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.
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My dog Sophie can’t believe how big the birds are in Florida. Yes, that’s a six-pound wood stork over there! And looking at its fuzzy head, I can tell it’s a juvenile. This bashful bird is wary of the photographer inching along the grass to come just a little bit closer. He is one of a threatened species, the only breeding stork in North America, found in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. His biggest predator is the raccoon, who steals eggs from its nest.
Wood storks wade in lowland wetlands and look for fish, frogs and insects to eat. They shuffle their webbed feet in the shallow water to stir any aquatic critters to move, and then keep their bills in the water to catch dinner. That is a blue heron standing behind the wood stork.
In my neighborhood in Naples, Florida, the wood stork shares the swamp with numerous heron, ibis, egrets, turtles, fish and alligators. Sophie, you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore.
This little screech owl didn’t utter a peep (or a screech) while I set up my tripod to photograph him. He just went to sleep. Luckily, I got a shot of him with his eyes open before he drifted off to dreamland. Other people who stopped to admire him, sitting in the hollow of a dead tree suggested that the owl must be female, as it was sitting on a nest. I did some reading and learned that the males tend to establish a nest in the late winter (now) — in the hollow of a tree — a rich environment for prey of insects, reptiles and small mammals. The female owls then “marry for money,” choosing the mate based on the quality of the cavity and the food supply. Who knew?
Evening light was low, and I used my 200mm Nikon lens on my Nikon D800 camera body. I used a wide 3.5 f/stop in order to blur the background and put visual emphasis on the owl. For low noise and a crisp image even after cropping, I used ISO 200, and my shutter speed was 1/13 second, making a tripod essential.
Screech owls have acute hearing, but this one was extremely tolerant of people walking by, and the occasional loud quote, “Oh, I SEE IT!” His coloring and texture makes him well camouflaged. He ignored all of us, and saved his trill for the hunt, when he uses it to scare off another raptor that might also want to catch the same mouse.
It is always a privilege to observe wildlife in its habitat and to photograph it without disturbing it. I’m so grateful that he knew we came in peace to admire him. Take a look at those claws!