2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snakes!

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mtratcliffe
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2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snakes!

Post by mtratcliffe » May 19th, 2016, 4:53 pm

Hey all, I've been back in the states for more than four weeks now and I've finally found the time to post a report of my trip to the Keys and the Everglades two weeks ago with my wife! This was my post-deployment vacation, and it was heavily centered around outdoor activities, which my wife did not mind. In fact, she really enjoyed roadcruising the main road in ENP! It was a busy trip overall, as I really did not factor any downtime into it, so we were always doing something. I found four lifers this trip, among other things, so let's get started!

Our trip started with some stops in Big Cypress. We kayaked a portion of Halfway Creek and stopped at a few boardwalks, but didn't see anything beyond a few birds, gators, and turtles. We spent the night in Key Largo, and in the morning set out of Marathon Key to bike on a portion of the Seven Mile Bridge.

Pigeon Key

ImageDSCN8930 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr


Afterwards, we stopped at a different Key to ride on a scenic portion of the bike trail that runs along Hwy 1. While searching fences for herps, I found this...Anole. Is this a Cuban Green Anole? Its undersides were white with vertical striping.

ImageDSCN8935 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Further down the trail, we turned up this Florida Keys Cornsnake, which I was hoping to see. This was our first true snake of the trip, discounting the Black Racer we saw cross Tamiami Trail and get clobbered by oncoming traffic.

ImageDSCN8959 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN8960 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

After our ride, we grabbed lunch and drove back to Key Largo for a guided paddle to a mangrove island in Florida Bay for some snorkeling. At the launch site, I saw this Northern Curly-tailed Lizard, a lifer for me, though I wasn't sure what it was at the time.

ImageDSCN8970 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Mangroves

ImageDSCN8974 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

We chased this Manatee around for a while. It escaped us for a bit, but we found it near some homes where the water wasn't as clear, so unfortunately I was unable to snorkel with it.

ImageDSCN8983 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9000 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Green Iguana at a residential dock. There were several in the vicinity.

ImageDSCN8992 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Upside-Down Jellyfish

ImageDSCN8988 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9012 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Starfish

ImageDSCN9021 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Crappy pic, but does anyone know what this is? A Nudibranch perhaps?

ImageDSCN9054 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Horeshoe Crab, my wife's favorite animal.

ImageDSCN9056 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9062 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Barracuda - there were a lot of small ones around.

ImageDSCN9076 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

The next day, we set out on the Yankee Freedom for the Dry Tortugas, a place we've been wanting to go to for a wile. We tried a few years back but the weather was uncooperative. This time around it was much better! It's a 2.5 hour ride out, but on the way I manage to spot a dolphin and three sea turtles (like Green Sea Turtles) with minimal effort.

Pilings at the Dry Tortugas - these make for some of the best snorkeling at the island.

ImageDSCN0942 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

The Dry Tortugas are home to a large colony of Frigate Birds, plus numerous Tern species

ImageDSCN0946 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0984 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Needlenose Fish

ImageDSCN0964 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Inside Fort Jefferson

ImageDSCN0966 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

From atop the fort

ImageDSCN0973 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

The famous American Crocodile that inhabits the fort's moat

ImageDSCN0985 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0989 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Fish and scenery

ImageDSCN9128 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9139 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9152 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9154 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9159 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9160 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN9166 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

These little things withdraw into a protective case of sorts when threatened.

ImageDSCN9212 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Does anyone know what species of fish this is? I think it's a type of Filefish or Cownose fish.

ImageDSCN9233 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Parrot Fish and some other fish.

ImageDSCN9239 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

The next day (April 30th) brought us to the Everglades, the portion of the trip I was most looking forward to (spoken like a true herper!). That day we signed up for a guided tour with Garl's Coastal Kayaking that involved a hike towards a cypress dome, a freshwater paddle, and a sunset paddle on Florida Bay. I also convinced Garl to stop for snakes on our way out of the park, so there was some impromptu roadcruising at the end of the day as well. I don't know if any of you have heard of him, but Garl is very knowledgeable about the Everglades. While the tour was pricey and most of the things we did you can do on your own, I would never have walked through a cypress dome if we hadn't signed up. He operates in ENP with the approval of the National Park Service, though it wasn't exactly clear to me how he had permission to explore off of the roads and marked trails (I know he does, one way or another). He even encouraged us to do so the following day, but I had other things in mind.

