Everglades National Park: An Overview

Among the 59 national parks located in the United States, the Florida Everglades is perhaps one of the most well known. Everglades National Park was established to protect the southern 20% of what was considered the original Everglades, and today is the largest tropical wilderness located in the United States. Incredibly popular among tourists to Florida from all over the world, Everglades National Park boasts an average of over a million visitors each year.

Unlike most national parks in the United States, which were generally established in order to preserve unique geographic features, such as mountains and coral reefs, Everglades National Park was the very first to be established in order to preserve a fragile ecosystem. Unfortunately, human activity has caused severe damage throughout the Everglades, and although the park was officially established in 1934 to try and protect the quickly vanishing wilderness, the park’s further restoration and protection remains a hot topic of debate in Florida politics, even today.

Today, Everglades National Park is home to 36 threatened and protected species, as well as more than:

  • 350 species of bird
  • 300 species of fish
  • 50 species of reptile
  • 40 species of mammal

Because Everglades National Park contains a mix of freshwater and saltwater, an extremely vast and varied population of both plants and animals have made their home here. With one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the entire world, the area is also considered one of the largest breeding grounds for tropical wading birds in all of North America. This statistic is especially amazing when considering that the plume hunting craze of the late 1800′s and early 1900′s almost wiped out all the birds in the area completely, with some estimates as high as a 95% shore bird population loss.

Everglades National Park is most popular for visitors between the months of December and March, which is considered the dry season throughout southern Florida. Camping is available year round and there are several walking trails available at varying levels of difficulty, though some are impassable depending on water levels during specific times of year or after heavy rainfall. While the park hosts four conveniently located visitor centers for information, food, and canoe/kayak rentals, the park can also be accessed from numerous trails along nearby state roads. Despite the numerous access points surrounding the park, there are still many areas that are only accessible by boat.

A large portion of the areas located within the park are considered no-wake zones, in order to protect fragile wildlife, and especially manatees, from even low-powered motorboats. Because much of the Everglades is unnavigable by powerboat anyway, airboat tours tend to be one of the more common modes of transportation when traveling through the Everglades. Because the majority of an airboat’s construction sits above the water, airboat rides have proved useful when skimming across the shallows of the Everglades at high speeds, accessing areas that couldn’t possibly be safely accessed any other way. To experience the Everglades on an airboat for yourself this summer, schedule an airboat ride with Captain Mitch and his crew today!

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Great Horned Owl

While the burrowing owl might be the most well known owl in southern Florida, it is certainly not alone in the area. The great horned owl is prevalent here as well, a species which grows much larger than the burrowing owl, and is in fact the second largest species of owl found in North America, smaller only than the snowy owl. Perhaps due to its large size and majestic appearance, the great horned owl has always been greatly respected and admired and was even once worshipped by many Native American tribes, who considered them to be powerful, yet friendly spirits despite their oftentimes solemn and frightening calls.

The average adult great horned owl can reach heights of almost 2 feet, weights of over 3 lbs, and wingspans of over 4 feet across, though they have been reported much larger. Although great horned owls can vary greatly in their overall coloring, they generally tend to be colored to blend into their surroundings, and have even earned the nickname of “tiger owls.” This nickname may also be due to their piercing, yellow eyes, which are among the largest, most powerful, and fear-inducing eyes that can be found within the animal kingdom.

The great horned owl is considered to be one of the most adaptable of all bird species in the entire world, and is the second most widely distributed owl species found throughout both North and South America. It may seem odd that the same species of bird that could be so comfortable in subarctic areas of Canada could also be comfortable in the tropical habitats of the Florida Everglades, but the great horned owl has managed successfully to do just that.

The abundance of the great horned owl throughout varying locales seems to have less to do with a preference in temperature or humidity, and more to do with a preference for fragmented landscapes. While they have been found to live in a range of different types of trees and foliage, they seem to steer clear of dense areas of trees and vast woodlands. On the other hand, they also seem absent from deserts and large prairies without any forest cover at all. Great horned owls are most prevalent in areas where there is a mixture of both forest cover and open grasslands, where they are free to hunt openly but also have plenty of shelter available when needed.

The great horned owl is not considered a threatened species, and is even so common in some areas of the Americas that it is instead considered a pest. With virtually no natural predators, the great horned owl’s greatest threats are humans and human-made structures, and surprisingly, other adult great horned owls. To see these beautiful creatures for yourself and to gain an important understanding and appreciation for them, take an Everglades tour by airboat. With an Everglades airboat ride, not only will you have the chance to possibly observe great horned owls during rare daytime hunts, but you will have the chance to see dozens of other fascinating Florida wildlife natives as well.

