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Posts tagged ‘alligators’

Peek-a-Boo, I See You!

“We cannot live without the Earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”  ―Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

On August 8, 1896, one of Florida’s greatest novelists and conservationists was born: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Although she grew up in Washington D.C., Rawlings settled in rural Florida, writing about the land and people of her surroundings. Her works included the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling, and Cross Creek, an autobiographical account of life in her beloved Florida — she loved her hammocks. Happy birthday, Marjorie!

Flatwoods of Cypress Creek Natural Area, Jupiter, Florida

One of my favorite spots, the flatwoods of Cypress Creek Natural Area

A warm, long-overdue hullllo and peek-a-boo from the depths of South Florida, to the blogging world — I’ve missed you all so!

Juvenile Alligator, Grassy Waters Preserve, Florida

Nearly stumbling about this sweet juvenile gator in Grassy Waters Preserve. Hullo, fella!

A Survivor

Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone. —Miller Williams

One special hike along the Rookery Trail (within the SWA Trail network of Grassy Waters Preserve) brought an unbelievable number of alligator sightings — I lost track at 30 in the space of 2-3 hours. By far the most of any hike! One of the guys we stumbled upon was this handsome fella.

Sunning Alligator in Grassy Waters Preserve, Florida

Sunning sweetheart

He’s not hissing, or being hostile — far from it, he was as mellow as could be. As with other cold-blooded reptiles, he was basking in the sun, regulating his body temperature. Occasionally alligators will keep their mouths open, akin to a dog panting…. It’s a cooling mechanism.

Sunning Alligator in Grassy Waters Preserve, Florida

Cooling down on a warm day

Out of 20-50 eggs that are laid by the mother alligator, only a few will survive to adulthood — usually less than five. Many predators prey upon the juvenile alligators, include snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, bobcats, raptors, wading birds, and even larger alligators. This guy (or girl?) is a survivor, having encountered a mishap resulting in a missing foot as a hatchling or young adult — the injury appears long, and well-healed. And he/she was doing just fine, enjoying the beautiful land and wetlands of this magnificent preserved Everglades watershed.

Sunning Alligator in Grassy Waters Preserve, Florida

Relaxing in my wonderful Everglades

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

It doesn’t take much to find love on an excursion into the natural world — which is why I escape to its beauty as much as humanly possible.

Heart Tree at Fern Forest Nature Center

Heart Tree at Fern Forest Nature Center

Great Blue Heron Mating Pair at their Nest in the Florida Wetlands

Great Blue Heron Mating Pair at their Nest in the Florida Wetlands

Mating Viceroy Butterflies (Limenitis archippus), Fern Forest Nature Center

Mating Viceroy Butterflies (Limenitis archippus), Fern Forest Nature Center

We’re approaching breeding season for our gators (these were scenes of last year’s cuddles — a very recent mom and dad). Interestingly, recent studies have shown that up to 70 percent of alligator females remained with their partner — often for many years.

Breeding begins in the spring (mid-April through May), and you can hear their loud bellows throughout the swamps — calls used to attract mates and to warn off other males. While (like all wildlife) gators don’t want to bother humans, the mating season isn’t the time to push your luck — aggression is at a higher level, and they may become more territorial. It’s always wise to be aware of the season. Alligator courtship is complex — vocalizations, head-slapping on the water’s surface, body posturing, snout and back rubbing, bubble blowing, and pheromone (scent) signals all play into the process.

Alligator Pair in the Florida Wetlands

Alligator Love in the Florida Wetlands

Alligator Pair in the Florida Wetlands

Alligator Pair

Alligator Pair in the Florida Wetlands

Cuddles

Great Dragons: The Alligator Totem

In honor of the New Year, and of the most wonderful and beautiful alligators, here’s a bit of history and symbolism associated with these critters.

In Ancient Egypt, alligators were identified with fury and ferocity. In medieval Europe and earlier, they were the symbol of the dragon; sometimes this association was positive, sometimes negative. The dragon could be the fierce guardian of treasure, or the keeper of great wisdom. But to encounter an alligator signified an opportunity to develop new wisdom — wisdom that must be used carefully.

[Below is a glimpse of the inhabitant alligators encountered on a hike in the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail.]

Alligator in the Everglades, Florida

Dragon Tails/Tales: Smaug is present

As I like to constantly observe in my wanderings, alligators are excellent mothers. They will fiercely defend their nests, and when the young are ready to hatch, squeaking from inside their eggs — the mother answers, helping them hatch. She then gently carries them in her mouth to the water.

