This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow bird adventures (Part 1)

Every year many older Rensselaerians pack up and head south, usually to Florida, Texas, or Arizona. Last week I joined the flock, heading to Florida. I had never been to Florida before, so I enjoyed the trip, learned a lot from it, and took a ton of pictures. Because so many Rensselaer residents have some Florida connection, I thought I might be able to squeeze a few posts from the experience that would not completely violate the main focus of this blog.

The trip was arranged by one of my sons, who did a lot of planning. We flew from Midway to Fort Lauderdale on December 8. Taking the shuttle to the motel, we found these strange birds walking around on the lawn. I think they are some kind of Ibis. 
 Most of the birds we saw were not birds I see in Indiana, and few Indiana birds were evident in south Florida. The one big exception were the turkey vultures. There were quite a few of them.

The day after arriving we took an excursion to Everglades National Park. The wetlands form a very sharp boundary to the urban area. Dense development does not fade away as it does in the Midwest, but it abruptly ends and wilderness begins, much like what you see around Las Vegas. We visited Shark Valley, which has a paved loop trail about 15 miles long. I asked the ranger at the visitors center why it was called Shark Valley since there was neither a valley nor sharks. She told me that there was in fact a valley because land twenty miles to the east and twenty miles to the west was several feet higher, forcing water to flow between these heights to eventually join the Shark River. That river got its name because bull sharks occasionally swim in and breed. I probably should not have asked about the valley part--after all, we live near the Kankakee Valley.

About half of our group biked seven miles to a viewing tower. When we got there we found a strange bird sitting near the top. It is an anhinga, which dives to catch fish. (Desert Survivor says this is a cormorant and she knows Florida birds far better than I do. There wee anhingasa along the trail, but this is not one of them.) Its feathers are not waterproofed, so it spends lots of time drying out between dives. It was remarkable unperturbed by people walking next to it. In the background you can see the flat, almost featureless grasslands of the Everglades.
The charismatic megafauna of Shark Valley were not the birds or sharks, but the American alligator. There were many of them sunning quite near the visitors' center and they seemed not to be at all concerned by the many bikers who peddled by.
 Certainly much of the appeal of south Florida is its endless summer. There were flowers blooming in the swamps.
 A month or so ago the documentary "Everglades of the North" played on the Lakeshore Public Television. If you missed it, you can order the DVD, or perhaps you can find it at the library. For more info, here is the website. It tells the story of the Kankakee swamp that covered much of northern Newton and Jasper Counties before the wetlands were ditched and drained.

The next day we had some time to spend on the beach of Miami Beach. I was struck by how similar the coloring of the various birds was. On the left is some kind of sandpiper and on the right is a seagull. (In the middle is a pigeon, but probably not a migrant from the north). Gray, white, and black seem to dominate the coloring of the water and shore birds.
 The gulls are aggressive scavengers. In the photo below they have found a breakfast plate abandoned outside, and even though there were people within feet, some of them dared to land and grab the food. They were joined by crows, which were slightly smaller than the gulls, and also by a much smaller bird that I do not recognize.
 In Key West I found another familiar bird, a chicken. Chickens are feral on Key West and it is illegal to harm or harass them. They apparently descended from fighting chickens brought to the island by Cubans and then released when cock fighting became illegal.
To remind visitors from the north that winter stays away from Key West, some kind of tree was flowering.

One of the things that caught my attention in Key West were the pedicabs. I wonder if there would be a market for pedicab rides in Rensselaer.
This is long enough for one post. When I find time, I will continue with a second part of my snowbird adventures.


Patty Stringfellow said...

Hi Bob! The Jasper County Public Library has ordered copies of Everglades of the North so that patrons can check it out, take it home, and watch it. We agree that it is a wonderful documentary. We will also add copies to our Local History departments for archival purposes so that this story doesn't get lost.

Anonymous said...

I love Key West, but haven't been to the Florida Keys in years. I miss it.