Sunday, October 31, 2010

Close Encounters Of The Alligator Kind

I received a stock photo request this week from National Wildlife magazine expressing an interest in using an alligator photograph of mine to illustrate an article about their favorite places to see wildlife.

While I was digging the image out of my digital archive I got to thinking about the fun times I’ve had with Alligator mississippiensis.

Alligator finds dwindling pond at height of dry season, Everglades NP

Don’t worry, I’m not a mountain man with wild beasts stories, or a species discovering biologist nor an accomplished wildlife photographer. I’m just a guy looking to enjoy the outdoors, and photography and kayaking are great excuses to do so. In Florida, alligators come with the territory.

Nine Mile Pond is my favorite place to paddle in Everglades National Park as it features a five mile loop threading between mangrove islands and over the sawgrass prairie, all with water not much deeper than a paddle blade. Fluffy clouds and blue sky mirror themselves on the water. Wading birds and fish eating Osprey fly above. If you are going to experience just one Everglades paddle, this is it.

Rising sun warms alligator's back, Everglades NP

But by the middle of May two years ago it was the heart of the dry season, and I paddled off the pond and down a mangrove covered trail. The water was as wide as my paddle, about 18 inches deep, and muddy brown. After a hundred yards, I could see about a dozen ‘gators up ahead enjoying the only other body of water left, a house sized pool.

Female gator gently touches male to say she's ready for love, Everglades NP

I stopped paddling and drifted forward, and suddenly felt a solid bump transmitted through the kayak’s hull and directly to my back side an inch above. I listened to a scraping sound run down the length of my boat and imagined rocks protruding from the murky bottom. As my stern cleared, I looked over my shoulder only to see a six foot long alligator rise up to the surface. I had run over a gator, and was drifting toward a dozen more.

American Alligator makes daily stroll from Flamingo Bay to Eco Pond, Everglades NP

Now if you are an experienced swamper please tell me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always reasoned that my 12-foot-long orange craft looks like a big old predator in an alligator’s eye. Why would they attack me? No worries, I thought, I might as well make a few photos, and that’s when I shot the seven footer in the top photo as it drifted by my wide angle lens .

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