Unfortunately, it's been a very wet winter and spring down in ENP, and the water levels were still high from all the rain when it should have been dry season conditions. As a result, a lot of the wildlife was spread out due to all of the water, and the birds in particular suffered as that makes it harder to find food. During our hike, everything was flooded, to include the "high ground" that can sometimes be found in cypress domes. We didn't see much in the way of herps, but it was still neat.

Young Alligator not far from the park entrance

ImageDSCN0991 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Halloween Pennants were by far the most common dragonfly in the park. We saw hundreds over the course of two days.

ImageDSCN1001 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr


Cardinal Bromeliads

ImageDSCN1018 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1023 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Hiking towards the cypress dome

ImageDSCN1021 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

FL Apple Snail eggs - I've only ever seen the invasive variety before.

ImageDSCN1022 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr


Cypress Dome

ImageDSCN1035 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

One of two Barred Owls we saw

ImageDSCN1050 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

After the hike, we drove down to Nine Mile Pond for some kayaking. Casey and I had planned on kayaking there on our own the following day, but the good news is that Garl took us off of the marked trail to see some areas we wouldn't have seen otherwise, so it was still worth it. The habitat was quite unique - freshwater mangroves adjacent to a sea of sawgrass and waters choked with periphyton. It's one of the few freshwater mangrove habitats that I know of.

Swallow-Tailed Kite at Nine Mile Pond

ImageDSCN1063 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1066 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Backside of a large gator

ImageDSCN1067 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

This croc is the famous Croczilla, who measures in at a whopping 15 feet! I'm very glad we got to see him, and he might just be the furthest-inland American Crocodile in Florida.

ImageDSCN1070 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1071 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1073 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1090 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

A very pissed-off Green Heron

ImageDSCN1099 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

This gator was resting underwater

ImageDSCN1102 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Sunset over Flamingo

ImageDSCN1140 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Pelicans

ImageDSCN1144 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Gums, the toothless Crocodile. He's a famous attraction at Flamingo. His lack of teeth is due to a mineral deficiency. I'm sure many of you have seen him before!

ImageDSCN1155 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

And now for what you've all been waiting for - roadcruising pics! As usual, roadcruising the Main Road did not disappoint. The following photos are from our drive out of the park with Garl, who was driving. There are more later from our second night.

Our first snake was a target species for this trip, and a lifer! A large Eastern Mudsnake, which promptly fled into the brush just moments after I took this photo. I was a bit bummed that I could only get one shot of the snake, (spoiler!) but fortunately this was not the only one I saw!

ImageDSCN1159 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Further on down the road, we stopped for a small Florida Watersnake in the road, and I almost stepped on this Florida Green Watersnake that was on the shoulder in front of the van.

ImageDSCN1163 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1166 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

I wasn't able to get a good shot of the FL Watersnake mentioned above, but we saw another live one that night.

ImageDSCN1177 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Our last snake of the night appeared as a large object coiled in the middle of the lane. Garl straddled it with his vehicle, and I raced out to find out what it was. By the time I got to where I thought we saw it, the snake had left the road. I started to search the grass by the shoulder, and then common sense told me to it would be safer to search from the shoulder itself, and not in the grass. Thankfully I did, as a few moments later I was able to locate the snake in question in the grass - an adult Cottonmouth! I would have walked right onto it if I hadn't moved, and I'd already done that to two snakes this trip. We had a couple of Germans in our group that had never seen one before, and I had to remind them that it was venomous. They were rather fascinated by it!

ImageDSCN1179 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1182 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Here it is showing off its namesake. This was my fourth live Cottonmouth, and the first I was able to see open its maw.

ImageDSCN1187 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1189 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

The next day, Casey and I set off on our own, starting with a bike ride through Long Pine Key. A large chunk of the pinelands had recently been burned by an accidental fire, as you can see in some of the photos below. It was a nice ride, but we didn't see any herps.

ImageDSCN1191 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Halloween Pennants were out by the HUNDREDS as this borrow pit.

ImageDSCN1195 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Pike Killifish

ImageDSCN1197 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Tree Snail

ImageDSCN1198 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Regrowth

ImageDSCN1201 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

You can see that one side of the path was burned, while the other was not. It made for an interesting contrast.

ImageDSCN1202 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Afterwards, we had lunch and a short walk at the Anhinga Trail, where I have yet to see an Anhinga...

