Big Water = Big Attraction

My birth place was a small village in southeastern Florida called Miami.  Well, it was a small village long, long ago when I was born.  Okay, okay, even then it was a huge megalopolis and the premier destination for tourists longing to escape snow, ice and each other.  Dad was a carpenter and built homes for the tourists who couldn’t find a good reason to return to the snow and ice.  He also was an addict.  The addiction gene was passed along to yours truly and I became a fishing junkie through no actual fault of my own.

A quirk in his DNA gave him a preference for freshwater fishing.  So, although we lived ten minutes from the finest saltwater fishing on the planet, we would spend a couple of hours on the road to head north to Lake Okeechobee where we would hope to bring home largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker or speckled perch (“crappie” to those not from here).  He was a very good fisherman and we enjoyed many traditional (that means “full of fat stuff” in modern-speak) Southern fish dinners.  Sigh.  I can smell the hushpuppies even now…….but I digest……err…..digress.

Okeechobee translates to Big Water in the Seminole Indian language.  Lake Okeechobee is, indeed, big.  It’s the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states in America and consists of 730 square miles (1891 square kilometers).  Water from this huge lake directly impacts the vast Everglades ecosystem.

I readily accepted an invitation to go birding in this area.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Lake Okeechobee and I was excited to be anywhere near the waters that produced so many wonderful memories for me.  Our target area was Glades County on the western side of the big lake.  Our ambitious itinerary included:  Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area (on Lake Okeechobee), Curry Island, Lake Okeechobee Rim Canal, Alvin L. Ward Senior Park (in Moore Haven), Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (several trails) and Rainey Slough.  I highly recommend any of these spots for excellent birding and just plain enjoyment of nature.

Glades County was founded in 1921, encompasses just under 1,000 square miles and in 2010 had a population of about 13,000.  It’s known for tourism, cattle, fishing, sugar cane, produce and citrus industries.  There is lots of open space to explore and enjoy here!

By the end of the day, our party of two logged 95 species of birds.  I added a life bird, the Purple Swamp Hen, which has gained a foothold in Florida after several of these non-native birds escaped a display several decades ago.  Along the edge of the Big Water, we observed endangered Snail Kites as they went about the business of hunting for their main source of food, the Apple Snail.  Other highlights for me were the early morning encounter of almost 200 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in a cattle pond, a Clay-colored Sparrow, Indigo and Painted Buntings, nearly 100 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, two American Bittern and finding nine Black-crowned Night Herons (adults and juveniles) in a single location.  What a great day!

Most of the day was quite overcast, cool and very windy.  Photographs were a bit limited but here are a few that will give you a flavor of our experience.


This is a view of a very small bay on Lake Okeechobee.  Even though the lake is huge, it’s average depth is only nine feet (2.7 meters).

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee


A highly cropped image of two Purple Swam Hens.  We didn’t find any close enough for good photos but I was quite happy to see them at all!

Purple Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen


This is a fairly large alligator which I estimate at about 10 feet.

American Alligator

American Alligator


Frogs are plentiful throughout the area, a fact which is appreciated by this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk


During the winter, in our local area, we see mainly Tree Swallows.  It was nice to run across a large flock of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow


A Greater Yellowlegs poses nicely along a canal leading to Lake Okeechobee.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs


This Brown Pelican found a comfortable spot on a channel marker where he was protected from the cold wind.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


Young White Ibises are brown or mottled until about their second fall when they will attain the pure white plumage of adults.

White Ibis (Immature)

White Ibis (Immature)


We played hide-and-seek with this Spotted Sandpiper for awhile and I had to settle for a distant flight shot since he refused to hold still on shore.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper


A young Limpkin has not yet realized that Apple Snails are usually closer to the water.




Florida’s tropical climate is favorable for some unique plant life such as this epiphyte, or air plant.  This class of plant depends on a host (e.g., tree branch) for physical support but is not parasitic and takes its moisture and nutrients from the air.




The bases of Cypress trees often grow into unusual shapes and my sharp-eyed companion spotted this artistic form.

Cypress Tree

Cypress Tree


Crested Caracara are somewhat common in this area and love the open spaces.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara


A creek and vast adjacent wetlands create the perfect environment for water birds such as these Black-crowned Night Herons.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron


A Green Heron extends its neck to get a better view of its potential supper.

