The month counter has officially gone up by one which means the post count falls all the way back to zero. Figured it was time to give my non-birding friends a break from the barrage of birds last month. Don’t be fooled though, you are not out of the woods yet .. or more appropriately I guess, not out of the Gulf Coast yet. If things go as planned, there will be a bevy of new birds to read about this month from our Texas trips. First, let’s have a chuckle!
That there is one scary beast. For some reason I really wasn’t thinking about the dangers of birding on my first trip to Texas several years back. It wasn’t until our second visit to Padre Island that we came face to face with a living dinosaur or rather BIG ASS LIZARDS. Our first day at Padre Island Birding and Nature Center back in January 2017, we saw a number of signs on the railings supposedly indicating an Alligator sighting. We didn’t see a single one that morning and both of us decided it was all a grand hoax to tease the visitors.
Hit the jump to see the rest of the Gator shots we were able to get in the tin!
For the rest of that morning and into early afternoon we explored everything that center had to offer. I probably walked their boardwalks end to end about 10 times and every loop produced something new to photograph with the exception of .. you guessed it, Alligators. At some point along the visit a gator sighting became a quest. A quest that went unfulfilled by the time we decided to head out and catch a bite to eat.
We might have even wandered over to the Sea Turtle rescue center a few doors down from the birding center – note, we noticed that the rescue center is expanding into a new building right next to the birding center – can’t wait to check that out the next time we are down there. After eating and viewing the turtles I decided to see if any new birds decided to show up for evening dining. I passed through their visitor center, took about 10 steps down their boardwalk and stopped dead in my tracks. Ever have one of those moments when you are not sure you want to turn towards something your peripheral vision has assessed and pre-triggered your spidey senses in response. Maybe if you stand perfectly still, your brain will take another analysis run and determine it was really just a Bunny Rabbit. Nope, not a Bunny.
Turning to my left, it was definitely confirmed. Holy crap! that had to be the biggest Alligator I had ever seen to that point in my life. Without a recognizable reference in the picture, it is difficult to really get a feel for how menacing Mr. Scaly was. Thankfully, I was up on the boardwalk and felt fairly safe although the thought of it strolling across the channel and whacking the foundation out with its massive tail did cross my mind more than one. Never one to waste and opportunity, I put my Beast to task and tried to get as low as possible. It is at this time I imagined that I looked like dinner which generated my meme at the top of the post – also happens to now be my screen-saver on my work laptop. Nothing like a good jolt in the morning when you open your computer for the day’s work.
I shot the hell out of that Alligator trying to reproduce the same feeling in the tin that I was experiencing in the moment. Really pleased on how those came out. I headed back to the RV eager to tell Linda those gator indicators were not a joke. She was skeptical until I showed her the images. The next day we headed back there again and this time Linda and I were able to find more Alligators. None of them came close to the monstrosity seen the day before.
The one you are seeing now was maybe 3′ to 4′ from tip to tail. I tried finding what the average length an Alligator grows in a year to see if I could estimate how old this one was. That didn’t seem to pan out, but I did learn that there are two main ways to tell if an Alligator is a male or a female. If it is over 10′ it is probably a male because that is roughly the max of females. That means I can safely call the first Alligator a male (out of respect, let’s call it an alpha male). That tidbit didn’t help in the case of this one.
The other method is a more logical one. If there are small offspring around, it’s a female. Her babies will stay near her for up to a year. For protection purposes, she will not let anyone near her babies especially males who are more than willing to eat them – even the father – so much for Father’s Day gifts or “Best Dad” mugs. Beyond those two distant observations, the only real way answer the male vs female question is to flip it over and insert a clean finger into the vent and feel for the copulatory organ which is pulled out, measured and examined (that horrifying tidbit brought to you by this site). Note, that site does point out that large alligators don’t allow themselves to endure such a demeaning intrusion – oh really!?! Sorry folks, the little guy above is brought to you genderless.
Okay, it is time to possibly correct something I noted earlier from the reference.
Remember when I stated earlier that the Padre Island Alligator was the biggest one I had ever seen to that point in my life? Well, that high point became the second biggest one I had ever seen thanks to a visit to Laguna Atascosa a day or two after that. A very helpful ranger at the visitor center showed us how to travel out to their Gulf viewing pavilion. She also recommended walking down to see their resident Alligator about 3/4 of a mile down from the pavilion parking lot. Having just seen what a true alpha predator looks like in the area, we definitely made plans to take a gander. Figuring the Padre Island monster was a fluke, we assumed the Laguna one was more like the little ones we had seen the following day.
Linda and I parked the car and eventually made our way in the direction we were guided. We almost gave up thinking they were mistaken after walking what seemed about a mile. Noticing what looked like a wooden structure, we trudged along a bit more until we came to the structure which ended up being a viewing deck at the edge of a large watering hole. Ever have one of those moments when you are not sure you want to turn towards something your peripheral vision has assessed … ha. Pretty sure Linda just about had a heart attack on the spot. Based on my new information, I’d be tempted to say it had to be a male because it was CLEARLY more than 10 feet long. However, if you look close at the top of the shot above, you can use the other piece of advice to realize it is a female. That reference site might want to consider upping their size bogey.
I had no words to properly express what we were witnessing. Linda was trying to say something, but I am pretty sure they were not actual words. Not only was the size of this female daunting, she had a large number of offspring hanging out all over the area. Surprising was the different sizes of the children – some in the 2.5′ to 3′ range, others in 1.5 to 2.5 range and still others smaller than that (see the ones closer to the water in the shot below)
If they didn’t look so menacing, I would have chuckled over the fact they all looked like they were working on their tans. It should be mentioned at this time that, unlike Padre, this viewing deck provided ZERO safety from the inhabitants of the watering hole. All they had to do was run up a small bank and they would have full access to anyone walking along the road or even on the deck. Come to think of it, pretty sure I saw some camera straps sticking out of the water.
That lack of protection was weirding Linda out big time. Here polite requests to head back were now getting a bit more demanding. Reminded me of our bear encounter in Yellowstone – this time at least she wasn’t trying to depants me trying to get the bear spray out of my back pocket. I was reluctant to grant her departure wishes because I wanted to get more shots some small babies stalking along the banks of the pond.
Their heads sticking out of the water reminded me of miniature raptors. They must have spotted an unsuspecting victim as they both went into stealth mode and set their focus on the bank.
By now, Linda was about at her limit. Wanting to reproduce the feeling that came with the Padre Gator, I took the opportunity to walk back to the road where I could get down lower to the ground and shoot from the victim perspective (the shots a few back). Unfortunately, didn’t have the good lighting I had at Padre which took a little of the shock out of the shot.
Probably won’t be able to sleep tonight thanks to reliving these moments. Hopefully you enjoyed a little diversion from the feathered creatures. Take it easy everyone – happy nightmares… I mean dreams hehehehe.