curious lack of a sense of place and arrival when we’d arrived. This was true particularly in comparison with the Dakota Parks we’d most recently visited. Frankly, I’d expected interpretive and educational elements to abound here. But they just sort of didn’t. Even signage along the road felt spare. At Big Bend, for instance, a similarly expansive Park with major sights separated by great distances along a main road, there were signs warning motorists of upcoming pullouts and interpretive signage in so many feet or quarter mile or such. But not at Everglades. Couple the lack of warning signs with a fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit and sometimes you were past pullouts before you ever registered that they were there.
Sean in particular remarked about the difference between concessionaire-led boat tours at Everglades versus ranger-led cave tours at Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. The concessionaire-led tours were fine, enjoyable, and we learned quite a lot, but there wasn’t the passion to teach and inform that we’d experienced with rangers.