Green Heron

Green Heron


As you explore any wild area, it’s good to keep in mind that we are merely visitors and need to respect the residents.  This particular resident commands more respect than most! 

American Alligator

American Alligator

(I often mention alligators in my posts but have taken for granted that everyone is familiar with our official Florida State Reptile.  I apologize.  A few facts.  The American Alligator is North America’s largest reptile, growing to over 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length and weighing up to 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms).  The species is over 150 million years old and can live an average of 35-50 years in the wild.  Numbers of alligators in Florida are estimated between 1.5-2 million.  They primarily feed on fish, turtles, snakes, small mammals and slow-moving birders.  Petting them is not recommended.)


It was simply wonderful to explore the land of the Big Water and I can’t wait to return!  If you find yourself in south Florida, consider investigating all that Glades County has to offer.  There are some true gems here just waiting to be discovered!

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!


See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “Big Water = Big Attraction

  1. A really lovely account of your early-years with a Dad who shared his passion with you. Love that Red-shouldered hawk photograph, wow – what a beauty! You could almost miss the Brown Pelican sitting so relaxed on top of the posts. I’ve never seen the juvenile white ibis before; very interesting! If I’d seen that I’d think I’d found a new species :). I like her style too having spotted the artistic nature of the cypress Wally :). Goodness, and there’s MORE, the Crested Caracara is amazing, superb photograph. Such an interesting post, I’m not sure how I missed out on seeing this earlier but glad I made it now.

    • Carole, thank you very much for the nice remarks! It’s a special place around that big lake!
      Hope your weekend is going well! Cheers!

  2. Very interesting narrative and great photos. That swallow in flight is crisp. The Limpkin is my favorite. Got to travel north a bit for a better mix of species than I am seeing now in south Florida.,

  3. Oh so wonderful…all those birds. Are you going back for the BiG O Birding festival? It might be this weekend. Next year we ARE going to do that. But I guess you don’t need to go, you probably saw more birds than anyone else will anyway.

    • Thank you, Sallie! I’ll probably pass on the festival as we’re quite busy trying to locate breeding birds right now. That area is fantastic, though, and we will definitely be headed back for more!

  4. Splendid post – that fishing gene is a hard one to turn off – I know! I when from fresh water to salt when I move to Australia!

    Cheers – Stewart M (flying home to) Melbourne

    • Hope you had a great visit, Stewart! Yep, I gave up on trying to NOT fish! Sorta like trying to swear off birding……or breathing. 🙂

  5. That was some trip, Wally. Fabulous photos, and I find it hard to nominate a favourite! The Brown Pelican doesn’t look real!

  6. Such a wonderful trip, with incredible lovelies (and gorgeous gators!)… I still haven’t seen a Caracara. What a beautiful bird!

    • It was a lot of fun! Always great to see the gators and the Caracara just seems to love posing. Thank you so much for dropping by!

  7. Wally you have managed to do it again, sicken me off 😉 Great shots to say the least, and your story of Okeechobee (I love that name) also took me back to last March, almost a year since my first visit to the lake. On the drive there from Miami, I was telling my 24 year old daughter how big it would be, but she didn’t expect it would be like looking out to sea. I was surprise when you said how deep it is.
    All the best Gordon.

    • Thank you for such kind words, Gordon! I really enjoyed your reporting and photographs of your visit to our state last year! We had a really good day and look forward to more. Take care!

  8. It has been years since I have been to that big ole lake. We used to visit my in-laws there in winter. It was good to revisit through your fine photos.

  9. florice

    This was my favorite post. Not only was the hawk rare for me to see, but the frog. So dry here haven’t seen one in a long time. Can you remember that when you and I went fishing with dad and we started catching fish. that he made us move to the other side of the boat and he fished where we had been?! We had such fun those days. (yes, long ago)


      I was too young to remember such a detail! But I certainly understand the strategy! 🙂

      Yes, I do recall some fun times. This weekend, we’re visiting another of his favorite fishing spots – Lake Panosoffkee.

      Take care – talk to you soon. Love you!