Alligators’ mothering energy and symbolism is potent:

Mother Alligator and Hatchling in the Florida Wetlands

Gentle and protective momma

Finally, alligators have a rapid growth rate — much more so than crocodiles, for example. They can grow as much as a foot each year, until reaching their final length of up to 16 feet, at 1,200 pounds. For those with an alligator totem, seek an opportunity for initiation and using new knowledge — but be careful to do so in a balanced manner. An alligator digests its food very slowly, and similarly you should digest this knowledge before moving on to the new.

If these wonderful creatures appear, look for opportunities to get in touch with primal energies, and take advantage of birthing and/or initiations that will spawn new knowledge and wisdom. And while some of you may not see these great dragons in your northern climes, may 2013 bring greater wisdom, new ventures, and opportunities galore via these lovely faces… and for those of us in the swamps, may the new year bring more lovely ALLIGATORS!

Sunning Alligator in the Everglades, Florida

Sunning with a crooked smile

For more information on alligator symbolism and totems, visit the iconic Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small, by Ted Andrews.

Part of:

Double Vision

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.

Seeing Double: Alligator Pair in the Everglades

 

A Proud Momma

I’ve missed my alligators — but I’ve returned to their land, and in their honor, another devoted post! I’ve equally missed my poor Serenity Spell, due to a trip to the northern climes, a new OS on my lifeline laptop, an installed Photoshop, thanks to a dear friend (I now know how to insert my copyright…hoorah!), and a new watermark — courtesy of my gracious friend and skilled web designer Richard Yartlett.

On the night that Isaac roared into Florida (as a Tropical Storm) with its torrential flooding and high winds, one of the resident gators at our protected wetlands became a proud momma. She had fiercely protected her nest (or mound) throughout the 65-day incubation period, which she alone built out of vegetation, sticks, and mud in a sheltered spot near the water. She had laid her 20-50 eggs and covered them under more vegetation, which heated as it decayed, serving to incubate the eggs. If a mother alligator is killed or removed, she can’t protect her nest or young — and the hatchlings are doomed. Leave wildlife alone!

{Click to enlarge images!}

Hullo, momma!

Such a patient momma

The hatchlings were welcomed to quite a world! It was an eventful night, with brilliant and incessant lightning, high winds, and downpours to impress even the most hardened native Floridian.

Two weeks later, I spied the proud momma and her myriad babies. I was thrilled — I often see baby alligators, and obviously many adults. And I see them together…. But to see them intertwined is difficult — usually, the mother keeps a watchful eye on her babies from a safe distance.

Little prince of the swamp

Eye see youuuuu….

Hatchlings are 6-8 inches long, and are near-replicas of their parents, save for a series of yellow and black stripes which camouflage beautifully with the surrounding marsh roots. For five months, they’ll remain with the mother before finding their own ways. In our area, we typically see 5-10 baby alligators survive in the protected wetlands. Perhaps less. Common predators that prey upon the juvenile alligators include snakes, raccoons, bobcats, raptors, and even larger alligators. But for now, they’re being watched over by a very dutiful and observant momma….

A perfect perch

Hello, You Gorgeous Gator

Lots of people talk to animals…. Not very many listen, though…. That’s the problem. —Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about alligators,  and I feel withdrawal coming on. So for my sake, here’s a gorgeous gator we encountered on a recent hike in the northern section of the Everglades.

{As always, please click on the image for expansion!}

Florida Everglades Alligator: Helllllo, gorgeous!

Here’s how one of these lovelies appears in the wild — in this case, full and slow after a meal, catching some sun. Which is why we ALWAYS have an eye on the water’s edge throughout our hikes — especially when water and bits of swamp suddenly pop up out of nowhere, *wink*!

While they are certainly admirable and fierce predators, there is absolutely no need to assume that they will eat your face if you encounter one in the wild. We’ve never been bothered by gators — even during mating and nesting seasons. If we see an active alligator mound (nest), we steer clear, knowing a momma gator is diligently protecting her eggs or young. The most disconcerting experiences I’ve ever had with these amazing creatures have occurred when I wasn’t watching the water’s edge as closely as I should have been, to put it mildly — or when we’ve startled or frightened them, causing uproarious splashes into the water amid the silence of the ‘glades.

Leave wildlife alone, because they want nothing more than to leave we humans alone….

Resting at the water’s edge — or, in my words during our hike: “Oops! Lookie there!”

Another view of the big lizard

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