Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sweetwater Wetlands Park Part 2: A few reptiles

In the first post about Sweetwater Wetlands park, I focused on the flashier residents with feathers.
I did come across a few reptiles in my short visit and herps always make me happy, so here they are.
 This Florida Softshell turtle was crossing one of the graveled elevated dikes that separate the basins of this human engineered wetlands.
I gave that coiled spring of a neck the respect it deserved and kept my parts out of the lightning strike zone.
You wouldn't guess it to look at this photo, but the softshell has a redonkulously long neck for its size.

 Feel free to chime in on the correct identification of these mating snakes. I'm pretty good on my Florida snakes, but our variety of freshwater watersnakes, mudsnakes, and crayfish snakes are a weak spot.
I wish I could see some belly markings.
I don't see real obvious banding ... so, hmmm.

What I do see is a large (assuming) female engaged by 2 smaller males. 
It's certainly warm enough this winter to feel the tug of Spring frolics already in mid-January.

 Like nearby Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Sweetwater seems to be a great place to see alligators. 
In the short time I was there, I saw about ten.
They were mostly doing what these two are, but one was way up on the elevated dike walkway soaking up some sun.

I would imagine coots are a staple food item for gators based on these last two photos.
The official size category for this gator is "nightmare".
Use the coots as a size reference.
This is why your dogs are not welcome at the park.
...but you are and you should go visit this gem.

Monday, January 16, 2017


My intention last Sunday was to visit the Alachua Sink entrance to Paynes Prairie and soak up some gators and Sandhill Cranes... and with any luck, maybe a few wild horses and bison.

I knew I would be passing near Sweetwater Wetlands Park on the way, but I decided to save it for another day.
It was new to me, an unknown quantity, while Paynes Prairie always delivered and currently was crowded with Sandhill Cranes.
The sky which had been so blue, was rapidly clouding up and this afternoon could only be stretched so thin.

So there I was, a man with a plan, and then ... as so often happens, the plan changed... and no woman was involved.
I know, right?

With only a few more miles to go to Paynes Prairie, suddenly, there it was!
The entrance to Sweetwater... right there on the main drag.
A quick right turn into the parking lot  ... done! 
I paid my $5.00 entrance fee to the pipe safe thingy and parked.
It was busy, the parking lot was very full, but the park has so many trail options that the other visitors were dispersed over a large area.

One of my first "not a coot" finds was this Limpkin creeping through the aquatic plants.  I love these rascals, but I usually seem them as fleeting shadows in poor light.
Not here.
They are so accustomed to people being both present and not a threat that they just go about their business ... in good light.
Bang, bang, bang ... I'm busy converting this bird to megapixies when suddenly... my Canon EOS 70D camera stops.
No way, I checked the battery before leaving!
It wasn't the battery, it was the memory card ... stuffed to the gills with megapixies she was.

Good grief ... 64 gigabytes of space and it was full?
 Let's see, the last time I pulled a bunch of stuff off this card was ... hmmm... n-e-v-e-r?

My foolish mistake had me frantically deleting old pics in between awesome critters like this Wood Stork.

It went like this ...
  1. Find critter. 
  2. Take photos.
  3. Delete old photos while walking and searching for next critter.
  4. Repeat.

Not very efficient ... and not very smart to head out without spare memory in your pocket.

Because I shoot RAW and JPEG pairs of each shot, I had slurped up a ton of memory space before this expedition, plus the older shots I was deleting on the go were only JPEGs. 
This meant, I could delete a bunch and still not make much room for the way I shoot.
Between critters, I was opening up only about 14 to 20 photo spaces on the card.

It was a little bit of a flashback to the days of film when every shot was precious and the 36 exposure roll of Kodachrome always shrank far too fast.
I love ducks ... used to hunt them, and I loved them then too, but after a while I realized, I just don't like the taste of duck.
Once that happened, I couldn't justify (to me, just to me) hunting them anymore.
These Blue-winged Teal are some pretty handsome dabblers.

I LOVE these gals.
While I was photographing these two, an airplane flew over and that lead hen tilted her head and looked up at it in with quizzical expression only a duck (and a pig) can do, .

You might remember how excited I was a few months ago to have Black-bellied Whistling Ducks nesting in my pond.
At Sweetwater Wetlands, they are everywhere! The air was full of bird sounds, but especially these guys.
... When they weren't napping.

If it itches, scratch it.

This Sora Rail came doodling out from under the boardwalk as I crossed.
You can't deny your cuteness, Sora.

It was late in the day with gathering clouds hitting the dimmer switch as this Black-crowned Night Heron showed up on the bank.
Along time ago ...
I used to spot these on night shifts in the NPS and if I put my law enforcement Maglight beam on him, I could walk very quietly up to him as he stood blinking in the bright light.
We would just stand there,about 2 feet apart, until I turned that light off and then the heron would croak away into the night.

With the daylight dimming and only about 30 minutes before closing, I headed back towards the entrance. As I walked, I could hear the din of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on nearby Payne's Prairie, but on this day they would have to wait.

Why, yes, there WERE reptiles there too...