We recently hiked the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail. Today, the Preserve serves as the freshwater supply for the city and its associated municipalities — but historically the area was the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River (Seminole for River of Turtles). It was also a key component of the Everglades watershed, which began north of Orlando and flowed through rivers that emptied into the vast Lake Okeechobee, where the lake’s waters flooded into the Everglades Basin and slowly flowed into the Florida Bay.
So while we expected to see alligators (as always!) during the hike in the Rookery Loop section of the Preserve, such numbers as those we encountered were not expected. I lost count at 40…in 3 hours! And in this area, as warned by the signage, the gators are in very close proximity to the human visitors. But as is often the case, they were very shy, perhaps not quite as accustomed to humans. And I was thrilled to spy such numbers of these amazing creatures in this beautiful and thankfully preserved ecosystem — they always make wonderful models. I don’t even know where to begin with my alligator collection from this outing, but this duo made me smile.
The SWA Rookery Trail is one of my favorite places. I was there just the other day. Tons of well-fed gators – some quite large. One big guy was camped out at the water’s edge right at the end of the trail under one of the monitoring towers. Fat, dumb and happy. He was surrounded by hundreds of Ibis, and almost that many vultures. When he saw me coming close, he decided to hide (they really ARE shy). So he turned around, stuck his head in the water, and promptly fell back to sleep with the remaining 13 feet or so still high and dry on the bank. The vultures thought it was a laugh out loud riot. A couple of them started pecking at the gator’s tail, and had a good ole time. The gator didn’t care – life is Goooooood when you are a gigantic killing machine! He and his buddies are crucial to the success of the rookery – they patrol the deep water channels that surround the tree islands, and eat the predators that would target the nesting birds.
The outer Owahee trail (about an 8.5 mile loop) provides one of the best wetlands hiking opportunities anywhere. Lots of gators and raptors – particularly on the east side. That’s where I got my bald eagle shot. Lots of osprey, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and snail kites, too!
Hahah!!! Oh your story made me laugh… Thanks for that. Big, dumb, and happy — that IS the perk of being the amazing predators they are — VERY well said! I can just see them pecking at his tail. So great.
I love that Rookery area — I thought I would see more birds, but I was thrilled with the dozens of gators. So beautiful. Did you hike on the one-way brief trail off the Rookery Loop, where the vultures hang out? It was about a half-mile, canopied trail, completely littered with bones of all sizes. Spooky! Between the bones, vultures, and gators, it was an interesting walk.
I NEED to visit more of the Owahee — I’ve only done bits and pieces of it, so far. I really want to see these raptors!!!
Yes, I took the path in … that’s where the gator, the vultures and the ibis were camped out. In fact, I couldn’t go all the way to the end because there were too many birds on the path (many hundreds), and I would have further disturbed the gator’s catnap.
If you go to Google maps satellite view, and zoom all the way in at the end of that path, you can actually see a big ole gator sunning on the path. Alligator viewing from space!
BTW, on my way into the path, I stopped take take a shot of a Limpkin. As I looked up after shooting, my bald eagle flew LOW over my head – too quick to take a shot, darn it. He is definitely the male member of the nesting pair in the middle of the GWP. I hope to see lot more of him this winter.
Oh WOW!!! That happened to me on the Hog Trail, with a Great Horned Owl…. I nearly swung my camera into the water in a flurry to catch him, we obviously startled each other! But I’ve YET to see a bald eagle — you’re so lucky, to see them more than once. And I’ve only seen a handful of snail kites…. But I know there are many here.
I have to go to Google satellite maps… That’s just amazing. But I can’t believe there were actually LIVE birds hanging out on that one trail, judging by all those bones! Such a sense of death there. Whooo the smell, too! But lots of gators in that particular section.
I wish I could send a picture or two to you – you would not believe how many vultures and ibis there were on Thursday. I don’t know about the bones, though. I don’t recall that many, except under those pine trees that the vultures roost in. But if you find the Google map image, you can see HUNDREDS of white birds in the trees lining the channels. Alas, they are not always there. When the sky in sunny and blue, all the birds are out chomping on bugs and -er- garbage. I happened to drop by when wave after wave of birds were flying home after a morning of happy feeding.
