We had a couple of days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this month and found the Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge on the internet. An Avis hire car and 40 miles or so later, we arrived at the visitor centre. The reserve is part of the northern Everglades close to Boynton Beach and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our first walk took us on a circular boardwalk through a wooded swamp where we saw very little of any kind of wildlife. We then followed our map to an alternative parking area where we could follow trails around ‘blocks’ of swamp which were pretty amazing! Unlike British reserves where you are normally corralled into hides and subjected to watching stuff from miles away, here there was only one, hardly necessary, hide. The birds were so used to human traffic that they got on with life unperturbed by our presence as we walked around the swamp and watched all kinds of herons, egrets, hawks, vultures, ibis, alligators, turtles etc, etc. About 2 hours into the visit, we learned from locals about Green Cay, about 20 minutes away and supposedly better than Loxahatchee.
20 Minutes later we were in an enormous car park at Green Cay. This water management area is free to visit, has a visitor centre and boardwalks around the swamp. It did seem a little strange at first to find locals apparently using the walkways purely for exercise without any regard for their surroundings. Plenty of people had little interest in the sights and sounds, engaging in loud conversations or listening to music, which seemed a shame. Maybe they had seen it all before and there was no longer any fascination. For us, it was different. We were walking around in Heaven, not too quickly in case we missed something… leaning over the handrails to catch a sighting of Florida water snakes curled up in the reeds, to spot an Anhinga surfacing with a fish, an alligator pushing off into deeper water, a Belted Kingfisher hovering and diving after its prey, the little Sora (of the Rail family) and Pied-billed Grebe foraging about below, Herons and Egrets every few yards. And to do this in 28 degrees… Such a fascinating place. The following day we were due to drive to the airport at 5pm so we decided to get the Avis car again and go back to Green Cay for the few remaining hours.
Green Cay was a little quieter than the previous day but, an hour or two into our visit, we were told about another spot 10 minutes away, ‘smaller but arguably better’. Shortly afterwards, we arrived at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, a park similar to Green Cay created on 50 acres of unused utility land and transformed into a recreation wetlands. Here, there was almost the same but different. Here there were nesting birds in full view of the boardwalks, parents feeding young, Roseate Spoonbills sifting through the mud, massive Iguanas lazing in the sun, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Anhingas flirting with potential mates and a sole Egyptian Goose looking lost.
I wish we had more days in this part of Florida and can’t wait to go back. It certainly made up for less than great photo opportunities across the Atlantic. Check out some of the photos and email me if you want any further information.