FALL into the Everglades!
It’s fall in Florida, everyone! The first day of fall was a few weeks ago on September 22nd. In most places, this would mark the beginning of cold weather, dreary days, and the end of summer activities. But, not here in Florida! Fall and winter in Florida are some of the best times of the year to visit your favorite outdoor activities, see animals, and experience the Everglades. This week, learn about all the changes that begin to happen in the Everglades in the fall season, with upcoming events, and everything YOU need to know about planning your trips! So, join us and FALL into the wonder and beauty of the Everglades!
In our featured photo this week, you can see a postcard with two young men on an airboat. Dating to around the 1960s, this postcard shows a green aluminum airboat in the shallow water of the Everglades. Designed to work even on a few inches of water, the large fans easily propel the boat through the shallow wetlands. Even in the dry season, airboat rides are a fun, exhilarating way to experience the unique beauty of the Everglades. Tours are available along Tamiami Trail and surrounding Everglades National Park at a variety of outfits.
Weather Changes in the Fall and Winter
In an earlier blog post, we talked about the two main seasons in Florida: wet and dry season. Wet season is notable for rising water levels, humidity, hot temperatures, and summer storms. As we begin fall, the beginning of dry season gets closer and closer. While dry season in Florida doesn’t technically start until December, temperatures begin to cool around October. After this, water levels begin to rapidly decline. November 30th is also the end of hurricane season. The peak of hurricane season lasts a couple months for Florida: from mid-August through mid-October. Once through these peak months, the weather will begin to shift. There will be longer stretches between minimal rainfall, and cooler temperatures in the nights and mornings. By dry season, temperatures range from around the low 50s to mid 70s in the Everglades. Only about 1⁄4 of South Florida’s annual rainfall occurs in the dry season.
Fall in Florida is a transition period. In the beginning of the season, we are still solidly in hurricane season. At the end, we can enjoy those cooler temperatures, drier afternoons, and lower humidity levels. In late fall, continental cold fronts sweep across the state. This lowers humidity and temperature and leaves the atmosphere pleasantly breezy. In October, the average high temperature in Everglades National Park is 87 degrees F. By December, this drops to 79 degrees F. In Clewiston (near the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum), a similar pattern can be seen: the average high temperature drops from 85 degrees F to 75 degrees F from October to December. Precipitation also takes a sharp turn downward. Around Clewiston, rainfall averages around 2.87 inches in October, before dropping to 1.54 inches by December.
Animals in the Fall and Winter
So, what do all these weather changes mean for your Everglades experience and animal spotting? As summer turns to fall, and wet slowly turns to dry, the amount and types of animals you see out and about changes. Water levels recede, and simply put, it is harder for most animals to hide. Less water means less camouflage. It also means the water left will attract most animals at some point. This is great news for animal lovers looking for some prime viewing! In the winter, you can spot alligators, snakes, otters, birds, marsh rabbits, deer, fox, and other freshwater and land animals. You may even see a crocodile in Everglades National Park at Flamingo Key! South Florida is the only place crocodiles live in the United States due to their sensitive temperature and habitat needs. With a little patience, you will see some amazing Florida animals.
If you choose to view wildlife in the Everglades, be respectful, and keep your distance. The Everglades is their home, and you are a guest in that home. Be careful around rookeries, dens, and nesting areas. Try not to damage or disturb sensitive habitats. Do NOT feed animals. Listen to cues from the animals around you, and back off if you sense your presence is disturbing. Above all, do no damage and leave no trace. The Everglades is a unique, but fragile ecosystem that deserves your respect and compassionate interaction.
Fall and winter are fantastic times for birdwatching in the Florida Everglades. Whether you are out in the Everglades National Park or stopping for a visit on the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum boardwalk, you will see an array of beautiful birds. In fall, a huge bird migration occurs in South Florida. Birds begin to migrate south to their wintering nests, and the land and shore-bird migration reaches its peak in September. Inland sites, such as around Lake Okeechobee, support a vast array of birds in the fall and winter. Hundreds of sandpipers, plovers, and warblers stop in Florida in this season on their journey south. Raptor migration is also a feature of the fall season, with raptors migrating from their breeding grounds up north to wintering ground in Florida. Raptor migration peaks the first half of October, with kites, hawks, kestrels, ospreys, falcons, and merlins all included in this shift.
The number of seabirds also increases in Florida’s fall, and visitors can see them on the shores and coastal excursions. Onshore, many terns and black skimmers will be viewable from late September through November. By the end of November and the beginning of dry season, many waterfowl, loons, and other assorted land birds will also make their way south. Almost all migrating birds (sans a few stragglers!) will have completed their migration, and made their way through or to Florida, by the beginning of dry season. This makes fall and winter some of the best times to bird watch in Florida, with robust populations all over the state. From inland sites to coastal and shore birds, there is something for everyone. Looking to bird-watch this fall and winter? Check out a previous blog post about the Great Florida Birding Trail!
Tips for Having the Best Fall Experience in the Everglades
Even in dry season, planning your outings is a great way to make sure you get the most out of your visit. Fall is a great season to camp, hike, fish, kayak, canoe, and bike. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? Make sure to note the best places for what you want to see, how to get there, if there is space, and what you need to bring. If you’re visiting the Everglades National Park, their handy Plan Your Visit section is a must.
Although the weather in the fall and into the dry season is much milder, the Everglades are still a harsh, wild environment. Make sure you are prepared for the weather and the elements. Nighttime temperatures are much cooler than daytime temperatures. If you’re camping, or getting an early start, pack appropriate gear and clothing. Remember that, while this time of year is not as harsh as summer, it is still the wilderness. Plan accordingly.
Take Advantage of Programs
Many ranger-led tours and programs take a break during the summer season. But, as we slide into fall, these programs and activities return on the books! One of the best ways to experience the Everglades is with a trusted, experienced guide. From swamp walks, canoe and kayak trips, and fishing excursions, there are endless opportunities in the bounty of the Everglades. Ranger-led programs are a great way to learn about and experience the Everglades. Often, these programs are free with an advanced registration. Guided tours are also a great resource. At the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, dry season programs like bird watching excursions on the boardwalk also come back. Below, you can see an image taken in Everglades National Park during dry season on a ranger-led swamp walk.
At the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, there are always new activities, events, and exhibits to check out. This fall, periodically check back in the Events page to see new announcements and upcoming events.
American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC) at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
The American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC) is one of the biggest events of the year! Hosted by the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, this year the event will be November 4-5th, from 10am-5pm each day. Events include New Zealand’s HAKA Māori Cultural Experience, fashion shows, live music, performances, alligator wrestling, and tribal craft and food vendors. It is one event you do NOT want to miss! Tickets are $10 for adults and $7.50 for seniors and students. Seminole Tribal Members and members of other federally recognized tribes, along with members to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, receive free admission.
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.