National Geographic : 1949 Jan
Wildlife of Everglades National Park BY DANIEL B. BEARD Superintendent, Everglades National Park THE DENSE canopy of red mangrove trees bordering Squawk Creek gave way to the open vastness of the Everglades. All morning Walter A. Weber and I had been working our way through uncharted waters from our camp at Little Banana Patch, Florida, historic campsite of Seminole Indians and perhaps the ancient Calusas before them. Every bend of the stream had looked the same, with monotonous thickets of spraddle rooted mangroves growing along the swampy shorelines. We had been finding our way by the "feel of the place" and not from recog nizable landmarks (map, page 87). Herons Gave Squawk Creek Its Name As our outboard motor had churned up the sepia waters (and weeds) a never-ending num ber of yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons (page 104) had pumped their way out of the trees to fly ahead of us up the stream. Their disturbed "squawks" have given the creek its local name. As we came out into the Everglades the stream shoaled, and we began to pole our skiff. Except for a flock of white ibis (page 90) lazily circling in the distance, there was no sign of life on this hot midwinter afternoon. The waving sedges and grasses of the Glades disappeared among the heat waves of the horizon and seemed to mingle with the billow ing clouds. Hammocks, the tree-islands of the Everglades, dotted the landscape every where. We soon ran against a fallen cabbage palm log and could go no farther by boat; so Weber started to get out, armed with cameras, binocu lars, sketch pads, and the other accouterments of a wildlife artist in the field. On the verge of jumping ashore he stopped, pointing first at the cabbage log, then at the muddy shore. From my poling position in the boat I could plainly see otter tracks, not unexpected in this part of the new Everglades National Park (page 86). On the log was a half-eaten watersnake. The little drama was as plain as if we had seen it enacted. An otter had killed the snake and feasted upon it. The sign was so fresh that both of us in stinctively looked around, expecting to see the otter's furry head and beady eyes watching us from the stream. But if it was there we could not find it. Weber unwound some of his equipment and took notes, from which he later reconstructed the scene (page 103). A nearby hammock, dominated by an unu sually large mahogany tree, beckoned to us. As we struggled toward it, knee-deep marl sucked at our feet and sawgrass tore into our clothing. We soon realized why early Glades explorers used copper wire for shoe laces! Weber was the first to break through the surrounding cocoplum bushes into the ham mock. Once inside, we both stopped to catch our breath and to become used to the dim light, for it was much like stepping from a sunlit street into a movie theater. Live oaks, reddish barked gumbo limbo trees, wild tamarinds with their lacy leaflets, the lone mahogany tree, a dense undergrowth of wild coffee bushes, and numerous vines almost blotted out the sun. The familiar sing of attacking mosquitoes was the only sound. "I'll bet we're the first white men to set foot in this place," said Weber. Yet, somehow, things did not seem quite right. I looked around for an owl. It seems as if about every mature hammock in the Everglades has at least one barred owl that finds good hunting on the rodents and such which inhabit the vicinity. But instead of finding an owl I flushed out a gorgeous Florida pileated woodpecker (page 101). Off it flew among the trees, with the characteristic up and-down flight of the woodpecker clan. Two indigo snakes rustled through the leaves. Though harmless as the toad in your garden, these big, glistening, bluish snakes are apt to frighten one who does not know them. Weber went after one of the snakes but tripped upon a hard object half buried in the leaf mould. He picked it up-a rusty gaso line can! Man's Destructive Hand Apparent Far from being the first white men to visit the isolated hammock, we were "Johnny come lately." Someone in a glades buggy had been there first-perhaps many times. Until Ever glades National Park was established in 1947, poachers as well as legitimate hunters used the huge-tired vehicles called "swamp buggies" or "glades buggies" to penetrate the marshy wilderness.* *See "Haunting Heart of the Everglades," by An drew H. Brown, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1948.