I took a trip down to Boyd Hill Preserve today. My trip awarded me so many treasures!
I started my trip with a visit to the aviary. Boyd Hill rescues birds of prey and takes care of them. Some of the owl species there reminded me how apt Bubo’s name is. She has big, golden eyes, and those little tufts on her ears remained through kittenhood just like some of those owls.
After checking out the rest of the birds (including, a bald eagle, turkey vulture, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, kestrel, and a black vulture) I went on to phase 1 of my adventure.
Many years ago I was introduced to a hobby: letterboxing. It’s kind of like geocaching, I think, but typically no GPS. Just clues. Through my letterboxing efforts, I was awarded a treasure hidden from normal eyes.
After finding the secret treasure, I went looking for natural treasures with my camera. I headed towards Lake Maggiore Island. As I was walking across the bridge, two women were walking back across my way. They commented on the croaking or grunting sound and said it was probably an alligator. It sounded froggy to me, but I knew the alligators made grunting sounds too. There were a lot, so I think I was trying to talk myself into the frog hypothesis…
They told me there was a baby alligator basking on the bank. I walked around the periphery of the island, keeping an eye on the banks in case those grunts were coming from something bigger than a frog. I was surprised by a lovely work of art in the water. It’s a statue of an anhinga drying its wings. Nature is lovely by itself, but sometimes art can complement it perfectly.
I continued around the island. I noticed canoes stored on the island. I kept an eye out for the baby gator in case he/she was still up and out.
Finally, I saw it!
It wasn’t too big. Perhaps no longer than my arm from tail to snout. He just chilled as I moved a bit to get a decent angle. You can be sure I kept an eye on the water line in case Big Mama was nearby. No sightings of her though.
After a few minutes of admiring this guy, I kept walking. And I saw another gator! This one a little bit bigger than the first.
While grinning ear-to-ear at my luck of seeing two alligators, I saw another small gator swimming behind the 2nd.
While on the island, I saw another boardwalk across the way (Willow Marsh boardwalk). I recrossed the bridge and headed down the trail to find that other viewing area. When I arrived I was greeted by another gator! This guy was bored by my presence, because he yawned after a few minutes of my being there.
I kept hoping I would see a Big Mama gator swimming in the water, but no such luck. Just the little guys. Still, four gators in one day is a record for me. I’m not sure I’ve really ever seen them in the wild.
I continued my hike to the Swamp Woodland boardwalk. On the way to the boardwalk I saw a blue-tailed skink (missed the photo opportunity), a green heron fishing, and a osprey spying for his next meal.
As I approached the boardwalk, I passed a group of kids (middle schoolers?) in a camp. I asked if they’d seen anything cool. Some said no. Some said a softshell turtle, which is pretty cool. I wondered if it was the same one I saw when I first arrived at Boyd Hill, before I went to the raptor aviary.
I turned my camera off to save the battery, since I wasn’t expecting to see anything too exciting. Though it was definitely swampy, it was less wet than the island and the marsh. But I looked down over the boardwalk, and there she was! The Big Mama I’d been hoping to see. I frantically clicked that camera back on before she disappeared under the foliage.
My guess is she was 7-8 feet long, though that’s just a guess. She swam/crawled through the little channel. I was giddy as a school girl. I’m just glad I was three feet above her on the boardwalk. So exciting to see so much big wildlife today!!
I continued around the boardwalk and was greeted by an egret and a wood stork. Wood storks were once very threatened. They are less so now, but it’s still special to see them despite their ugly heads.
I left my adventure in high spirits and am still basking in the glow of experiencing such cool critters in the wild. I’m so glad there are places like this in and near urban settings. Boyd Hill is 3.5 miles from downtown St. Pete. It’s wonderful to easily be able to go here.