I had to chuckle when you mentioned how you give great respect to the boss predator of the wetlands … on my way in to the Rookery Trail (along the access road to the waste to energy plant) I came across a big gator on the bank. He slipped into the water after I got a couple shots – but he stayed put in the water with his nose pointed right at me. I moved in closer for another shot (about 15 feet away). And then I actually turned my back on him to take a couple shots of a little blue heron on the other side of the road. DUMB! These are not tame animals, and this one was plenty large enough to swallow me whole. I must guard against being too jaded – particularly with mating season coming up. They do get a bit frisky when love is in the air! 🙂
You got it… The bone collection was under that swath of Australian Pine — wooo, between them, the gators, and the vultures, it was an interesting walk!
I NEED to go to Google Maps. That’s just amazing. Most of the birds were — as you say — hunting and munching happily elsewhere, due to the sunny day. But there were a few VERY large flocks to be seen regardless…
And you’re absolutely right… It’s very easy to become accustomed to these guys, when we’re around them so much. Whenever I get too close for a shot, I think… “Remember how quick they can dart?” And the guys around the Rookery Trail are MASSIVE. Some are the biggest I’ve seen in quite awhile. But definitely… There’s NO messing around during their mating season, or when a momma’s protecting her nest. Understandably!
I heard somewhere that barometric pressure can give you a clue if the birds will be roosting or out feeding. It the pressure is dropping, the birds sense that a storm may be coming and will head for home. Rising pressure means it is time to go out and eat some bugs.
I’ve heard this! I’ve seen it in action, too, on those days when I’ve tempted fate and have tried to beat storms… It’s amazing how animals can sense these things. I grew up in the South Pacific, and we were taught at a young age about tsunamis. Animals flee far in advance of them — this has been seen time and time again. Same with animals a-flutter before earthquakes, etc. When I worked with our horses, I always knew when a storm was approaching — just look at their herd behavior.
Wonderful photos! I’ve never seen an alligator in the wild, but I’ve seen lots of crocodiles in tropical Mexico. On one boat trip (very small boat!), our guide pulled us right next to a clump of woody debris floating in the water, only about 3 feet from where I sat…and boy was I surprised when what I thought was wood suddenly leapt into the water! Crocs are good at camouflage. Looking back, that makes me a little nervous!
Nice tribute to some amazing, and very ancient creatures!
Thanks so very much!!
These guys are truly amazing creatures… And with their new protection (in the last few decades), we managed not to completely wipe them out, these animals that have survived 60 million years!
We have some crocs in the Everglades, as well — may be the only place here where they exist side-by-side. Their camouflage is AMAZING. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly stepped on one (chasing butterflies to photograph!), or have had the wits scared out of me as they thrash, running to the water — and I realize they were right…beside…me!
They made me smile too, you know I love our alligator friends! Of course *they* look like they are smiling so all is right with the world. 😀
:)! I love that. You would have been as crazed as I was, with all the gators… So amazing, their numbers in this area. And you know how unusual it is to see them in pairs like this, outside the mating season! I just loved them.
You take such fine photos! If I had your talent and there was a travel or Nature mag that I liked, I would definitely submit some photos and text to the mag. Alligators have definitely gotten a bum rap — until I read your text about alligators being shy, I thought they tended to be on the aggressive side.
Thanks so very much!! I am definitely doing just as you say (with regards to the submissions)… Anything I can do to help the animals and the land, in a tiny way.
They have DEFINITELY gotten a bum rap. We nearly wipe them completely out, after 60 million years on the planet…and now we demonize them. They’re amazing mothers, and of the hundreds upon hundreds that I’ve encountered, not one has been aggressive. But then again, I understand when mating and breeding season occurs (when they’re more feisty), and I have the *utmost* respect for them.
