Anhinga Trail - The newest print available at MacStonePhoto.com
There are only a few places I've been for bird watching that rival the Everglades' Anhinga Trail. This isn't one of my "secret spots," either. I'm pretty sure every tourist from New York to California knows that in the dry season, this small section of boardwalk and previously-quarried pond offers front row seats to the wading bird and alligator show. As fish are bottle-necked into the deeper waters they stand little chance against the patience and sharp bills of the herons and anhingas which line the banks.
I normally drive past places like this because of the crowds. It's hard for me to justify making a trip out to the third largest national park in the lower 48 that encompasses 1.5 million acres only to share personal space with strangers. Photographers line the boardwalk trying to keep their tripod legs from getting bumped by passing strollers while large groups of boy scouts, girl scouts, Europeans, Asians, and tour groups make their excitement audible. It's not such a bad thing, though. Sharing, that is. In fact, it's the constant stream of visitors that make this place so unique.
Pied-billed grebe with a dollar sunfish
The birds are so accustomed to people they have no fear of courting, foraging, or displaying right in front of a lens. Sometimes, it seems that because I'm there with a camera, they put on their best show.
Within 20 minutes of visiting last week I saw great blue herons, woodstorks, purple gallinules, american coots, white ibis, green herons, pied-billed grebes, great egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, cormorants, and of course, anhingas. Oh and I almost forgot: the black vultures. Probably the least photographed bird at the park, these unloved bottom-feeders of the system will do anything for attention. With unnerving bravado, they bark, grunt, and even steal your lens caps simply out of spite. The vengeful vultures, so upset with their lot in life, have resorted to crime and pillaging. These gothic mongrels of the sky will chew the weather sealing of your car doors and windshield wiper blades while you're away taking pictures of other, more colorful birds.
Anhinga or "snake bird" in breeding plumage
If you happen to be in South Florida or the Everglades during the dry season, I would say Anhinga Trail is a must-see. While it might not be the ideal place for peaceful solitude, it is the premier spot for close encounters with birds and alligators. Just make sure you park your car at the far end of the lot.