Every time we go on Paynes Prairie we see something different, wether it’s the horses or massive alligators chomping on turtles, or a harrier buzzing the scrub for mice and other small prey. This time, however, we saw something very distressing, the water. Sure enough there is a river running along the side of the trail almost year round unless it has been very dry and it dries up for a few days or weeks, but this time the water level was within inches of overflowing the trail! This was both nerve-racking and an adrenaline rush because I have seen monster alligators there easily pushing eight to nine feet long and, with the water being so high, they could be within inches of us and we would never even know it. Along with the vast amount of water that day there was a huge gathering of birds. Wood storks, snowy egrets, great egrets, great blue herons, little blue heron, yellow-crowned night herons, black-crowned night herons, green herons, tri-colored herons, glossy ibis, white ibis, and far to many others to name all fishing together in a space no bigger than a fifty foot square. We watched them pluck fish out of the water right next to alligators and anticipated them to become a meal themselves but the gators never attacked a bird while we were there.
We were able to see the “White Herd,” (I came up with the name because the matriarch is a very unique white horse) and the matriarch had a cattle egret on her, and so did some of the other horses in the herd. I don’t know if they were just using them as perches or for a quick meal from the insects on them but either way it was interesting seeing them on their backs.
I don’t know what this great blue heron caught, but to me it looks like a freshwater eel. Regardless, we saw so many birds catching fish it was almost impossible not to catch one of them with the camera. The water even looked like it was boiling because of all the fish swimming around trying to evade the snapping beaks and jaws of their predators.
This is a black-crowned night heron hiding in the branches of a tree overlooking the rolling boil of fish in the water below. I was extremely lucky to spot him in such a hidden spot, let alone how hard they are to see in the wild in general. I can probably count the number of times I have seen a night heron on my hands and this is the closest I ever have been to one and they are very peculiar and unique birds and I love seeing them.
This was a massive gator, he had to have been around seven feet long if not more and I saw him right when I looked down from photographing the night heron! I was far too close to this beast but it didn’t seem to care, it stayed perfectly still with it’s eyes half closed soaking in the intense Florida summer sun. I’m not saying that he couldn’t have struck at any second, but I was extremely fortunate that this monster wasn’t more aggressive.
By the terms of an alligator, this one was a small one. Probably about two or three years old and easily within four feet long, he would have no difficulty taking off a finger or a limb so even “little” alligators need to be respected. He wasn’t far away at all and with the raised level of the water I was able to get low enough to make the image nicer than if I was standing straight looking down at him. Remember, a major key to making, remember I said making not taking, a good wildlife photo is to get at eye level with the subject. But only do it if you are a safe enough distance from the animal!!!