Archive for November, 2012

Whooping Cranes Arrive in Florida

The cranes are here! The cranes are here! This is exciting news, especially since we didn't get to see whoopers at a flyover event in 2011. If you recall, the Operation Migration folks had some issues with the FAA last year. That's all in the past, and this year things seem to be moving along smoothly.

Good news, craniacs – according to Operation Migration, we can expect a flyover event at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge as early as Friday. This is the only flyover event for 2012, so don't miss out. 

The flyover event happens at San Marcos de Apalache State Park in St. Marks. Keep checking www.operationmigration.org for updates, and directions to the flyover location can be found at www.floridastateparks.org/sanmarcos.

For a general idea of what happens at a flyover event, check out my video from 2010 at the Dunnellon Airport in Marion County. If you attend this year's event, feel free to share photos with me on the VISIT FLORIDA Outdoors and Nature Facebook page. Have fun!

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During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield

Clewiston – During World War II, in an unlikely clearing between the Everglades and fields of sugar cane, two allies came together in a mutual struggle to defend the free world.  

It was 1941. Winston Churchill appealed to the United States to provide war materials and pilot training for defense against a superior German air power which was pummeling England. Cadets were unable to train there because of horrible weather conditions and "the Nazis had a nasty habit of shooting down anything that flew."

President Roosevelt executed the Lend Lease Act and six British Flying Training Schools – in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and the #5 BFTS, at Riddle Field near Clewiston.

Near the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, basic training began with British cadets receiving extensive training in formation flying, acrobatic maneuvers, armaments and instrument navigation.

The British cadets were warmly received by the locals and, as flight instructor Reed Clary recalls, "They were royally treated and, to the cadets, this was heaven in itself." Between September 1941 and September 1945, 2,000 Royal Air Force and more than 100 American cadets were trained and graduated as pilots.  

Some British fliers never returned to Europe to fight the war: 23 cadets killed during training lie in the British plot in Arcadia's Oak Ridge Cemetery. They are remembered each year by the people of that city. After the war, present-day Airglades Airport was built over the runways of Riddle Field.

Little remains of the old hangars that housed the World War II planes, but a small museum contains artifacts, photos, correspondence and publications regarding those desperate days. Learn more at clewistonmuseum.org.

Beyond the museum, Clewiston has much to feed your sense of adventure.

At Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the airboat and swamp buggy tours expose visitors to wild Florida and alligator, bison and ostrich.

Billie's Swamp Water Cafe serves alligator tail nuggets and frog legs or, for the faint of heart, more traditional fare.

Continue reading During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield »

During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield

Clewiston – During World War II, in an unlikely clearing between the Everglades and fields of sugar cane, two allies came together in a mutual struggle to defend the free world.  

It was 1941. Winston Churchill appealed to the United States to provide war materials and pilot training for defense against a superior German air power which was pummeling England. Cadets were unable to train there because of horrible weather conditions and "the Nazis had a nasty habit of shooting down anything that flew."

President Roosevelt executed the Lend Lease Act and six British Flying Training Schools – in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and the #5 BFTS, at Riddle Field near Clewiston.

Near the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, basic training began with British cadets receiving extensive training in formation flying, acrobatic maneuvers, armaments and instrument navigation.

The British cadets were warmly received by the locals and, as flight instructor Reed Clary recalls, "They were royally treated and, to the cadets, this was heaven in itself." Between September 1941 and September 1945, 2,000 Royal Air Force and more than 100 American cadets were trained and graduated as pilots.  

Some British fliers never returned to Europe to fight the war: 23 cadets killed during training lie in the British plot in Arcadia's Oak Ridge Cemetery. They are remembered each year by the people of that city. After the war, present-day Airglades Airport was built over the runways of Riddle Field.

Little remains of the old hangars that housed the World War II planes, but a small museum contains artifacts, photos, correspondence and publications regarding those desperate days. Learn more at clewistonmuseum.org.

Beyond the museum, Clewiston has much to feed your sense of adventure.

At Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the airboat and swamp buggy tours expose visitors to wild Florida and alligator, bison and ostrich.

Billie's Swamp Water Cafe serves alligator tail nuggets and frog legs or, for the faint of heart, more traditional fare.

Continue reading During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield »

During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield

Clewiston – During World War II, in an unlikely clearing between the Everglades and fields of sugar cane, two allies came together in a mutual struggle to defend the free world.  

It was 1941. Winston Churchill appealed to the United States to provide war materials and pilot training for defense against a superior German air power which was pummeling England. Cadets were unable to train there because of horrible weather conditions and "the Nazis had a nasty habit of shooting down anything that flew."

President Roosevelt executed the Lend Lease Act and six British Flying Training Schools – in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and the #5 BFTS, at Riddle Field near Clewiston.

Near the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, basic training began with British cadets receiving extensive training in formation flying, acrobatic maneuvers, armaments and instrument navigation.

The British cadets were warmly received by the locals and, as flight instructor Reed Clary recalls, "They were royally treated and, to the cadets, this was heaven in itself." Between September 1941 and September 1945, 2,000 Royal Air Force and more than 100 American cadets were trained and graduated as pilots.  

Some British fliers never returned to Europe to fight the war: 23 cadets killed during training lie in the British plot in Arcadia's Oak Ridge Cemetery. They are remembered each year by the people of that city. After the war, present-day Airglades Airport was built over the runways of Riddle Field.

Little remains of the old hangars that housed the World War II planes, but a small museum contains artifacts, photos, correspondence and publications regarding those desperate days. Learn more at clewistonmuseum.org.

