Everglades Nature Fix on the Anhinga Trail

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EVERGLADES NATURE FIX
Take an Easy But Wild #OneHourWalk on the Accessible Anhinga Trail
By Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.” Marjory Stoneman Douglas

When in Southern Florida, one must make sure to visit Everglades National Park….and on one bright, sunshiny winter day, it meant playing hooky from the conference we were attending in Fort Lauderdale. Little did we know that we were about to embark on a magical nature adventure amid the largest tropical wilderness in the country. This enchanting wetland bustled with an astounding array of plant, bird and wildlife species. We watched as vibrant purple gallinules skittered across floating lily pads right next to alligator families lazily lounging waterside, soaking up the sun. We strolled through shaded pine and hardwood forests, and saw beautiful bromeliad airplants hanging in trees with their fiery spikes of color shooting up to the sky. We gazed out across the ocean, sawgrass marshes and swampy sloughs, all teeming with avian and aquatic life.

 

Everglades National Park protects an extraordinary and uniquely biodiverse landscape, a critical and fragile habitat that’s home to an abundance of birds and wildlife, including rare and endangered species such as the American crocodile, Florida panther, West Indian manatee and leatherback turtle. The park encompasses 1.5 million acres of wetland, making it the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi River and the third largest national park in the lower 48 states. It’s a global natural and geographic treasure that’s been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance. After our short visit, we want the park to be designated as the 8th Natural Wonder of the World!  

“We observed great flocks of wading birds flying overhead toward their evening roosts …. They appeared in such numbers to actually block out the light from the sun for some time.” John James Audubon

 

From kayaking and canoeing to hiking and backcountry camping, the park offers a wide range of activities. But if you are on a tight schedule like we were, make sure the Anhinga Trail is on your to-do list – no hiking boots required. Located near the Royal Palm Visitor Center, just 4 miles from the main park entrance, this popular self-guiding and wheelchair accessible 0.8 mile trail leads you along a paved walkway and boardwalk over Taylor Slough. Once an ancient shallow sea bed, this freshwater sawgrass marsh is packed with fish and amphibians, making it a favored feeding station for alligators, turtles, and birds. There have been over 360 different species of birds sighted in the park, and the Anhinga Trail is a birdwatcher’s paradise with opportunities to view hunting herons, egrets, ibises, storks and roseate spoonbills, as well as bitterns, grebes, loons, limpkins, snail kites, pelicans and cormorants.   

This is a popular feeding, breeding and nesting area for Anhinga birds, the trail’s namesake. Part of the darter family, the anhinga is also known as a snakebird or water turkey. With its long neck above the water, like a snake ready to strike, it hunts in shallow waters by spearing fish and small prey with its sharp sleek beak. Anhinga feathers are not waterproof like ducks, making it difficult to fly. To dry their wings, they stand with their wings spread and tail feathers fanned open in a semicircular shape, similar to a turkey.

The Anhinga Trail is a premier wetland trail within the National Park Service, and is also listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It’s an excellent bird and wildlife viewing destination year-round, but especially good during the dry winter season when the shrinking slough provides a concentrated view of the local wildlife. As you can see from our video, it’s truly amazing the diverse variety of birds and wildlife species you can see up close up on this super easy and wild wetland walk! If you have time, the nearby 0.4 mile paved Gumbo Limbo Trail offers another unique experience, meandering through a shaded, sub-tropical and jungle-like hardwood hammock of gumbo limbo trees, royal palms, ferns, and air plants.

Trail Notes:
– There are daily guided tours at 10:30am (contact the park first).
– Pets and bicycles are not allowed on the trail.
– While the Royal Palm Visitor Center has restrooms, vending machines and a drinking fountain, bring your own food and water.
– Bring binoculars and a camera.   
– Don’t feed the birds or wildlife.
– Leave no trace, take only memories.
– For park information, visit www.NPS.gov/ever

 

Share your walking adventures and join our #OneHourWalk movement at www.OneHourWalk.com.  

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Date Park Established 1947
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