One of the iconic locations in Everglades National Park is the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm. This boardwalk is only about a half mile long but it extends out into the marsh affording extremely close views of alligators, herons, egrets, and if you are lucky, a purple gallinule. However, the stars of the show are really the trail’s namesakes, the Anhingas.
These somewhat strange looking birds are very common along the trail and nest in many of the pond apples. When I lived here in 2005, I enjoyed photographing a particular nest from the time the chicks hatched until they fledged and left the nest. The nests are close and the sounds of begging chicks can be heard constantly from mid January through March or April. Today, I was extremely fortunate to photograph both courtship and copulation.
The adult birds can be seen fishing with only their long necks protruding from the water, earning them the nickname “Snake Bird”. Unlike the also abundant and somewhat similar looking Double-crested Cormorant, Anhingas prefer to use their long, thin bills to stab prey rather than grab them like the cormorants. Spend enough time and you can watch these graceful birds catch a fish, get out of the water, and attempt to remove a speared fish from their bill. It isn’t always quick but patience pays off.
If you visit the park, Anhinga Trail will likely be your first stop after the Visitor Center. The alligators and birds can attract quite a crowd so arrive early or stay late into the evening to witness the most activity as well as avoid some of the crowds. It’s a wonderful place and rarely do you get to see people so excited about witnessing so many different species up close and in the wild.