A very large Peninsula Cooter

ImageDSCN1226 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Gar

ImageDSCN1230 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Florida Red-bellied Cooter

ImageDSCN1235 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

A large Florida Softshell

ImageDSCN1244 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Casey and I also went back to Nine Mile Pond to paddle the marked trail that Garl strayed away from. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves in to...It's a beautiful paddle, but if you ever do it, take the shortcut. Everything along the main trail after the shortcut is just shallow water choked with sawgrass and periphyton. Some stretches seemed to drag on forever in a straight line, and the scenery grew old as the sun beat down upon us. It was by far the toughest paddle I've ever done, and the whole time I was kicking myself for not taking the shortcut. The potion of the trail closer to the Main Road winds through great mangrove habitat and is totally worth doing. Below is what a lot of our paddle looked like:

ImageDSCN1254 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1257 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

In our exhaustion, Casey still managed to spot this Florida Softshell resting on the bottom.

ImageDSCN1259 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

After our paddle, we raced out of the park to grab a quick dinner, then set back to do some roadcruising at our own pace. We managed to hit the park right before sundown. It took a surprising amount of time before we found our first snake, so in the meantime, I stopped for frogs.

Pig Frog

ImageDSCN1263 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Florida Leopard Frog

ImageDSCN1265 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

FL Watersnake

ImageDSCN1269 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Stripeless Green Treefrog

ImageDSCN1274 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Regurgitated meal of a dead Florida Watersnake

ImageDSCN1278 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

I almost didn't turn around for this juvenile Florida Cottonmouth, as I thought it may have just been some debris. I'm glad I did, as this was by far the most strike Cottonmouth I've turned up yet. They have some great patterning when they are young!

ImageDSCN1280 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1284 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Possibly my best shot from the trip:

ImageDSCN1286 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

2016 will be known as the year I turned up a Mudsnake and American Crocodiles before finding my first Southern Toad.

ImageDSCN1288 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

And here's Mudsnake #2. I was able to get some decent shots of it, but this snake panicked as well and did a crazy dance on the road. It just would not sit still. Are Mudsnakes always poor photo subjects? If only I were allowed to hold it and calm it down...

ImageDSCN1291 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageMudsnake Cropped by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Doing the dance

ImageDSCN1294 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1295 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1296 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Mudsnake #3, which had already left the road by the time I tracked it down.

ImageDSCN1315 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1318 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

All of the above were found on our way to Flamingo. Didn't see much there but another Croc (not Gums) and a Wood Slave. On the way out, we didn't turn up any snakes for the longest time. I had given up hope until about 11:20 PM as we were passing through the pinelands, where I clearly saw a snake moving across the other lane. I screamed "Scarletsnake!", likely waking up my wife, and raced to find it. However, just as it was with the adult Cottonmouth and the last Mudsnake, the snake had already left the road. Thankfully, a careful search of the grass quickly turned up my prize, which hadn't yet escaped into the trees. It turns out it was no Scarletsnake, but rather my lifer Scarlet Kingsnake! This was by far my favorite find of the trip. I had to calm myself down for a moment to use the mnemonic to determine if it was a Kingsnake or a Coral Snake. Either way, I would have been excited.

ImageDSCN1325 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1327 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1330 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1331 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

That just about wraps up our trip! On our way home, we stopped at Shark Valley to ride our bikes to the tower. It's a 14 mile ride round-trip, but it was worth it. Saw mostly gators, but we turned up some yearlings plus two adults locked in combats, which was something I had never seen before.

ImageDSCN1338 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

There are three baby gators in this photo. Try to find them!

ImageDSCN1348 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1344 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1345 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1347 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1350 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1358 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1362 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1363 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Find the Gator:

ImageDSCN1367 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Scenery:

ImageDSCN1372 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1373 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

ImageDSCN1375 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Last pic: a huge Softshell Turtle seen from the tower.

ImageDSCN1386 by Matt Ratcliffe, on Flickr

Ok, that's it! Hope you all enjoyed. Here's a summary of what we saw or heard (27 species in all):

Green Anole
Brown Anole
Cuban Green Anole (unconfirmed)
Green Iguana
Northern Curly-tailed Lizard
Wood Slave
Peninsula Cooter
Florida Red-bellied Cooter
Florida Softshell Turtle
Unidentified Sea Turtle (likely Green Sea Turtle)
American Alligator
American Crocodile
Southern Black Racer
Everglades Racer (DOR only)
Cornsnake
Eastern Mudsnake
Florida Watersnake
Florida Green Watersnake
Florida Cottonmouth
Scarlet Kingsnake
Pig Frog
Florida Leopard Frog
Green Treefrog
Cuban Treefrog
Squirrel Treefrog
Florida Cricket Frog
Southern Toad

Coluber Constrictor
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by Coluber Constrictor » May 19th, 2016, 7:42 pm

That corn snake is a beauty.

