The small baby alligators of the Florida Everglades are wise to follow their instincts and stay close to their mother, even lying on top of her. Their small size and still tender hides make them vulnerable to a Great Blue Heron or even a male Alligator. I spotted about six babies close to this parent.
A 600mm lens allowed me to capture this close-up photograph, while standing about 15 feet away. It’s wise for humans to keep a safe distance away from this dangerous creature in the wild. While they lie still most of the time, when alligators are extremely quick when they attack.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama Gator. Good luck keeping your babies safe.
When I biked the trail in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park yesterday, I saw more large alligators than I could begin to count. Which one, I wondered, ate the huge Burmese Python (a problematic invasive species) recently?
When I spotted this enormous alligator, I had a suspect. His belly looks very full, and it looks like he may be resting while the large meal digests. He looks mighty enough to have taken on the python and won the battle, don’t you think?
Why do alligators lie there with their mouths open wide? Pretty much the same reason that a dog pants — to cool off. They might also lie in the shade or swim, but this gaping mouth gives us a good look at the gators large jaws and sharp teeth.
The “Everglades” means ever flowing river of grass. It is a massive shallow river of grassy swamp that drains fresh-water Lake Okeechobee in a wide path southward. Its depth varies from the wet season to the dry season, and it creates a fertile habitat for thousands of species of reptile, fish, insects, birds and plants.
December is just the beginning of the dry season, but there is still enough water (with the help of from Hurricane Irma in September) — to provide reflecting pools like this.
While this gator casts a wary glance at me, I am quite wary of him too, and I keep a respectful distance. On a recent trip to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, I learned a few new facts about the American Alligator. If he chases you, don’t run serpentine, like the wive’s tale says. Run in a straight line, as fast as you can for alligators are very quick for just long enough to catch you. (They can run at 20 miles per hour.) The jaws too are powerful (2900 pounds of force recorded), and no match for human self-defense.
The 70mm lens on my Sony a2r7 camera makes it appear that I am close to the gator than I really am. (“Kids, don’t try this at home.”) Park rangers suggest a distance of at least 15 feet. Watch behind you, too. There are hundreds of alligators in the Everglades, some hidden underwater, Any fresh water watering hole in Florida could contain one.
As the great blue heron took a giant step back, this large alligator silently swam past. The heron and the gator eyed one another, but the gator seemed to have set his sights on a school of catfish just ahead.
In Shark Valley, there is no shortage of enormous alligators, but most of the time you see them sleeping in the sun in the middle of the day. I enjoy biking the trail in Shark Valley, even though I find the 15-mile loop very tiring.
When the alligators are on the move or sitting near the path, you need to take precautions to stay away from them. If you’d rather not risk a close encounter, you can take the National Park Service tram.
Standard advice when shooting wildlife: focus on the eye. Not always possible, such as when the subject is moving, and the photographer is panning. On this day in the Florida Everglades, I had enough time to focus on the great blue heron’s eye while hand holding my Nikon D800 with a 200mm lens.
Recently in the Florida Everglades, I shot a series of images of this blue heron as it took off and landed. I was pleased to see this magnificent bird with its wings outstretched. In order to freeze motion of wildlife, I usually increase the ISO on my camera making the sensor more sensitive to light. That way, I can still get a good exposure with a very fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. In this case, I increased the ISO to 2000, anticipating the bird’s flight. (I was just explaining this formula to my daughter who will be traveling to Africa to enjoy a safari in a few days.)
I also made a conscious choice for the f stop setting. A lens is usually at its sharpest in the mid-range (f/7.1 here), and the depth of field is forgiving — keeping the bird in focus for the split second between the time I focus and the shutter releases. Had I opened the lens aperture wide (to counter balance the fast shutter speed), it would have been very difficult to keep the flying bird in focus. You can see, the image is successful, as long as you don’t mind a little grain, resulting from the high ISO. I will share some of the other photos in the series in subsequent blog posts.
At first I thought the Great Blue Heron had just caught a freshly hatched baby alligator. I didn’t dare to creep any closer, not knowing where the Mama Alligator was. My best judgement was to focus and shoot, focus and shoot about 6 times after I observed the heron snatch his prey with silent quickness.
I took this series of photographs while the heron juggled the prey ( fish perhaps?) in its beak, getting ready to swallow it.