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A guest post By Cliff Kolber from www.kolberphotography.com.
The Florida Everglades and other wetlands cover thousands of square miles between the east and west coast of Florida. Everglades National Park is the centerpiece of the region, but there is a long list of other great places to explore and photograph. Here are seven of my favorite destinations for bird and landscape photography in South Florida. Some are well-known while others are obscure or out-of-the-way. They are all well worth the effort and should result in great fun and great photography. More details on Loop Road and Pahayokee can be found in my website under the Newsletters tab.
The list is by no means all-inclusive but it does give you a rich menu of some great places to visit. Bring your longest lens (at least 400mm) for bird and wildlife photography along with a quality tripod and you should have a successful trip.
The best time to visit is during the South Florida winter, from November through early April. Birds are abundant, the weather is pleasant, and mosquitoes should be few and far between (hopefully). Winter is also the dry season; it rains very little during these months. In some of these locations you will see alligators and possible encounter one on the road. Let them have their space. Alligators are more afraid of you than you of them.
I love this road. It’s my favorite. Loop Road travels 26 miles through the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Ten miles are paved and 16 miles are unpaved and not well maintained. High clearance vehicles do best on this road. Very unfortunately, the National Park Service recently closed the unpaved portion until May, 2010 for repairs. But the paved portion is still open and worth the trip. Loop Road intersects U.S. 41 at a bend about 40 miles west of Miami and then again another 15 miles west on U.S. 41. There are many culverts and ponds on both sides of the road and you should find an array of wading birds, alligators and other wildlife. I sometimes shoot from the car window so that I don’t spook the wildlife. Use a bean bag or improvise with a shirt or towel to stabilize the lens on the door. After spending some time on Loop Road you’ll understand why this is a favorite destination of mine. The best time to shoot is morning.
Located in suburban Delray Beach on Jog Road, Wakodahatchee Wetlands was created about 10 years ago and has become a prolific bird sanctuary featuring herons, anhingas, purple gallinules, bitterns, limpkins and more. Access is via a boardwalk which can vibrate slightly when others are walking near you. So be aware and shoot when you can. But it’s well worth the effort. Best time is to arrive within an hour after sunrise.
Shark Valley is a magnet for wading birds and photographers. It is part of the Everglades National Park and is located about 35 miles west of Miami on U.S. 41. You’ll find a large variety of wading and other birds, most within 50 feet of your lens. Shark Valley opens at 8:30 am but you can walk in before that. If you do, park your car along US 41 but avoid the “no parking” zone or you WILL be ticketed.
Pahayokee road is a great sunrise location in Everglades National Park. You’ll be shooting toward the east and using cypress trees for silhouettes against the rising sun. The results can be spectacular. Take the main road in Everglades National Park about 10 miles until you see a sign for “Pahayokee Overlook”. Turn there and park within 100 yards of the main road. You can shoot from the road, or if the water level is low enough you can wander into the sawgrass for different perspectives and trees to use in your composition.
After shooting sunrise at Pahayokee road, it’s a ten minute drive back to the Anhinga Trail which is close to the main entrance to the park. This is one of the most popular locations throughout the Everglades for bird photography. Wading birds, anhingas, gallinules and cormorants are very tame and easily approachable. Anhingas nest in the winter and chicks can be seen in the nest around February and March.
The Fakahatchee is sometimes called the “Amazon of North America”. It is a hundred square miles of swamp and forest with huge strands of cypress and tropical hardwood hammocks. The entrance is 2 ½ miles north of U.S. 41 on S.R. 29, which is about 65 miles west of Miami on U.S. 41. You’ll explore the preserve by car on Janes Scenic Drive, an 11 mile unpaved road that cuts through the heart of the region. There are several walking trails that extend from the road into the depths of the preserve. Check with the ranger or online to determine which trails are open. You’ll find an array of subjects to photograph: swamps, hardwood hammocks, orchids, bromeliads, alligators, birds and wetland plants and flowers. This is an unmaintained, rustic area with a rich diversity of tropical wilderness and wildlife.
Turner River Road is about 60 miles west of Miami on U.S. 41. You’ll see a sign that says “SR 839 – HP Williams Roadside Park”. Turn north there and you’ll be on the road. It’s a gravel road that stretches 20 miles north along a canal, but the best photography is along the first few miles. You’ll find an abundance of wading birds, anhingas, cormorants, alligators and other wildlife. The best time for photography is late afternoon when the sun is behind you, lighting the far side of the canal which is on the east side of the road.
There you have it – A few of my favorite locations for bird, wildlife and scenic photography in the Everglades. Be careful out there and remember that you’re merely a visitor in the home of the wildlife. Enjoy the outdoors, tread lightly, and “pack it in, pack it out” – don’t litter and don’t damage anything.
About the Author: Cliff Kolber is a nature and travel photographer and writer based in Miami, Florida. He and his wife Doris have created a spectacular portfolio of images and articles from around the world, specializing in the Florida Everglades, the American Southwest and Antarctica. Visit Cliff’s website at www.kolberphotography.com.