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By Christopher Reiger, AIRIE Fellow 

Mahagony Hammock; Everglades National Park; October 2011, photo by Christopher Reiger, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011:
Tomorrow night, I’ll fly from San Francisco to Miami, Florida. Early on Sunday morning, I’ll drive a rental car southwest into the Everglades National Park, the site of my 2-week-long Artists In Residence In the Everglades (AIRIE) writing and art residency. In my application to the National Park Service program, I proposed that most of my 2-week term will be devoted to hiking, writing, reading, and photography, but I plan to work on some painting and drawing studies, too. While staying in the park, I’ll also present one lecture on art and ecology to a class from Florida International University, after which I’ll join them for a “slough slog,” an off-trail hike through the Pa-Hay-Okee, the Seminole name for the Everglades (which translates as “grassy waters”). I’ve inquired about “shadowing” wildlife researchers in the field and/or assisting park rangers with their work. I was informed this should be possible, so my fingers are crossed.

Tropical House Gecko; AIRIE Dorm Room View; Everglades National Park; October 2011, photo by Christopher Reiger, 2011

Notes From Day 1:
- A sign at the park’s entrance gate informs visitors that the mosquito level is “high.” A friendly park employee told me there are many more mosquitoes than normal for mid-October and explained that the number is a result of above average rainfall. In two days, I’ve been bitten over a dozen times. I dislike the itching, of course, but I don’t particularly mind being a critical part of the Everglades food chain (see the sign below).

Willingness to be fed upon aside, I’m also happy that I have a tropical house gecko as my roommate. Mosquitos may be small snacks for a gecko, but I like to think the lizard will prey on them as eagerly as it will larger insects (like cockroaches). Everglades biologists might appreciate having an insect eater in their homes, too, but they probably wouldn’t smile on this particular species; the house gecko is one of three invasive gecko species in the Everglades.

Food Web Sign; Anhinga Trail; Everglades National Park; October 2011, photo by Christopher Reiger, 2011

Notes From Days 4 & 5:
- The sun came out on Day 5! Southern Florida is beautiful now…bright, but not too hot because of a merciful breeze from the Gulf of Mexico.

- The birding continues to be tremendous. While Northern mockingbirds are by no means a new species for me, I did have an opportunity to watch a young mockingbird hunt an anole, kill and eat it, then meticulously clean his bill on a branch. Watching birds hunt, it’s hard to understand why it took biologists so long to elucidate the relationship between dinosaurs, reptiles, and our feathered friends.

Great Egret; Anhinga Trail; Everglades National Park; October 2011, photo by Christopher Reiger, 2011

- Speaking of reptiles, my 5th day in the Everglades was made notable by 3 turtles. A juvenile common snapping turtle, an adult of the same species, and a Florida softshell turtle were all crossing the park’s main road at different locations. I moved the juvenile snapper off the road, but elected to leave the adult to its own pace, hoping that its large size would compel drivers to slow down. Having watched a snapper peel the flesh off my father’s index finger, I was reluctant to face the challenge of moving the testy reptile without assistance. The softshell turtle, however, didn’t need my help. It lumbered with determination, and I simply escorted it across the road.

Common Snapping Turtle; Main Road; Everglades National Park; October 2011, photo by Christopher Reiger, 2011

The above post is an abridged version of artist and writer Christopher Reiger‘s AIRIE diary, originally published on his art and natural history blog, Hungry Hyaena, in October 2011.

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