A birthday celebration with Gators and Birds – Shark Valley, Everglades
Our January stay at Bonita Springs went by too quickly. The next thing we knew the slides were coming in and the jacks were coming up, and off we went. On the move again, we headed even further south to “The Glades”, the Everglades that is. Shark Valley lies in the heart of the “True Everglades”, or river of grass, that stretches 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. We were told that bicycling is a wonderful way to view the Everglades at our own pace. And there is no better place to bike than at Shark Valley, which is part of Everglades National Park.
Since wildlife abounds here, I thought it would be a great way to spend my birthday. So we loaded up the bikes and headed out to Shark Valley bright and early, knowing it would be a hot day. The 15-mile paved road was completely level and gave us a perfect opportunity to enjoy the wildlife. I was excited to find out which animals or birds would turn out to greet me and wish me a happy birthday!
Ok, you won’t see any sharks here and I was not expecting to. Shark Valley is in a very wide, very gradual, low-lying valley. The shark reference comes from the Shark River. The mouth of this river is at the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shark River Slough is the main source of fresh water for this part of the Everglades. If you were to venture along the river far enough toward the gulf, you would indeed encounter sharks – they just never make it up to the Everglades. Instead, the alligators bask in the sun along the river, or at the bicycle parking, or near photographers.
An observation tower at the halfway point provided panoramic views and we enjoyed the tranquil vistas of the Everglades, extending outward 20 miles in all directions.
Along the route we met several trams – another way to enjoy the area. The tram tour offers a two-hour open air guided commentary, and sightings from experts which gives folks the Everglades experience.
Several wood storks can be seen along the route. These birds are listed as an endangered species, as its decline is the result of vast environmental threats that exist in the area. The human disruption of the water cycles affects the crucial feeding and nesting conditions for wildlife. When human water management upsets the natural wetlands cycles, wood storks fail to nest successfully. There were 5000 nesting wood storks in the ’60’s, now only 500 remain.
Some flowers thrive in these watery environments:
Besides the many alligators lining up along the trail to greet me, other wildlife also came out to say hello.
It took us about three hours to complete the loop as we made many stops to look around, and of course I took dozens of pictures of, you guessed it….birds! And nature’s best birthday gift was the presence of the various species of Herons. I could not have asked for more!
For those of you planning to come this way, be sure to stop by Shark Valley. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the Everglades and view wildlife in their natural habitat – this is not a zoo!
And to cap a wonderful day with nature, my niece Lea E. took us out for a fabulous dinner at Red Fish Grill Seafood Restaurant. It was located inside Matheson Hammock Park, right on the coast. With a unique setting amongst the coconut trees, it was a perfect ending to a perfect birthday.