I recently risked life and limb to spend a day among the many terrors of Everglades National Park. Sure, the National Park Service would like you to believe that visiting their little watery empire on the southernmost tip of mainland Florida is perfectly safe. But I’m here to tell you the truth. If you can handle it. It’s okay if you want to skip this post – it’s the scariest one I’ve written all year.
The danger that comes immediately to mind is, of course, giant alligators. I saw several that were close to eight feet long.
They sit there, close to the path, watching you. And they have sharp teeth, which they advertise by leaving their gaping mouths open for hours at a time.
I understand that once a man was actually bitten by an alligator in the Everglades! Maybe back in 1967 or something. And all he was doing was teasing it and trying to feed it chicken scraps by hand. They’re dangerous beasts, I tell you!
Of course, there are other deadly creatures in the Everglades as well. See if you can spot them in the photo below:
This is Bear Lake Trail. I walked it for several hours to find Mangrove Cuckoo (found one, near the end!). But the cuckoo isn’t scary (nor is it in this photo). The dangerous thing in this photo is the mosquitoes. All 5,849 of them. Giant Everglades Mosquitoes. Thanks to the 100% DEET bug spray I was wearing, only 5,199 managed to bite me. Note to the Puget Sound Red Cross: I will be postponing my next whole blood donation for about 6 weeks.
As if the mosquitoes and alligators aren’t enough, there are the spiders! And they are huge! And scary! And amazingly cool.
And did I mention snakes?!
Ok, actually I didn’t see any snakes. The sign is a bit of Everglades humor. A “bight” is actually a shallow bay. Heh, heh… funny huh? Snake Bight? Here’s a bit more Everglades humor:
Yep, south Florida is pretty flat. Almost literally as flat as a pancake. [Ok, you could imagine a theoretical pancake that was bumpier than the Everglades – use your imagination!] I’ve been across several passes in my big year: Snoqualmie Pass at 3022 feet, White Pass at 4501 feet, and Washington Pass at 5477 feet. But this is the lowest pass I’ve crossed all year. And dangerous, too! Especially if it were hurricane season. Which I guess it’s not. But still.
Ok, back to more danger. Um, cowbirds. Very dangerous. Well, not dangerous to humans, mostly, but very dangerous to many species of songbirds like warblers. Cowbirds are brood parasites, which means they lay their eggs in the nests of other smaller birds. The bigger baby cowbirds outcompete the other nestlings for food, and may even shove the other birds out of the nest. As a result, the warblers end up spending the breeding season raising a cowbird chick instead of their own offspring. I saw many Brown-headed Cowbirds, like this one:
This is the same species of cowbird I saw being trapped when I visited Kirtland’s Warbler habitat last summer.
But the Everglades also has another species of cowbird, the Shiny Cowbird. This is a species normally found in Central and South America, but a couple individuals have made their way all the up to south Florida (possibly by way of the Caribbean). I saw a couple of these Shiny Cowbirds near the Flamingo Visitor’s Center at the southern end of the Everglades:
I see that you’ve made it this far in my scariest blog post ever. But I have to warn you, the scariest part is yet to come. It is such a terrifying phenomenon that there were warning signs EVERYWHERE about these creatures. So what is more menacing than alligators, mosquitoes, and cowbirds combined?
Yes, vultures. But not just any vultures. Everglades windshield wiper-eating vultures. Apparently they like to chew on rubber things. Like car parts.
How scary is that?!?
I won’t even mention the fact that I think a bird pooped on my hat. I hope there’s not a strangler fig seed in there. Or else in 40 to 50 years, I might be entombed in Ficus roots!
[Ominous music fading in…]