Winding Roads, Open Prairies & Close Encounters

As a working photographer with a full time job (other than photography) I am extremely busy.  I have to plan my away times well in advance and get away to renew myself every once in a while.  This weekend I took another trip south to the Big Cypress and camped in Trail Lakes Camp Ground.  Old friends own it and my son lives and works there as well as a native guide.  I went out on my own Saturday to Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk which is part of the Fakahatchee Strand and walked the boardwalk mid morning.  I was alone for most of my trip and passed a few folks coming off the trail, but heading to the end I was the only one out there…… quiet and peaceful.  I spotted mama gator and snapped a couple of shots.  Coming in to the area I looked for the pair of Bald Eagles who have taken residence in the Fakahatchee for well over 20 plus years.  I didn’t see any activity on the nest, but as I was sitting taking in the beauty of the ‘gator hole’ I could hear them calling.  I decided to head back out and was listening as I was strolling along.  Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Grey Gnatcatchers, and various other sounds.  I was heading around the bend and I saw another couple heading in my direction, but they had stopped and all I saw was him reach around and snap a photo; not thinking much of this I rounded the bend and came pretty much face to face with a 250lb Florida Black Bear.  My heart skipped a beat and I raised my camera up to snap several shots, then reality set in and I realized I had no where to go!  He was blocked in with the other couple and be on each side.  As the photo I will post shows he was taking steps toward me, I knew not to run and was praying it was not a mama bear with little ones around, because it was focused on me and not the other couple.  Eventually he turned and exited under the railing which at that point I took my first real breath in about a minute of encounter.  I could hear him rustling about in the water, but never saw him again, the other couple from Germany had basically the same shots I had except he was looking at them, and even with a language barrier we could share our excitement!  I’m sure they will never forget their day in the swamp just as I won’t.

Later in the afternoon my son Tommy and I drove out to Fakahatchee to walk one of the trams.  I ran into an old friend who passed the information along on the bear encounter and my photo will be in the November issue of the Ghost Writer newsletter put out by the Friends of Fakahatchee.  Later in our walk we spotted an alligator that we thought was deceased, he was extremely emaciated and until he took a large breath and moved forward did we realize he was very much alive.  Very dangerous at this point, because he was hungry and/or injured.  We gave him lots of room, but not before taking a few shots to document his condition for the biologist at Fakahatchee, who happens to be my ex-husband.  As we headed out, the rains started and we ended our day of adventure.

Sunday morning I woke up early and head off to Turner River Road.  Driving into the Big Cypress I feel all of my burdens slowly lift from my shoulders, and any anxiety that I had has  melted away into pure bliss on these quiet back roads of the Big Cypress Swamp.  The only activity I see are few alligators and the birds feeding in the early morning light. I was on a quest this morning to find the elusive Purple Gallinule.  Unfortunately I didn’t find one, however I was fortunate enough to see a doe and her fawn snacking on the grasses off the side of the road.  Over all it was a beautiful trip and I can’t wait to head back out there.  For me there is no other place on earth than the beautiful Florida Everglades.

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