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By Larry Appelbaum - St. Louis, Missouri - France

This is a brief account of my 2009 Florida Vacation, touring the Everglades and Florida Keys to scout out areas for more extended vacations in the future.

I left St. Louis the day after Christmas, 2008, and after two and a half days of heavy traffic on I-64/57/24/75, arrived at Glades Haven Cozy Cabins, a true fisherman's lodge, in Everglades City, late Sunday afternoon.

Brown Pelicans on the Dock at Glades Haven

These characters are half-tame, and feast on discarded fish guts and leftover bait shrimp.

Monday, December 29th was my first day on the water. I paddled my Swamp Yankee canoe up Halfway Creek from Glades Haven, to Turner Lake at the head of the Left Hand Turner River, then down to and down the Turner River, and along the back bay behind the Chokoloskee causeway back to Glades Haven.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron along Halfway Creek.
American White Ibis in Mangrove Tunnel on Halfway Creek.

Many downed trees had been sawn through, but one I crawled over while pushing my canoe under, and for another I laid flat on the bottom of the canoe and literally scraped under.

Huge Flock of Egrets on Halfway Creek. Near Turner Lake at the head of the Left Hand Turner River.

A little later I saw the eyes and nose of the only alligator I saw on this trip, but they submerged before I got the picture taken.

Tuesday, my second day on the water, I paddled from Glades Haven across Chokoloskee Bay to Sandfly Island in the morning, then back under the Chokoloskee causeway and around the back bay in the afternoon.

Double-Crested Cormorant. Flying in the overcast morning over Chokoloskee Bay, on the way to Sandfly Island.
Returning to the Chokoloskee Causeway. From Sandfly Island in the sunny afternoon.
Ibis Stalking the Oyster Bars at Low Tide in the Back Bay.

New Year's Eve I drove from Everglades City down to Flamingo (http://www.nps.gov/ever) and pitched my tent in the Walk In Campsite right on Florida Bay.

New Year's Day! Thursday, January 1st, 2009 was my third day on the water. I paddled around Bradley Key, then along the coast past Flamingo and around Joe Kemp Key. Later that afternoon sat I grounded-out in the mud at low tide for two hours, but that was much easier than trying to walk back to shore.

Swamp Yankee Canoe on the Beach at Flamingo
Egrets Flying over Florida Bay near Bradley Key
Osprey Flying Past 2005-Hurricaned Flamingo Lodge. The flag in the background is located at the Ranger Station at the marina.
Close-up of the same osprey a few minutes later.
Huge Flock of Birds over Florida Bay
Ever vigilant, a Double-crested Cormorant watching over the canoeists, kayakers, and other wildlife just outside the Flamingo marina.
Another Cormorant with a Tiny Fish in its Beak
Flock of White Birds against White Cloud
Floriday Bay Sunset over Bradley Key. Looking southwest from the Walk In Campsite at Flamingo.

Saturday, January 3rd, was my fourth day on the water, circumnavigating Bahia Honda Key (http://www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda) in the morning, and exploring its lagoon in the afternoon. I actually stayed at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, in relative luxury.

Small Gray and White Birds on Rock. Off Bahia Honda Key.
Cormorants on Tree Branches Off Bahia Honda Key.
Entering the Bahia Honda Lagoon from the Mangrove Tunnel.

The outside tunnel entrance is at the eastern end of the shallow bay on the south side of the key. Re-entering the tunnel from the lagoon, it was a little harder to find the inside entrance!

Great Blue Heron Snacking on Tiny Fish
In the "private dining lagoon," ...
... but not used to visitors in here, even though the rest of the key was crowded with people.
Stormy Sunrise at Big Pine Key
Key Deer in the Uplands" Behind Long Beach on Bahia Honda Key.

Sunday afternoon, January 4th, was my last half-day on the water. I rented a fishing boat and "drove" out to the reef at Looe Key. Four miles offshore in my open canoe was outside my comfort zone, but seeing this reef in-person was incredible. No photo could do it justice.

Yellowtail with the Reef Below
Another Yellowtail with the Reef Below

This is one of the first underwater shots from my new Pentax Optio W30 (http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/08/howto/photos/index.htm).

I saw more on this trip than I ever have before, mostly because I went to the intensely natural areas, and then into the back country where very few people go. Its amazing the density of wildlife in these areas, and how close you can get in a canoe.

*****

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