Since August, my wife and I have visited 21 National Parks (and around 20 other NPS sites) in our journey to visit all 59 National Parks during the NPS centennial year. My favorite National Park so far for wildlife viewing was Everglades. Dry Tortugas was a close second. Below I pasted in the post I wrote about Everglades on our blog at switchbackkids.com that gives tips for what wildlife to find where. I'd love to hear what are fellow travelers' favorite wildlife National Parks and if you have any tips, especially since we have a lot of great western parks ahead of us!
During the 2 weeks we spent exploring the southern Florida National Parks of Dry Tortugas, Biscayne and Everglades, we spotted way more wildlife than we'd seen in all the other parks combined. In Everglades alone we saw alligators, crocodiles, anoles (lizards), tree frogs, tree snails, turtles, butterflies, osprey, owls, a dozen species of wading birds, plenty of fish and, of course, several tentfuls of mosquitoes. You would literally have to go through the park blindfolded to not see any Everglades wildlife.
Hundreds of wading birds feeding in the mudflats at low tide during morning kayak. >
The best place we saw alligators was the Anhinga Trail near the main entrance to the park. There were 6 gators and plenty of birds spotted throughout the ranger walk-and-talk program. Since the dry season was just beginning in late November we were too early for the optimal wildlife viewing because the animals hadn't yet concentrated into the remaining pools as in January through April. During the peak of one dry season the ranger said he saw an incredible 75 alligators on the short 0.8-mile boardwalk.
The best place we saw
...crocodiles was in salt water areas like the marina at Flamingo Visitor Center down south. We saw a croc on another ranger program near where the canal meets Florida Bay. (Fun fact: South Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.) The program was actually focusing on the manatees. We were told the best place to see manatees is also at the marina, but none were poking their heads out when we searched for them.
...osprey was at the Flamingo campground perched near their huge nests on top of dead, leafless trees.
...tree snails, who seal their colorful shells onto the trees and lie dormant all winter, was on the trees of Pinelands Trail.
We were just in the right place at the right time and Elizabeth barely managed to snap a picture of the fleeting tree snail. >
...barred owls was in the tangle of branches in the middle of Double Dome while slough slogging. If you have no idea what slough (pronounced slew) slogging is, you're in the good company of probably 99% of America. Slough slogging is going off-trail tramping through the shallow waters of Everglades, usually to explore a cypress dome (a bowl-shaped area of deeper, thigh-high water where cypress trees paradoxically grow taller to create a dome in the middle of the saw grass prairie). Elizabeth was freaked out by "wading with alligators" so she missed out.
The best picture I could manage against a washed out, cloudy sky of the owls observing me from high in a cypress. >
...birds: roseate spoonbill, snowy egret, great blue heron, anhinga, cormorant, white pelican, brown pelican, ibis, green-backed heron, etc. was on a Florida Bay paddle from Flamingo marina to Snake Bight (term for small bay) during low tide. The amount of birds I saw from the kayak was unreal. Since it was low tide, they all concentrated in the mudflats that surrounded me on both sides to feed and I was the only one around because bigger boats can't traverse the shallow waters. I also heard this was the only place in the 'glades you have a chance to see Flamingos. It was rumored there were two in Snake Bight when I was there, but a sighting is very rare.
Pelicans roosted all along the mangrove line. >
...mosquitoes was in Long Pine Key Campground. We spent 3 nights here and each time we ran from our car to our tent as possible. Repellant was little help. The first night was particularly awful because we got in past dark to set up the tent and sleeping gear and the skeeters feasted on us the whole time. We were on edge throughout the night as we sweated through the mugginess, worried whether or not the creepily empty campground was even open and wondered whether the buzzing we heard was from the dozens of mosquitoes under our fly or from ones inside the tent ready to eat us alive as we slept.
It wasn't raining, that's just my mosquito gear. >
The wildlife was unquestionably the highlight of my Everglades experience. As I observed all these animals and learned the stories of the wildlife at the visitors center exhibits, I became very thankful for the conservation efforts of the NPS and other groups who strive for the protection of these creatures.