I have lived in Florida for just over a year now and until this weekend had only seen alligators at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. I’m told this is a good thing, but a bit disappointing in my mind. I’ve been religiously watching every lake we drive by for a chance sighting of the creatures to no avail.
My boyfriend and I are night creatures and Sundays are our very lazy, lie on the sofa, and watch cartoons all day days. Thanks to Mother’s Day (Happy late Mother’s Day to all you moms!), we found ourselves out and about and ready for adventure after having a splendid lunch with my boyfriend’s family.
We found ourselves at Circle B Bar Reserve for a bit of Sunday strolling. Polk county bought this land in 2000 from the Circle B Bar Ranch to restore the Banana Creek Marsh system. We had been there before to take photos of friends, not to explore. We set off in our Sunday best to search out wildlife with my nifty fifty lens on my camera.
After a quick stop in the Nature Discovery Center, we headed off down the Shady Oak Path making certain to use hushed voices so we wouldn’t scare away the wildlife (I wish everyone was this considerate). We quickly came upon Lake Hancock and the Alligator Alley trail. I was super excited to finally get to spot some alligators in their natural habitat.
My first new discovery about Florida were Cypress knees. The roots of cypress trees send up shoots called knees to start new trees. I quite often feel like I am in a Dr. Suess book as I learn about Florida foliage.
Then there were these black birds called Cormorant. They catch fish by diving into the water and grabbing them with their beaks. Only they don’t have oily feathers like ducks, so after fishing they find a roosting spot in the sun and spread out their wings until they are dry.
For a few minutes, we had a squirrel tour guide. He jumped out of the bushes and scurried down the path ahead of us. Then stop and turn to look back at us to make sure we were following. He stayed with us until I caught sight of alligators floating in the lake mere yards from shore. I tried to get a photo, but I didn’t have the proper lens on the camera.
We continued along the path that lead us between a marsh and the lake. We kept our eyes open for various birds and bugs. At times, there were paths from alligators coming up out of the lake to cross sides. We saw a lot of alligators floating out in the lake. I’m trying my best not to exaggerate and say there were hundreds. I’m fairly certain we saw at least 30.
We came up to a bend in the path and we heard a massive rustling of grass followed by a decent sized splash. It was our first near encounter with an alligator! We don’t know if we caught him crossing the path or just on the shore, just that he was trying to get away. We took a few more cautious steps before hearing rumbling noises behind us. We spotted that guy skulking on the marshy water side. After taking a few photos of him, we start off down the trail again only to hear the branches of the next tree shift like someone is climbing out of it. We take a couple more steps and we hear a ker-splash! We watch the water and are soon rewarded with the best sighting of the day. Swimming just a few feet off shore was an impressively sized alligator.
After those few tense moments, we finished up our stroll with sightings of a Blue Heron, fish, and a couple soft-shelled turtles. I’m happy to say I have now seen alligators in the wild!