      • I remember the obnoxious talking minah bird at Lake Panasoffkee. . . . and all the neighborhood cats who hung around when Daddy cleaned fish in the back yard. 🙂

      • I couldn’t find that Mynah bird the other day, but the lake is still a beautiful place.

  10. You know how much I enjoy your laid back literary skills almost as much as your pictures but today Wally you really excelled. Hard to imagine you as a young fisherman whippersnapper but I’m doing my best and aslo trying to fathom out when your bird awakening was.

    1,000 square miles and a population of about 13,000 – my sort of place.

    Photographs were a bit limited huh? I don’t think so with those brillinat shots of yellowlegs, ibis and Limpkin, not to mention yet another fabulous Caracara shot. Do those guys know how to pose.

    Enjoy your days Wally but don’t get lost in that Florida wilderness or get eaten by a monster croc.

    • Yet again, you are much too kind, Phil. You must be a diplomat in your spare time. Perhaps I’ll do a future article on my “bird awakening”.

  11. I’ve long wanted to visit Okeechobee and this post was the next best thing. Thanks for that, Wally! Really enjoyed the photos, especially that weird cypress tree and the caracara..

  12. Anonymous

    I’ve long wanted to visit Okeechobee and this post was the next best thing. Thanks for that, Wally! Really enjoyed the photos, especially that weird cypress tree and the caracara..

    • It’s a pretty special place, Ron. The vastness of the lake and the Everglades it feeds is overwhelming. Thanks for the nice comments!

  13. Anonymous

    HI Wally Well this was one special trip fr youand boy did you chalk up a great total for the day. Well done. All your photographs are fantastic. I Love the Hawk at dinner shot, the Pelican resting and you obviously were not one of the ‘slow moving birders’ that day!!! Loved the comment about how to measure accurately an Alligator!!! Priceless. that’s my sense of humour. The Cypress tree is great and your flight shots are marvelous. All in all, a great post adn a great day for you as well.

  14. tingsgrove

    WOW, these are all awesome and of course I love the R-SH with frog~

  15. Congrats on your life bird and the 95 species, wow! I love the Hawk shot and the cute pelican.. Awesome birds and photos. Great post.

  16. Wally, you live in Paradise!
    This series is very impressive to someone who has to spend soooo much time to find a spot unhunted and quiet… with birds!
    Each photo on its own deserves a comment!

    • We do feel very blessed to live here, Noushka! It’s just not difficult to find a place that seems isolated and offers a unique natural experience.

  17. Wonderful shots and great commentary. Love the birds but you may keep the alligator!

  18. Some interesting looking birds there. Great photos.

  19. Wally, holy moly! The shot of the hawk with the frog is just amazing! You have so much variety in your area and you have a knack for pressing the shutter button at the perfect moment. I am surrounded by cypress trees here and I’ve never seen one with a shape like the one above. What a great place for wildlife!

    • The silly hawk was in a tree almost right above me and I couldn’t move without spooking him. Not the best angle, but pretty neat to catch him with his lunch. Yes, it IS a great place for wildlife!

  20. Wonderful post with such a great variety of flora and fauna of the area! You must have had a ball!

  21. A very interesting post and great photos. That fishing gene must be spread around the world! Not in me – but in some of my close family!! I would be happy to see any of those birds except for the Purple Swamp Hen – I do NOT understand why people are apparently still taking plants and birds and animals to places where they are not meant to be! The Cypress Tree is beautiful. Did that extra trunk grow up separately or is it a from a branch that grew down and then became a separate trunk?

  22. jimbey

    As a Florida native, you probably already know how to accurately estimate the size of a gator … but for those of you that hale from the frozen north: Step 1) measure the distance between the gator’s eyes to the nearest millimeter. Step 2) -er- No one has successfully made it to step 2 yet. 🙂

    • Hey, Jimbey, good to see you! Thanks for reminding me of the proper technique. I’m not so much worried about accurately measuring one as I am in ensuring that I can run faster than the person I’m with…….

  23. first, how AWESOME to return to a place that meant a lot to you as a youngster. second, 95 species! holy cow! third, love the photos of the brown pelican all squat and happy! beautiful caracara, limpkin, hawk, ibis, etc. etc. 🙂

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