Alligators, Anhingas, And Cormorants, , Despite The Cold, A Lot Of Wildlife At Royal Palm In The Everglades

Alligators, Anhingas, And Cormorants, , Despite The Cold, A Lot Of Wildlife At Royal Palm In The Everglades

Florida Day six Everglades cormorant (28 of 44)
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After my cold morning walk in Key Largo, and seeing the frozen iguana, my expectations  of seeing alligators in the Everglades that afternoon weren’t  great.   I love visiting the Everglades National Park,  I have been visiting here in the Winter for about 10 years now.  It was always so alive always so alive and  even on the coldest days I would see some wildlife.   However,  I thought, alligators, being cold blooded like the iguana, may not be out on this cold day. After my quick hotel breakfast,  I left Key Largo and arrived  at the Royal Palm visitor center  around noon. It was sunny but still cool when I arrived.

After leaving my vehicle, I was immediately greeted by this American crow cawing loudly in a tree in the parking area. The usual  hoards of black vultures weren’t bothering the vehicles  on Sunday. 

I walked over to the lake near the visitor center and was surprised saw this alligator lying along the lake. I knew there would be more, like mushrooms you never see only one. If there is one  alligator you will see more  on the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm. 

And sure enough I did, one lying nearby.  As I continued  my hike 

 I saw this little fellow a little further on down the trail.  There are some years when the I don’t see any alligators at Royal Palm. But when  one is out and about, usually they all are. 

In addition to the alligators, I  also saw this double-crested cormorant perched in  a tree. They are always seen here. 

I walked on the trail to the boardwalk . The boardwalk  allows visitors to walk over the sea of grass that is the Everglades and observe the many critters that live there.

The board walk also  crosses a lagoon covered with water lilies and other aquatic plants.  

Swimming in the waters was this cool turtle,

and this purple gallinule used it’s wide webbed feet to walk across the water on the water plants. 

Perched in a tree was this snowy heron. 

And there were more alligators. This big fellow was just along the trail. I was surprised so many alligators were out on this cold day. 

I followed the trail back to the visitor center, and,  saw this northern mocking bird perched on a tree branch,

and this great blue heron peering out of the reeds. 

As I always do , I walked  on another favorite trail, the Gumbo-Limbo trail. 

Named after these beautiful red trees the trail enters a sub-tropical hardwood forest. I love walking under the large trees,

including mahogany trees. 

Most years  I am attacked by swarms of mosquitoes on this trail. Not this year, not a one bothered me on my four mile hike. Waling under the  canopy of branches,  I love how the sun filters through,  illuminating leaves near the ground. ,  this is a wild coffee leaf. 

I also love the many species of ferns that grow in the hammock. This is a giant sword fern,

this a southern shield fern. 

There were also some pretty morning glories blooming along the trail. 

And there were many  coco plum trees  growing along the trail. However there was no fruit yet. I have learned their fruit is edible and have eaten it on my visits to the Everglades in March. It is very tasty.

I left the Gumbo-Limbo trail and followed a trail on a utility right-of-way  that  leads   to Hidden  Lake, a restricted environmental research center,  and the Old Ingraham Highway Trail. 

As I approached the Old Ingraham Highway I noticed that all of the lush vegetation along the trail was removed, exposing a large lake. I learned this was down as part of a major reconstruction project to restore water flow on the Taylor Slough  that was obstructed when the highway was built  in the 1920’s as access to Flamingo.

Sloughs are river of grass that flow through the Everglades. Unfortunately , the Old Ingraham Highway Trail was closed during the construction. I was deeply disappointed, this was, by far, my favorite hiking trail in the Everglades. I saw so much wildlife hiking on this remote trail. I loved the solitude. I rarely saw another human being. I later learned the project will help return the area to it’s original natural condition and will help rid the many invasive plant and animal species that invaded the area. However, it make 20 years  for this to take place. Hopefully, I will see the results and hike here when this occurs. 

I began my hike back to Royal Palm. I did not see many birds on my hike but, as the Florida sun warmed the cool air,

I saw  a few butterflies, including this zebra longwing butterflies. 

and this Florida lubber grasshopper. 

I had already walked  4 miles and, after my 4 mile walk in Key Largo, and was a little tired. However, I decided to take  one more walk on the Anhinga Trail. It was a good decision. I was at the right place at the right time for two events. The first , I knew something was happening when a group of folks were gathered on the boardwalk, leaning over and watching something in the lagoon, 

was a double crested cormorant that had caught a rather large catfish,

and was having some difficulty swallowing it. 

It tried, and actually had the fish entirely in it’s throat, only to cough it up,

and  try again. It was amazing to watch and I was lucky to be able to photograph this scene and share it. I took dozens of photos and would encourage you to have a  look.  Here is a link to a gallery with more cool photos of the cormorant swallowing the catfish. Florida Day Six Everglades Royal Palm cormorant. January 15 2023. 

After my encounter with the cormorant I was finishing my hike and one of the big alligators was still stretched across trail.

A ranger was assigned to direct people away from the sleeping, but always dangerous, reptile. I approached  the ranger and joked about petting the alligator. The alligator stirred, got up and  popped right in front of us. 

It was a very unique and interesting experience.  A first  for me for sure, and for the ranger too. She said she never saw this in her 25 year career as a ranger in the Everglades. Again, right place , right time, pretty cool to see a cormorant choking on a catfish and an alligator pooping. I love the Everglades!!!. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog site with some more photos of the alligators and birds I saw on my hike. Florida Day Six Everglades  Royal Palm critters January 15 2023. 

I finished my now  5 mile hike and decided to drive to the Visitor Center at the entrance to the park to learn more about the closure of the Old Ingraham Highway trail. I wanted to see if there were any similar hikes in the Everglades . I was told of a trail out to Lucky Hammock .  It was not within the borders of Everglades National Park, but I was told it is a nice hike and there are many species of birds living in the hammock. It planned to give it a try the next morning. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my hike. Florida Day Six Everglades Royal Palm January 15 2023. 

I left the Everglades Visitor Center and drove the 15 minute drive the Best Western Gateway to the Keys hotel in Florida City. I love this quaint little place and have stayed here for a number of years now. It was now late afternoon when I checked in, unpacked and settled into my room where I would stay the next three nights. I debated driving back out to the Everglades to look for the sunset, but it was cold, and I was tired, I hiked over 9 miles, and very hungry. I was looking forward to a hearty, home cooked meal at the  Farmer’s Market Restaurant located a few blocks from my hotel. 

I eat almost all of my meals at this pleasant restaurant. Their homecooked meals are filling and delicious. I was never disappointed. I ordered one of my southern favorites, fried catfish, mashed potatoes and fried cabbage. It was delicious. 

And of course I had my first slice of Key Lime pie. It was a good meal. I returned to me room, edited some photos and fell  asleep looking forward to another day of enjoying and exploring South Florida. 


“Never apologize for being over sensitive and emotional when defending the welfare of wildlife.
Let this be a sign that you have a big heart and aren’t afraid to show your true feelings.
These emotions give you the strength to fight for what is right and to be the voice of those who cannot be heard.”
― Paul Oxton

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