The first days of 2008 found us in the Everglades, a 1.5 million acre mosaic of sawgrass, flatlands, most-draped cypress groves, mangrove islands, birds...and oh yes, alligators.
In Everglades National Park, over 350 different species of birds have been sighted, including 16 different species of wading birds. Some, such as this heron, seem to enjoy posing for the camera....
...while others, such as this brown pelican, glide gracefully over the park's marshlands.
And everywhere there are alligators...some obviously more relaxed than others.
The Everglades is a "harmony of wildlife." This blue heron seems unconcerned over the approaching alligator behind it.
A RIVER OF GRASS - Far from the vast swamp many visitors expect, the Everglades is a "river of grass" (as Marjory Stoneman Douglas described it in her 1947 book).
From its beginnings in Lake Okkechobee to the north, the terrain of the Everlades descends some 14 feet to Florida Bay to the south. Though slight, this subtle change in elevation is sufficient to creat a slow flow of water through vast stretches of sawgrass punctuated by occasional groves of cypress and red mangroves.
A great white heron in the Everlades.
An American alligator moves silently through the marsh reeds of the Everglades.
Look closely and you can spot some of the Everglades' smaller inhabitants.
A snowy egret.
There are more than 65 miles of hiking trails in the Everglades National Park, but if you had to pick only one for its abundance of wildlife, you can't beat the half-mile long Anhinga Trail at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, four miles from the main park entrance.
The trail is named for the anhinga bird. After diving beneath the water in search of food, the anhinga will perch for long periods with its wings spread to dry.
The female anhinga welcomes us with a loud squawk.
Walking along the Anhinga Trail, it is often possible to approach close enough to many of the birds - the double-crested cormorant, in this case - to carry on a conversation.
Close enough for photographs, perhaps, but sometimes the birds simply refuse to face the camera.
The dark-plumaged anhinga bird is fish-eater with a very long neck. Its unusual swimming style -- often with only its neck above water -- is one reason why it is nicknamed the "snakebird."
When it spears its prey underwater, the anhinga returns to the shoreline and confronts the sometimes-difficult task of freeing its food from its beak. Shaking works most of the time, but sometimes the bird will scrape its beak against a rock or tree branch to pry the fish loose.
Then, because its feathers are not waterproofed by oils like those of ducks and can get waterlogged, the anhinga will find a spot in the sun to dry its wings.
A blue heron in the Everglades.
A closeup of the multi-colored beak and head feathers of a blue heron.
The small, stocky green heron doesn't seek the limelight like its larger cousin (the blue heron), preferring to lay low in the brown water-plants.
Even more reclusive is the American bittern which would prefer to stay hidden in the reeds.
The predominantly black-and-white anhinga has amazingly bright coloring around its large eyes.
The beauty of a cormorant may be largely in its turquoise-colored eyes.
Getting a closeup often required getting down to birds-eye level. Getting up was another thing!
Nicknamed "old flint-head," a wood stork glides in for a landing at the Mrazek Pond in the Everglades.
The outstretched wings of a brown pelican as its soars above the Everglades.
An osprey in flight.
Canoists depart the Flamingo Visitors Center and head down a channel in the Everglades.
An osprey keeps watch from its perch.
The red-white-and-blue roots of the mangrove help stabilize the shorelines of waterways through the Everglades.The Everglades contain the greatest mangrove forest in North America.
A roseate spoonbill feeds by touch, constantly dipping its sensitive spatulate bill into the water.
An American alligator waits for its prey in the lilypads of an Everglades marsh.
With feet and snout alligators clear out the vegetation and muck, creating a place to congregate in the sun.
The perpetual "smile" of the alligator.
Once it finds a warm spot in the sun, an alligator can remain motionless for hours.
Not a place where you would want to take a quick dip in the creek.
A huge crocodile lies on a levee in the Everglades. The Everglades is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles live together.
The serenity of a small pond in the Everglades.
The beauty of an Everglades marsh in duotone.
In this duotone, an egret searches for food in the waterways of the Everglades.
A rainbow over the Everglades.