South Florida is the place to be if you made a resolution to go natural this year. Every season brings something special from our subtropical flora and fauna, sparkling waters and expansive skies. Here's a list of main events you won't want to miss — along with details on where to go for a front-row seat. Mark your calendars.
Ride in the light of the moon: Everglades National Park is a different place by night, when the tourists are gone, the noxious clouds of mosquitoes ebb and the trees fill with resting birds. Biking the 15-mile paved path in the park's northern Shark Valley section on a full moon winter night has become so popular that rangers offer tours. Bring your bike (the park's rental concession is closed evenings) and a flashlight! Shine the light into the water and you may see the red eyes of a gator glowing beneath the surface.
Moonlight tours start at 4:45 p.m. Feb. 19-20 and March 18-19. Participants should arrive 30 minutes in advance. Rangers start taking reservations, which are required, one week before the ride. Shark Valley is at 36000 SW Eighth St. (Tamiami Trail), Miami. There is no charge other than general park admission of $20 per car.
Info: nps.gov/ever, 305-221-8776
Check out cherry blossoms: Cherry trees — synonymous with Japan and famous for their fantastically pink flowers — have a tough time in warm climates. Yet you can experience blossom bliss here. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, west of Delray Beach, planted imported shoots of the Prunus campanulata, or flowering Taiwan cherry tree, on the grounds about 10 years ago, said marketing and events director Kizzy Sanchez Sherven.
Although the 25 trees still are in their infancy, they usually bloom in late winter or early spring, Sherven said. "It really depends on when we have a significant drop in temperatures, which is completely unpredictable in South Florida," she said. "Our trees flower, just not the way people are used to seeing them in Washington, D.C., or cooler climates."
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is at 4000 Morikami Park Road. Admission is $9 for children, $13 for seniors and $15 for adults.
Info: morikami.org, 561-495-0233
Gator love! Alligator mating seasons runs from mid-April to May — and it's quite the romp in the swamp. The males snap their jaws, vibrate their torsos, vigorously slap the water with their tails and let loose a distinctive bellow that sounds "similar to a motorcycle starting up at a distance," according to information from Everglades National Park. Guy and gal gators may lie in the sun together, or rub each other's backs. Hmm, sounds like Spring Break. Fortunately, the deed is done underwater.
If you enjoyed a winter moonlight bike ride in Shark Valley, head back for prime gator watching in the spring. Another great place is the Anhinga Trail, near the main entrance of Everglades National Park. The trailhead is 4 miles west of the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead. General admission is $20 per car.
Info: nps.gov/ever, 305-242-7700
Find fine-feathered friends: Birders from around the world flock to South Florida, where the action is great except in the deep summer months.
Spring is a great time to go, when the eggs laid by tropical nesting birds begin to hatch in late March and April, said Rebecca Weeks, manager of Green Nature Center in Boynton Beach. Plus migratory species on their way North often make a pit stop here during those months.
Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach are a crowded ground zero for "shutter birds," those photographers that reverently stalk winged wildlife.
Tabitha Cale, Everglades policy associate for Audubon Florida, said signing up for local Audubon chapter walks can get you into lesser-known hot spots. And for do-it-yourselfers: 40 of the 515 statewide spots listed on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail are in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Many have no admission fees.
Info: For Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail sites: floridabirdingtrail.com. For Audubon Society in Broward: browardaudubon.org, 954-776-5585. In Palm Beach County: auduboneverglades.org, 561-644-8830. For information about Green Cay Nature Center and recent bird sightings: email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 561-966-7000.
Oh, baby! It's turtle time. From May through July, naturalist-led groups plod across the beach in the dark, desperately hoping they'll get to watch a female loggerhead heave herself out of the sea, dig her nest and lay her golf ball-sized eggs.
"We tell people they have about a 50 percent chance of seeing one. It's disappointing when it doesn't happen," said Kristin Child, environmental program coordinator at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton, one of several South Florida facilities offering turtle walks during peak nesting season.
If you wash out on a nesting walk, you can try your luck with a hatchling release expedition. During July and August, the Anne Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St. in Hollywood, takes walkers on nest excavations, where naturalists remove any eggs that may not have hatched after about 85 days, or help babies buried in the sand.
Sea turtle walks usually have fees, require reservations and book up fast.
Make the summer count: If you are a fan of butterflies, why not show it by volunteering for a count? Nature lovers of all ages and expertise levels help chapters of the North American Butterfly Association take a census of local species every summer. Broward and Palm Beach county chapters usually hold their annual counts in June and July, although sometimes additional tallies are taken during the year.
Counts help scientists track which butterfly populations are dwindling or thriving. Want to participate? All you need is sunscreen, comfortable shoes, bug spray, a bottle of water — and $3, required by the national NABA organizers to catalog the information.
Info: For Broward, call Barbara DeWitt at 954-599-1082, email email@example.com, or go to browardbutterflies.org. For Palm Beach County, call 561-706-6732, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to naba.org/chapters/nabaac.
Shine on, supermoon: You'll have to wait until next year to catch a major solar eclipse. This fall, however, will be heaven for moonstruck skywatchers. A supermoon will occur on Nov. 14. This lunar event happens when the moon is full and its orbit is at its closest distance to Earth, about 221,802 miles away, making it look about 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter.
“Viewing the moon will be fine, even if you are in the city. But it’s always nicer in nature, or if you are in the middle of the ocean,” said Jorge Perez-Gallego, curator of astronomy and exhibition developer at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami.
Among the best places to see the supermoon should be from the beach or in the Everglades, Perez-Gallego said.
Info: For more on the new complex: frostscience.org
Commune with the manatees: Like human snowbirds, South Florida's beloved manatees begin making their way back in November to our warm waters, where they'll hang out until late spring. And one of the best places to welcome them back is at the new Manatee Lagoon, being opened by Florida Power & Light on Feb. 6 at its Riviera Beach power plant, where the marine mammals bask in the facility's warm water discharge. The two-story center will feature a boardwalk and viewing area, gift shop and cafe, manatee exhibits and a manatee cam on its website. Smile!
The Manatee Lagoon-An FPL Eco-Discovery Center, at 6000 N. Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, will have free admission and be open Tuesday through Sunday.
Info: visitmanateelagoon.com, 561-626-2833.
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