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Why Do Cypress Trees Have Knees?

If you have ever asked yourself the question, “Why do bald cypresses have knees?” then you are not alone. Cypress trees are unusual when compared to most other tree species, whose root systems run underground, because although cypress roots do run underground, some of their root structures also come back up. When this happens we get cypress knees, which are strange structures that grow at right angles to the ground, but that are found several feet away from the actual tree itself. In this sense, cypress knees appear as if they are completely separate plants, when in fact they are an integral part of the tree found at their center.

While these cypress knees are fascinating to both scientists and tourists to the area, the definitive reason for their existence is still unknown. There are, however, two generally accepted theories in the scientific community.

Theory 1: Cypress Knees are Pneumatophores
A pneumatophore is an exterior structure that aids in helping a tree to absorb oxygen from the air, much like a snorkel helps a swimmer to obtain oxygen while still remaining underwater. Since water levels often fluctuate so frequently in areas where cypress trees are found, this theory revolves around the idea that cypress trees need these structures in order to get their oxygen during times of flooding or unusually high water levels. Since this is what mangroves use their knees for, and because cypress trees and mangroves are often found in the same habitats, it would seem a likely assumption. However, doubts have been raised after recent studies have shown cypress knees to be quite ineffective at actually absorbing oxygen from the surrounding air.

Theory 2: Cypress Knees Provide Structural Strength
Many species of cypress trees are found in swamps and wetlands, areas where the soil can be moist, soggy, and relatively unstable, especially in areas that are prone to hurricanes and flooding, such as the Florida Everglades. Because some types of cypress trees grow very high and thin, this unstable soil could potentially cause them to fall over and die as their root system weakens. However, this doesn’t happen, and most cypress trees will remain standing tall and straight even when they appear to be hanging on by mere threads at their bases. This theory certainly seems like the more appropriate of the two, especially considering that the first theory has recently been somewhat disproved, but more research is necessary before any final conclusions can be drawn.

While the answer to the question, “Why do bald cypresses have knees?” is still a mystery, scientists are getting closer to reaching a conclusion. To observe a few species of cypress trees right within their native swamps, take an airboat ride through the Everglades this summer. After viewing a plethora of Florida’s native plants and animals in the wild while on an airboat tour, not only will you have a greater appreciation of the bald cypress, but you may even be left with a few theories for yourself about those mysterious knees.

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Why Do Birds Sing?

Chances are, at some point in your life, that you’ve woken up to the sound of a bird singing outside your window. Whether you are someone who tends to enjoy these melodies or someone who plugs your ears in annoyance at the interruption to your slumber, you may have found yourself wondering why birds sing at all. Despite your opinion that bird songs exist strictly to annoy you, they actually serve a very important purpose.

Birds sing in order to both proclaim their territory and show off to and attract potential mates. So while you may associate these songs with pretty, feminine birds, it is actually the males of the species that are in fact producing all that noise, though you may find male-female duets in a few rare species. Male birds put a lot of effort into their songs, after all, the future of their genetic lines depend on it!

Bird songs come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them would not even be considered songs at all to the human ear. Sometimes songs appear in the form of repetitive drum beats on wood, such as is the case with woodpeckers. At other times, a bird will flutter or flap its wings in order to create whirring or humming sounds, as is evident with some snipes. And in some cases, instead of producing any actual sounds or noises at all, birds will dance and produce colorful visual displays instead, almost as if they are moving along with music that no one else can hear but them.

The most noticeable songs though are certainly the ones that are the loudest and most repetitive. Some species of birds will spend up to 70% of their entire days singing, sometimes topping out at more than 20,000 songs in a single day, while some will only sing occasionally when females are present or when their territory is threatened. On the other hand, some species will sing over 2,000 different songs throughout the day, while others seem to only be aware of one. While the types, amounts, and variations of sounds and songs produced are so different between bird species, one thing is for sure: studies have found that the male birds who sing the most persistently tend to also be the ones within their communities that have the most food and attract the most females.

Because birds are so prevalent throughout the Everglades, some species may have to work extra hard in order to claim their territory and their females, but when it comes to birds and their singing, hard work really does pay off. To observe the unique birds of the Everglades first hand, take an airboat tour through the Everglades this summer. An Everglades airboat ride will leave you with a new appreciation for all the birds of the Everglades, and even for their many melodious songs as well.

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