The Space Coast Birding Festival is going on this week. When we visited the vendor display yesterday, some bird lovers were talking enthusiastically about their trip to the Orlando Wetlands and we were reminded that this spot was still on our to-do list. One of the reasons we had not gone before was that we found the description of this site somewhat confusing and were not sure exactly where the wetlands are, because there are wetlands everywhere. As it turned out they are a lot closer to where we are camped than they are to Orlando and we can visit them whenever we want, not just on Fridays and Saturdays when shuttle service is advertised. Last time we went bird viewing it was at a garbage dump. The Orlando Wetlands are a sewage treatment area. We find it ironic that the detritus of man merges so nicely with the needs of water birds around here. If you want to spot a raptor, look for a utility pole. Hunting birds love the lofty perches we provide them.
In the 19080's the wetlands were carved out of the swamp to finish treating the 400 gallons of wastewater the average home produces daily. The flat earth was reshaped into berms and depressions to store the water. Two million aquatic plants and 200,00 trees were planted to hold the earth with their roots. After the obviously unpleasant elements are removed from the water, 35 million gallons of it are pumped here to the 1,200 acre man-made wetlands every day from the reclamation facility and the plants further remove nutrients. It takes about forty days for the reclaimed water to filter through the man-made marshes and return pristine to the St. Johns River.
It was a beautiful day to wander around the ponds and watch birds fishing intently and chatting with each other.
Occasionally a tram passed by, but a leisurely four mile walk with many pauses to observe and photograph was a pleasure on our own two feet. One side of the lake was full of alligators, almost submerged in the water on this chilly day (for Florida). They were all of a similar size and we wondered if they had all hatched at the same time. Vultures circled over a large turtle shell on the path. When we got very close we could see that they and we had been fooled; whoever lived in that shell had been eaten a long time ago. When we go to animal viewing spots, we never know what to expect: whether they are worth a look. If you want reliable viewing experiences, you should head to Disney World. But if you want to see animals doing whatever they feel like doing, give a garbage dump or sewage plant a try!