Sunday, October 26, 2008
Oh no, not one of these things again!
No school is more deeply, obsessively into its mascot than the University of Florida. There's a late-night bus service called Later Gator. The webpage that tracks buses to and from campus is called Gator Locator. The university's day care center is called Baby Gator. The secure, online system faculty members use to submit grades every semester is called—wait for it—Grade-A-Gator. I'm not making this up.
And yet, it was still surprising to find that there are, indeed, real alligators slithering their way around the town's periphery in large numbers. After a morning of birding my favorite weekend spots (Palm Point and Powers Park), I dropped by La Chua Trail, on the north end of Paynes Prairie, to look for any winter sparrows that may have started wandering in. I got a few Song Sparrows, several Palm Warblers, and an enticing little sparrow-like bird I couldn't ID. There was also a female Northern Harrier, and a nice assortment of waders. But the most noticeably numerous creatures there were the gators.
There were really big guys, like the one above, as well as oddly proportioned babies:
In Alachua Sink, about a dozen of them were basking on a mudflat. Here are a few of them:
All along the trail, there are big, ominous signs warning people to keep a safe distance from the gators, and to be sure to be off the trail by dusk, when the gators start to feed. IF IT MOVES IT"S FOOD! one of them practically screamed. Oddly, the local birds (all of whom seemed to be moving) didn't seem terribly concerned: the gators on the mudflat were surrounded by a large flock of Least Sandpipers foraging calmly away; and everywhere else on the trail, Little Blue Herons, Common Moorhens, and White Ibises were resting or hunting only feet away from basking gators. The Cattle Egrets below are clearly not worried about getting eaten:
There was also a large variety of butterflies on the trail, which made me realize I should get a guidebook and learn more about them. This was one I hadn't seen before:
As I walked back to the trailhead, a couple with several young children passed and asked where the alligators were. I told them to it wasn't very far, and they wouldn't have to look very hard. And I was out of there long before sunset.