Buckeye Herps Blog

A photographic journal of the reptiles and amphibians of Ohio, Michigan and other places interesting wildlife call home.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Everglades Paddling

I was recently lucky enough to be invited on a Everglades Paddle trip by my buddy Rob.  He and his friend Sean try and take a paddle trip each year, and Rob thought I would be interested in tagging along on this one.  I didn't have to be asked twice!  I had the time off already and quickly finalized my plans to join them.  Sean did a wonderful job planning and scheduling, and soon we were landing in SW Florida armed to the teeth with gear.

I chose to bring most of my camera gear, (and even more that has been added) which I was glad for, and also regretted.  I keep my camera pretty much loaded with the Nikon 70-200VR for birds and hopefully herps, packed in a dry bag that was at my feet or strapped to the top of the kayak (cringe!).  I also took my wife's Panasonic TS1 waterproof camera for most of the pictures from the boats.

We chose to paddle out of Everglades City instead of deep in Everglades National Park, near Flamingo.  This offered us the chance to kayak to and sleep on the barrier islands bordering the Gulf of Mexico.  This was ideal in that it "limited" the bugs, allowed us to have camp fires on the beaches, and provided great views and sunsets.  Looking back, I think the Flamingo option would have provided many more opportunities for viewing certain wildlife (the herps), but would have meant many more bugs and no fires.    There was still a chance at herps though, and I was excited to try and see some crocs primarily.

We used websites such as Everglades Diary and Everglades National Park website to help plan our trip, and I recommend these to anyone who may consider a similar adventure.

As we would be kayaking through brackish and salt waters, as well as camping on the small mangrove keys, there would be no fresh water along our route.  We planned on 1.5 gallons of water per person, per day, to bring in with us.  We stocked up with other food, beverages, fishing licenses, a cooler full of ice and even some fresh seafood just before putting out.

We picked up scallops, conch and shrimp here just before setting out.

Just some of our gear...
We rented our boats from a sorta sketchy canoe outfitter, who shall remain nameless.  I don't know if the final verdict was that we got ripped off.  I will say I was a little disappointed with the quality of the kayak and the guy wasn't exactly too helpful.  It was to be expected, but it is a tough pill to swallow when you pay more for 4 days in a canoe and a kayak than you do for the 6 day rental car.

When on the water, all else is forgotten.

Below is a nice satellite image of the area.  We set out of Everglades City, in the center of the top of the map, and basically headed to the barrier islands.
Our playground (click on picture for larger view)

We had some decent ground to cover to get to our first stop, Tiger Key.  We enjoyed the paddle though, didn't get too lost and had fun exploring.

Myself, Rob and Sean.

Brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Now we are getting close to our destination. This is just coming around the corner on Picnic Key, looking out to the Stop Keys and the Gulf.

And now I am paddling in to Tiger Key, our home for a night, after a long day.

Camp is made.
Sean chills out.

Another look at camp and the kayak.

You might notice the glorious looking hammock in the last two pictures.  I had heard from a few other about the wonders of hammock camping and made the purchase prior to the trip.  After much deliberation I picked up a Warbonnet Blackbird double later 1.7 with adjustable webbing strap suspension.  I outfitted it with a caternary cut hex tarp called the edge.  Having never assembled a hammock before, I walked myself slowly through it the day before leaving in about 15-20 minutes and jotted down some notes.  This night, the first, I was able to hang the tarp start to finish in about 3 minutes, no notes required!  So how did it sleep?  Amazingly!  I laid a bit diagonal, had plenty of room to roll around, and the foot box had plenty of room for my 6'1" frame.  The double layer kept the mosquitos from biting through to my back, and the mosquito netting with a zipper kept them from feasting on me.  You may notice I hung it over the tide line, and when I woke up around 2 am to relieve myself, I was able to roll over, unzip and water the ocean as the waves lapped beneath me.  The whole unit packs down incredibly small, and really weighs next to nothing.

We had a crappy sunset this night, but I enjoyed trying to photograph the flats at low tide.

For dinner that night, Sean cooked up some vegetable and scallops curry after a precursor of conch ceviche.  We somehow lost our rice, but the meal was still delicious.

A hundred yards or so down the beach, another tent was pitched and a canoe was beached.  It didn't take long for the occupant to wander over to say hello.  Ulph (sp?) was an awesome German fellow.  He is an avid paddler and has travelled all over the world.  This was his last night out, and he joined up by the fire for drinks and conversation most of the night.  He donated the rest of a bag of "Great Value Nacho Chips" and a bottle of wine.  He honestly was a highlight of the trip.

You can see the water level creeping below my hammock in this shot, as well as pushing at our fire.  Our fire slowly migrated up the beach all night.  At one point, waves were actually passing around it...

For breakfast, we enjoyed pan seared shrimp prepared in cheesy grits. Looks a little odd, but tasted delicious.

This day we paddled around Tiger Key, did some fishing along the way and made camp nearby on Picnic Key.  We spent some more time fishing, bird watching and exploring the mangroves.  Wildlife included dolphin, bonnetthead sharks, bald eagle, osprey, ibis and pelicans.

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus

American White Ibis Eudocimus albus

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
We did some more fishing, and Rob pulled in a nice sea trout from right off our beach.  It made for a nice addition to dinner.

We got killed by mosquitos again that night, which ended up being a miserable, yet common theme.  We woke up early for a long paddle down to Rabbit Key.  It was raining.

It didn't deter the birds.

Rock on!

We paddled past a couple manatee and then out into the open ocean.  The storm really kicked up.  Sean and I had a hell of a time keeping straight while fighting the wind and waves.  We ended up tying up to Rob's kayak and having him hold a straight course cutting through the surf.

But about three miles of open water later, the land was near and the skies brightened.  That is our destitation, Rabbit Key, on the right.

It was very windy at our new campsite, but we enjoyed finishing off our remaining beverages, doing some fishing and watching the birds.

We hoped for a nice sunset on our last night.

That night we finished some left over food and drink.
Crescent Rolls on a stick

Green Onions garnished with Great Value Nacho Chips

An awesome scorp I found crawling up my leg
Crab Tacos
The last morning we had the best weather of the trip.  It was a long paddle back through the mangroves.  I looked everywhere hoping for a croc without any luck.

It was an awesome trip, spent with some great company.  The mosquitos were killer though, which may limit a similar return trip.

Final route
Red - Day 1 Everglades City to Tiger Key
Yellow - Day 2 Tiger Key to Picnic Key
Green - Day 3 Picnic Key to Rabbit Key
Blue - Day 4 Rabbit Key back to Everglades City
(click on picture for larger view)




  1. NIcely done Jay! Great photos!

  2. Great report. Quite an adventure. -CRB