I’ve done a lot with our gators… This hasn’t been updated, but it provides a bit more info! 🙂
Made me smile too. Revealing – how some of our toughest creatures also seek the quiet comfort of companionship. Thanks much for sharing! 🙂
That’s such a wonderful observation… I really like that!
It’s a bit unusual to see them in pairs outside of the mating season (there was actually a third one, outside of the shot) — they tend to be solitary and territorial in nature. So I really loved this pair, being a tad uncommon. 🙂
Love the gators!
You would have been amazed at their numbers… As many as I see down here, I was shocked, but loving it! 🙂
Seems a protective mode. Double coverage without having to strain the neck.
It’s actually unusual to see them in pairs like this, outside of the mating season. They’re mainly solitary and territorial. I’m assuming they were younger (but full-grown)… Regardless, they were very content. 🙂
GREAT shot of that guy / gal in the foreground. I can’t believe how cool his / her skin is. What amazing beasties.
They’re such amazing creatures… One definitely needs to respect them, but they’re not the monsters that many make them out to be. Very calm (for the most part) and motherly.
I love their skin, too!
Over 40 gators in less than 3 hours? You so need to take me there!!
YES!!! As often as I see these guys, I was stunned by their numbers in this area. WONDERFUL! You would love it… Next time, you come (further) down south! I wish I had seen more birds, but these lovelies kept me plenty entertained. 🙂
I can’t wait to see the rest of the photos.
I can’t wait to post them. These guys are such characters! I wish I wasn’t running so far behind…
They are very photogenic, aren’t they! I love seeing them.
They REALLY are! They make such wonderful models… As long as one is very aware of them, and keeps a safe distance, heh!!
You even have the gators smiling in your blog! Love it! I hope this puts a smile on your face as well ~ I’ve nominated you for the Super Sweet Blogger Award! Please check it out! xo
Hee, that’s so wonderful… I love that! They were so content, not to be bothered — as another fellow hiker stated, that’s the perk of being the amazing predators that they are!
You’re so very kind for the nomination… THANK YOU!! 🙂
GREAT SHOT – HOW DID YOU CONVINCE THE ALLIGATORS TO POSE FOR YOU?? THANK YOU!!
Hahahha!!! Thanks so much. It sure seemed like it, at the time… So many seem to want to pose, thankfully! 🙂
I think you have some gator-appeal!!!
LOVE it! I hope so…. I love seeing them, ALWAYS!
You are presenting a whole new perspective about alligators. I have never lived around them so my exposure has only been the one full of scare tactics. This is nice.
That’s the greatest compliment I could ever wish for!!
I hope that these images and words serve to truly show our wildlife and their natural lives in this ecosystem — instead of the fear-based, ridiculous displays that some people like to make of them. Don’t get me wrong, though — I have the utmost respect for the power of these animals… 🙂
Great double vision photo. Not living anywhere close to alligator country, I was quite amused that you would say they were shy. That’s not a theory to be tested lightly!
They really are shy! They’ve been seriously demonized. We nearly wipe them completely out, after 60 million years on the planet…. But in reality they’re amazing mothers, and of the hundreds upon hundreds that I’ve encountered, not one has been aggressive. But then again, I understand when mating and breeding seasons occur (when they’re more feisty), and I have the *utmost* respect for them as the top predators.
That would be too much for me, Fey Girl. But they are fascinating of course… 😉
Heh… I think the same of critters I’m not around often — BEARS!
So ancient and majestic!
VERY true… 60(ish) million years old! These guys are always AWEsome to see.
Calm and motherly, huh? OK as long as we keep a safe distance? If you say so! Clearly, experience breeds comfort, but I’ll still do my alligator watching with a knowledgeable person at my side – if I can. Otherwise, I’ll be keeping an eye out!
Heh, MOST definitely! Believe me, I have the utmost respect for these guys… But like you said, when you’re around them enough, you know the mating / breeding seasons (IE when to be extra careful) and their general behaviors.
Now bears? I’ve only had one experience with them, such magnificent creatures. Yet I was spooked silly, from a lack of experience!