As cold weather approaches in northern climes, a nature photographer’s thoughts often turn to warm destinations for a winter photo trip.
Everglades National Park stays warm year-round. It includes 1.5 million acres on the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula. Established just after World War II, Everglades protects the last remnant of a precious primal wetland from the land-hungry development and agriculture that has gobbled up the rest of South Florida.
The major characteristics here are dictated by the primordial flooding and resulting overflow of Lake Okeechobee every summer. All of this water makes its way southwest as the venerable and slow-moving “River of Grass.” More a shallow sheet of water than a conventional river, the life-giving liquid has created vast areas of sedges, tropical grasses and countless raised hammocks. Tiny islands of loose land pop up from the swampy river and support small trees that take advantage of the increased drainage provided by their slightly increased elevation.
This fertile land is home to a variety of wild creatures. First among them are many species of birds: herons, egrets, ibises, hawks, anhingas, cormorants, coots, moorhens, gallinules, pelicans and the occasional osprey and roseate spoonbill. Many of these birds can be found and photographed nearly anywhere in the park.
In the relatively dry months of winter, water levels are low, and many birds congregate in and around the ponds along the roads. Check Mrazek and Eco ponds, Florida Bay and Snake Bight for spoonbills and the western islands and sandbars off Chokoluskee for white pelicans.
After the birds come the famous reptiles. While most folks are familiar with the alligators that populate this area, less well-known are the crocodiles. Both are near the limits of their ranges here, and the two comingle in the brackish waters—a unique combination of salt and fresh waters. A word of warning: While appearing slow and somewhat sluggish, these carnivores are capable of moving very quickly, so keep your distance!
Gators often hang out in the sloughs along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm area, Nine Mile Lake, and along the tram roadway in Shark Valley. Crocodiles are seen infrequently. Your best bet is the waterways in the Flamingo area.
The fabled Florida panther with its severely dwindling numbers may or may not be present in the park. The likelihood of seeing one in the wild is virtually non-existent.
At any time of year, the best photography is available during the low-light hours of early morning and early evening. Winter is the dry season, so true storm light will likely be hard to come by. Still, these subtropical skies can be dramatic at any time. Some of the best spots for sunrise and early morning light are West Lake, Nine Mile Lake, Florida Bay and right along the road to Flamingo, the southernmost headquarters of the park. For late afternoon light, I favor Paurotis Pond and Eco Pond.
During your time in the Everglades, try taking the tram ride through Shark Valley and a boat tour from the visitor center in Everglades City. Explore Big Cypress National Preserve and less well-known (but worthwhile) Biscayne National Park, only a few minutes east of Homestead.
The close-by section of US highway 1 through Florida City and Homestead offers a good choice of lodgings and restaurants. Rent any regular passenger car in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami Airport if arriving by air. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and insect repellent.
Note: There has been a recent infestation of deadly Burmese pythons in the Everglades, so exercise extreme care.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and co-founder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of the parks of South America using medium-format cameras. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org.