About a 30 minutes’ drive west from our hotel is the end of urban Miami and the beginning of the Everglades. We took a 90-minute airboat tour on a lovely sunny January afternoon.
The airboats, just like those we remember from TV (Gentle Ben!), skim across the water and grasses. The captain and tour guide told us to use the ear-protectors to keep our caps from flying off in the wind. Even with the protection, we could hear and feel the grass slide beneath the hull. (Skimming over the open-water tracks, the flat grasses and even the tall grass curiously reminded us of snow-mobiling over tracks in powder snow last winter in Sweden.)
The guide explained that the Everglades marshes are fresh water. It is only rain water that fills this vast expanse. A healthy collection of thunderstorms can raise the water level by as much as four feet in a day. On the other hand, if the usual summer thunderstorms fail, the earth dries and cracks. The alligators and other wildlife retreat to waterholes.
Within a few minutes of leaving the starting spot, the guide slowed and then stopped the airboat. There, half-submerged, was a big black tranquil alligator. The guide fondly called him George. In general, adult alligators steer clear of each other. If they get too close to each other, often they will fight until one retreats.
As we continued on, we saw alligators everywhere. Can you imagine: Over the expanse of the Everglades (about 800 square miles), there might be a big hungry alligator every 100 feet of so. Not a place for a casual stroll.
At one point, an oil-black bird, a grackle, lit on the rail of the airboat right in front of us. We were sitting in the first row, so the grackle studied us intently, with head turns right and left. The guide reached into the field of water lilies, plucked up a big flat leaf, and extracted from the stem a worm. Grackles love these worms and know when the human will get them some. Mike held out the worm at his fingertips. The grackle swooped in immediately, and he left Mike’s fingers intact.
At another grassy glade, purple gallinule birds gathered around us. Beautiful colors, both male and female. They adored the water-lily worms as well.
Throughout our course, herons and other marsh birds took flight as the airboat approached. They were far more cautious than the alligators, grackles, and gallinules.
In a pond area sheltered by grasses, bushes, and cypress trees lives a friendly soft-shell turtle. The guide seemed to love visiting this fellow. The turtle had lost a leg at some point, possibly bitten off by an alligator. A long slender fish hung around with the turtle. Expecting a hand-out from our guide, the turtle joined us for a while, and his fish friend followed along.
We really enjoyed being out in this landscape and among its residents on such a beautiful winter day.