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.
Biking Shark Valley in the Everglades yesterday, I saw at least 200 large and menacing alligators. Another biker reflected, “I don’t know how the wading birds coexist with their predators here.” I agree. In fact, I am amazed that the tourist fatalities are not more common. I had to alert a chatty, unaware lady that this gator was walking toward her, only about six feet away. Moments later, another woman posed for a photo a few feet from another gator, ignoring the 5 meter rule from the National Park Service. Not me, I use my 200 mm lens and constantly keep a 360 degree watch.
The blue heron is statuesque while standing motionless in the swamp. Instantly, he changes shape as he takes flight. Notice the water falling from the feet. Captured in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida with Nikon D800.
Captured this Great Egret in the Everglades catching and eating his dinner — a wiggly creature from the wetlands. It was a big morsel to swallow whole. Nearly the last photo of 199 images shot at Shark Valley last Saturday.
Alligators and large wading birds I expected on my bike ride through Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. The crocodile was definitely a surprise! Shark Valley is located in the northeast quadrant of the Everglades “river of grass,” the mostly fresh water drainage from Lake Okeechobee. Alligators thrive in fresh water or estuaries with a mix of fresh and salt water, while crocodiles are salt water creatures — mostly found further south in the Florida Keys. Crocodiles are aggressive and are known to attack humans within striking distance. How very lucky that I saw this croc from a safe distance from the observation tower ramp. My guardian angel was on duty!
Stay tuned this week for more photo highlights of wildlife in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.
I’ve just added some features to my blog that will allow you to subscribe to my blog and search for keywords to look up past blogs that interest you. My blogs are also sorted into categories that allow you to read past posts in nature, landscape, portraits, cities, art, life and travel. If you are interested in one of my blogs, I hope you will share it on Facebook or other social media. I would be happy to share my work with as many friends as possible. Thanks!