Beyond the museum, Clewiston has much to feed your sense of adventure.

At Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the airboat and swamp buggy tours expose visitors to wild Florida and alligator, bison and ostrich.

Billie's Swamp Water Cafe serves alligator tail nuggets and frog legs or, for the faint of heart, more traditional fare.

Continue reading During World War II, British Pilots Earned Their Wings at Clewiston Airfield »

Shark Valley Tram Tour: Into the Heart of the Everglades, With a Breeze

Hop aboard the Shark Valley Tram, and you get a two-hour tour along a 15-mile loop, led by an informative naturalist. You'll feel you're deep in the wilds of the Everglades, but riding in comfort with the breeze in your face.

The open-air vehicles offer great wildlife photography opportunities, pausing and even backing up to make sure you get up-close views of basking alligators from the safety of the tram.

It's amazing to see how quickly, despite its log-like appearance (an Everglades speed bump, our guide joked) a wild gator can transform into an eight-foot leaping lizard, powerfully launching itself (thankfully, away from our tram) in the blink of an eye.
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Our naturalist offered insightful knowledge about early settlers and human interaction with the land while pointing out birds and other wildlife. He even entertained with Everglades love stories, playing the roles of gossiping gator gals and big-hearted anhinga hubbies to explain mating and relationship rituals taking place like a sawgrass soap opera.

At the midway point, exit the tram and meander up the massive spiral walkway of the Shark Valley tower for a bird's-eye view 45 feet above the wild expanse of the sawgrass prairie.

The naturalist identified wild edibles such as cocoa plum, as well as hazards like the Manchinel tree, whose rain-soaked leaves can actually burn your skin with dripping toxin.

After descending from the high altitude (by Florida standards), walk the canopy-covered trail near the tower, and peer through shady trees for the resident gator. With no tram at the moment to whisk you away, you'll need to use your feet and common sense to maintain a safe distance.

Jump back on the tram and enjoy more miles of scenery before returning to your starting point.

For the more adventurous, bring your bike or rent one upon arrival and explore at your own pace.

Either way, keep your eyes open for surprises; one of our fellow tour participants spotted a python (an invasive species becoming a major problem in South Florida), which sent our guides springing from the vehicle in pursuit. The snake slipped away.

If You Go

What: Shark Valley Tram Tour
Where: Everglades National Park
Cost: Entrance to the national park is $10 per private vehicle. Tour rates are $20 for adults, $19 for seniors, $12.75 for children 3 to 12.
Hours: Departure times May through late December are 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. From Dec. 16 through April 2013, departures are at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Visitation is highest from Dec. 26 through April 30, and reservations are recommended during this time period.
Call: Shark Valley Visitor Center at 305-221-8776; tram ticket reservations, 305-221-8455
Web: Visit Shark Valley Tram Tours at sharkvalleytramtours.com. The Visitors Center website is nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/svdirections.htm.

Continue reading Shark Valley Tram Tour: Into the Heart of the Everglades, With a Breeze »

Photo: Shark Valley Tram Tour, Everglades National Park

The Shark Valley Tram takes you on a breezy, two-hour tour through Everglades National Park, narrated by a knowledgeable naturalist.

Continue reading Photo: Shark Valley Tram Tour, Everglades National Park »

Photo: Shark Valley Observation Tower, Everglades National Park

After enjoying the view from the Shark Valley observation tower, visitors can hop back on the tram for the rest of the two-hour tour of the Everglades.

Continue reading Photo: Shark Valley Observation Tower, Everglades National Park »

Photo: Great Blue Heron along Shark Valley Tram Tour, Everglades National Park

A great blue heron is just one of many bird species you’ll see taking flight along the Shark Valley tram tour through the Everglades.

Continue reading Photo: Great Blue Heron along Shark Valley Tram Tour, Everglades National Park »

Photo: Shark Valley Bike Tour, Everglades National Park

Besides the tram tour, biking is another popular way to enjoy Shark Valley’s 15-mile loop through Everglades National Park.

Continue reading Photo: Shark Valley Bike Tour, Everglades National Park »

National Take A Hike Day is Nov. 17

Looking for something outdoorsy to do this weekend? If someone happens to tell you to take a hike on Saturday, don't take offense. That's exactly what you should do.

That's right, this Saturday, Nov. 17 is National Take a Hike Day, so get out and do a little bit of exploring on Florida's extensive trails system. No matter where you are in the state, you can find a place to spend a few hours on a hiking trail. Here are a couple of ideas:

Hike on the Florida National Scenic Trail: We are lucky to have one of only 11 national scenic trails in the country. The Florida Trail spans over 1,000 miles from the Florida Everglades all the way up to Pensacola, so it's a sure bet you can find a section or two you'll enjoy. My faves? The Suwannee River section is awesome, with rugged terrain that overlooks the river. Another hiker's favorite is the Ocala National Forest, where you'll pass through the world's largest sand pine ecosystem and near scenic freshwater springs.

Hike in a Florida State Park: Ever hiked at Torreya State Park in Bristol? How about at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna? If you haven't, you don't know what you're missing. These are both incredible places to hike, and afterward you can spend the remainder of the day exploring other spots of the parks. Take a cave tour at Florida Caverns, or check out the Gregory House at Torreya. Don't forget to walk out back and see the incredible view of the Apalachicola River.

Again, those are just a couple of ideas. Take a look at the trails section of VISITFLORIDA.com and find a hike near you, or visit www.floridastateparks.org for more information on visiting a state park, historic site, or state trail. 

Continue reading National Take A Hike Day is Nov. 17 »