“Everything Else is Just an Airboat Ride” ~ Kissimmee Lake, Florida, USA
Like a Painting
A great blue heron (ardea herodias) flies over the marshy shoreline of Lake Kissimmee.
It’s a concrete-and-plastic jungle…
So much of the area around Kissimmee and Orlando in Florida is interconnecting highways, theme parks, condominiums, fast food, and tacky souvenir sales. It is pretty easy to think there is nothing else.
But, you can escape – even if only for a few hours.
It was time: we’d been in Kissimmee several days and I needed to shake off the pre-packaged kitsch. As it turns out, there are tour operators offering airboat rides not too far away. So, in spite of the rain clouds, we set off south, off the major roads, and towards Lake Kissimmee, which sits at the upper-most end of the watershed that feeds the Florida Everglades.
We’d decided on Kissimmee Swamp Tours, and – like a large percentage of TripAdvisor participants – ended up very happy with our choice. It was an hour-long drive to the office: some of it gravel, past large estates and horse studs and through brilliantly green farmlands. It felt like we had entered another world – a breath of fresh air after the neon lights, garish paint, and wall-to-wall cars on US Highway 192.
Once we were fitted into our two-way-radio headsets, we set off – just us and Mark, our operator and guide – across the lake and into the sea of grass and pond lilies.
The birdlife was fabulous! I have neither the patience nor the lenses for really good bird photography, and the constant vibration of the airboat, plus the rainy and overcast weather made for additional challenges… but I can’t resist sharing a “taste” of this marvellous place.
Our six-seater airboat waits to take us out over Lake Kissimmee.
Within minutes, we spotted our first huge American Alligator (alligator mississippiensis).
The red beak, face and legs of the American White Ibis (eudocimus albus) contrast markedly with the impossibly green fields.
One of a pair of two-meter cranes (grus canadensis) strides through the water hyacinth – his life-mate is not far behind.
A great blue heron (ardea herodias) fans its wings on a grass island.
A great egret (ardea alba) wings across the lake.
Alligators on Lake Kissimmee come in all sizes.
Snail Kite – with Snail
The locally-endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus Sociabilis) is dependent on the apple snail for food.
The kites are tagged and tracked to monitor their numbers and movements.
The sharp, curved beak allows the kite to get into the snail shell.
It is the big feet that keep the swamphen (porphyrio porphyrio) from sinking.
Mr and Mrs Grackle
The lake is home to numerous nesting pairs of great-tailed grackles (quiscalus mexicanus).
The snakebird (Anhinga anhinga) is not able to oil and waterproof its wings, and needs to dry them out.
Our knowledgeable boat operator had studied environmental science and clearly loved the lake.
Even when they are not diving and holding their breath, gators are hard to spot.
The pond lilies and sawgrass marshes stretch out under a threatening sky… We did get wet.
… or yellow pond-lily (nuphar advena) grows all over the lake.
An egret (Egretta thula) picks its way over the mud.
Apple Snail Eggs
Snail kites live almost exclusively on apple snails (pomacea paludosa), so these pink egg clusters are a good sign for the lake’s ecology.
A Patch of Blue
Two least terns (sternula antillarum) are startled into flight by our arrival…
American White Pelican
… as a pelican (pelecanus erythrorhynchos) soars past.
Too soon, we are back on the pier.
This spunky killdeer (charadrius vociferus) decided to nest in the middle of the Kissimmee Swamp Tours’ driveway! A short length of “danger” tape keeps visitors from driving over her.
“Everything else is just an Airboat Ride,” according to Kissimmee Swamp Tours advertising.
And they are right! We took another airboat ride, further south, on the Everglades themselves and we didn’t have anywhere near as good an experience.
Beautiful place – sure beats the tourist highways not so far away!