The sea life is pretty cool. I think your nudibranch is exactly that.

I love birds with pointy wings and the frigate and kite are two of my favorites. Cool post.

Coluber Constrictor
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by Coluber Constrictor » May 19th, 2016, 7:43 pm

The green anole looks like A. carolinensis to me.

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dwakefield
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by dwakefield » May 21st, 2016, 10:56 am

Great post! Even though I'm mostly a snake guy, I definitely enjoyed all the photos.

1. Nice find with the Scarlet King! I'm still trying to get my lifer.....definitely a great species.

2. Yeah, Mud Snakes can be a pain to photograph. I'm glad I got my lifer outside of ENP because it gave me more of a chance to wait for it to calm down. I think I have one or two pics of it in the thread "April highlights in South Florida".

Congrats on a great trip!

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mtratcliffe
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by mtratcliffe » May 22nd, 2016, 5:49 pm

Coluber Constrictor wrote:That corn snake is a beauty.

The sea life is pretty cool. I think your nudibranch is exactly that.

I love birds with pointy wings and the frigate and kite are two of my favorites. Cool post.
Yeah, the FL Keys Corns have their own unique look it seems. Thanks for the comment and the Anole ID! I wish I had a better picture of the nudibranch, but I was getting pushed around by the waves in that spot. That was a really neat sighting.

I think I saw more Swallowtailed Kites on that trip than I had in my entire life leading up to it!

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mtratcliffe
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by mtratcliffe » May 22nd, 2016, 5:51 pm

dwakefield wrote:Great post! Even though I'm mostly a snake guy, I definitely enjoyed all the photos.

1. Nice find with the Scarlet King! I'm still trying to get my lifer.....definitely a great species.

2. Yeah, Mud Snakes can be a pain to photograph. I'm glad I got my lifer outside of ENP because it gave me more of a chance to wait for it to calm down. I think I have one or two pics of it in the thread "April highlights in South Florida".

Congrats on a great trip!
Thanks! For a SK, you need to find a good stretch of pinewoods. You are near Okeechobee, right? Highlands County definitely has them.

I'm still hoping to find a Mud outside of a protected area so that I can hold it and really take in its beauty. I'll go check out your thread again to see your Mud.

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Noah M
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by Noah M » May 23rd, 2016, 6:51 am

Overall a great post. Lots of diversity. It is hard to pick a favorite, but mud snakes and SKs are always welcomed in my book. :thumb:

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kevin h
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by kevin h » May 29th, 2016, 11:13 am

I love your shot of the Crocodile teeth, very sharp! The Mud snakes and the Alligators fighting are also super cool. Thanks for posting.

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mtratcliffe
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by mtratcliffe » May 30th, 2016, 10:55 am

kevin h wrote:I love your shot of the Crocodile teeth, very sharp! The Mud snakes and the Alligators fighting are also super cool. Thanks for posting.
Thanks Kevin! I'm very impressed with the zoom on my camera - I took that photo from a good 40 feet away, on a bobbing kayak at that. But it looks like I was right up next to it!

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Noah M
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by Noah M » May 31st, 2016, 8:40 am

That first pic looks like an old school postcard or something. The saturation is great. I love it.

What camera do you use now?

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mtratcliffe
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Re: 2016 Everglades/Keys Trip Report - Scroll Down for Snake

Post by mtratcliffe » May 31st, 2016, 4:02 pm

Noah M wrote:That first pic looks like an old school postcard or something. The saturation is great. I love it.

What camera do you use now?
Thanks! That one was actually taken on my old camera. I love the contrast in colors and how there are three bridges paralleling each other, extending out of frame. I was impressed myself with how it came out.

I'm using a Nikon Coolpix P610 now. Nothing fancy - just a point-and-shoot, but it has 60x optical zoom, which I love. The only downside to it is that taking macro shots is a bit tricky, and focusing on small subjects (such as Cricket Frogs) doesn't work so well at close range - I usually have to take a few steps back for the subject to come in to focus.

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