It seems only natural that birds are the stars of the show on a boat tour into the mangrove estuary and Ten Thousand Islands in Everglades National Park. Visitors from around the world flock to the park to see the vast array of birds who call the Ten Thousand Islands their home.
On any given day visitors may see roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, great blue herons, osprey, wood storks and many other species.
But there is one unquestioned show-stopper on the Everglades Florida Adventures boat tour.
“A big draw to this area in the wintertime is the white pelican,” said David Snyder, of Everglades Florida Adventures, the new authorized concessioner who runs two 49-passenger tour boats in the park. “We get them here by the hundreds out on Indian Key. It has a nine-foot wingspan.”
The white pelican is related to the much more common brown pelican, but is much larger and feeds differently. While the brown pelican dives into the water to catch fish, the white pelican uses teamwork when feeding.
“We catch them out there feeding,” Snyder said, “it’s very unique. They get in a large circle and they almost corral fish. They go in a couple at a time, then back out and let a couple of the others go in. It’s really unique and nice to see.”
Snyder is the human star of the show on the Everglades Florida Adventures boat tour, that just started operations as the only authorized concessioner in the Everglades National Park in mid-July. He’s a holdover from the previous concessioner and is very comfortable in working with the large groups of visitors who gather on the comfortable 45’ Corinthian Catamaran.
“In the wintertime we get a lot of big birders here who come to see the roseate spoonbill, which is a rare bird, and the white pelican. Generally, in the wintertime, starting in about December, we’ll see white pelicans on just about every trip. They’ve been out there all day. But just now they told me that someone pulled up where they were at and scared them away.”
While birds are the prime attraction for many, Snyder said visitors are likely to see other wildlife on the boat tour.
“Everybody loves to see dolphins,” Snyder said. “It’s very rare that we don’t see dolphins out there. We get a dolphin show, which is nice. The manatees as well are a big draw. People love to see manatee in the wild. It’s very unique.
“People come from all over. A lot of northerners. A lot of folks from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Illinois. A lot of people getting out of the cold to come down and enjoy the warmth and see all of the nice wildlife out here. Our trip, even if you don’t see wildlife—we always see something out there—it’s still beautiful. We’re going out through the Ten Thousand Islands. You get to see the different types of mangroves. You get to see how this eco-system works. It’s really, really unique. We’re the second-largest mangrove forest in the world—second only to Bangladesh. We’re the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states. About one and a half million acres. Marco is actually the first island counted in the chain of the Ten Thousand Islands. It’s also the largest and most inhabited.”
The boat tours leave from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, tucked away on Oyster Bar Lane in Everglades City, just a 30-mile drive from Marco Island. The location is the western entrance to Everglades National Park. Tours are available daily at 10 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM and 4 PM, and last 1.5 hours. Adults are $40 and children (5-12) are $20. Reservations can be made at 855-793-5542.