“Everything Else is Just an Airboat Ride” ~ Kissimmee Lake, Florida, USA

Lake Kissimmee landscape: Great Blue Heron against an overcast sky.

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.

Six-Seater Airboat on a pier on Lake Kissimmee.

The Airboat
Our six-seater airboat waits to take us out over Lake Kissimmee.

A Gator
Within minutes, we spotted our first huge American Alligator (alligator mississippiensis).

Lake Kissimmee landscape: a red-beaked American white ibis in a green field with cattle.

The red beak, face and legs of the American White Ibis (eudocimus albus) contrast markedly with the impossibly green fields.

Kissimmee Lake landscape: a sandhill crane Grus Canadensis

Sandhill Crane
One of a pair of two-meter cranes (grus canadensis) strides through the water hyacinth – his life-mate is not far behind.

Great Blue Heron fans its wings: Lake Kissimmee, Florida

Showing Off
A great blue heron (ardea herodias) fans its wings on a grass island.

Great Egret Ardea Alba

A great egret (ardea alba) wings across the lake.

Small alligator on a grass island, Lake Kissimmee, Florida.

Small Alligator
Alligators on Lake Kissimmee come in all sizes.

Snail Kite Rostrhamus Sociabilis

Snail Kite – with Snail
The locally-endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus Sociabilis) is dependent on the apple snail for food.

Snail Kite Rostrhamus Sociabilis

Snail Kite
The kites are tagged and tracked to monitor their numbers and movements.

Snail Kite perched on a pole, Lake Kissimmee, Florida

Snail Kite
The sharp, curved beak allows the kite to get into the snail shell.

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen
It is the big feet that keep the swamphen (porphyrio porphyrio) from sinking.

Male and female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Mr and Mrs Grackle
The lake is home to numerous nesting pairs of great-tailed grackles (quiscalus mexicanus).

A snakebird on Lake Kissimmee, Florida, dries it

The snakebird (Anhinga anhinga) is not able to oil and waterproof its wings, and needs to dry them out.

Environmental Portrait: A Florida male airboat driver in white zinc, hat and gloves.

Captain Mark
Our knowledgeable boat operator had studied environmental science and clearly loved the lake.

The head of a large alligator, barrel visible under the water. Lake Kissimmee, Florida

Barely Visible
Even when they are not diving and holding their breath, gators are hard to spot.

Florida pond lilies under a threatening sky, Lake Kissimmee.

Incoming Squall
The pond lilies and sawgrass marshes stretch out under a threatening sky… We did get wet.

Nuphar advena (spatterdock or yellow pond-lily)

… or yellow pond-lily (nuphar advena) grows all over the lake.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula

Snowy Egret
An egret (Egretta thula) picks its way over the mud.

Bright pink clusters of apple snail eggs cling to sea grasses, Lake Kissimmee, Florida.

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.

Two Least Terns ginst a pale blue sky with grey clouds, Florida

A Patch of Blue
Two least terns (sternula antillarum) are startled into flight by our arrival…

American White Pelican against a grey overcast sky, Florida

American White Pelican
… as a pelican (pelecanus erythrorhynchos) soars past.

A Pier on Lake Kissimmee, under a looming grey sky.

The Pier
Too soon, we are back on the pier.

Killdeer nesting in a gravel driveway.

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.

Text: Happy Travels“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!

Happy Travels

Photos: 28May2013

  • Kevin Dowie - July 4, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    Another nice photo series Ursula. You’re right about getting away from highways and theme parks. The closer to nature the better! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Susan DeJesus - July 4, 2013 - 11:25 pm

    Enjoyed reading about your adventures! Love the photography!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 5, 2013 - 12:13 am

      Thanks, Susan and Kevin! We sure enjoyed the lake.ReplyCancel

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