Three Weeks Birding in Florida: Part Two - Gatorland.

Gatorland is just a 25 minutes drive from Disney and well worth a visit - it is an alligator farm with a difference having an incredible 'rookery' accessed by a board-walk and towers which provides views of several of the state's iconic birds within yards of the camera - nesting too. The birds have learned to take advantage of the protection provided by the alligators below in the swamp as they raise chicks in their nests right next to the board-walks provided for visitors, complete unconcerned by us humans.
In February only the Great Egrets are nesting by the boardwalk (although increasingly rare Wood Storks can be seen across the water from the towers building their nests in the trees).

We spent an entertaining morning watching the Great Egrets displaying and caring for their eggs at close range. (Later in the year, Cattle Egrets and Green Herons join them and can also be viewed at close range).



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A male Great Egret displays to passing females.

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Male Great Egret in 'high-breeding' plumage.

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Three blue eggs are laid in the nest.

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No danger of disturbing this Great Egret just a few feet away!

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Great Egret in flight.

AS mentioned above, Wood Storks can be easily observed and photographed from the board-walk and their nests can be over-looked from the towers: it is good to see these strangely prehistoric-looking birds breeding here as their range and numbers have shrunk alarmingly with habitat degradation (mostly water-loss). They seem to be doing well her at least and will often perch just a few feet away.


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Wood stork with a 150mm focal length!

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Wood Stork with nesting materials.

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No privacy!
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Pair of Wood Storks on their nest.
Although the Great Egrets and Wood Storks are perhaps the head-line species here, the other members of the cast are also worth attention; Snowy Egrets, Double-crested cormorants (also nesting near the visitor entrance), Black Vultures and the elusive Black-crowned night Heron showed well as other visitors watched the alligator shows just a short distance away.



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Snowy Egret in full regalia.
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Double-crested Cormorants.
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Double-crested Cormorant.

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Black Vulture.

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Black-crowned Night Heron.

Another distinctive water-birdto be seen all around Florida (even within the Disney Parks waterways) is the Anhinga. At this time of the year the breeding males are resplendent: nesting was just beginning here at the time of our visit.

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Male Anhinga.

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Female (left) and male Anhinga.
Other birds successfully photographed can be viewed in Flikr in the usual way (all my photographs are tagged with species and location) but I will just finish this section by commenting on some of the other wild-life to be seen at this remarkable and unlikely nature-reserve.
The alligators are to be seen everywhere of course but other reptiles can be taught-out also. One board-walk leads into a quiet part of marshy forest where venomous snakes abound - here is a Water Moccasin or Cotton-mouth Snake seen off the boardwalk by walking quietly - taken with a telephoto lens for safety of course: they are deadly!

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Stay well away!
Soft-shelled Turtles and Terrapins can also be viewed if one moves quietly and slowly; not a concept easily understood by many of our American cousins...

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A young Soft-shelled Turtle.
Hopefully I have convinced the birders out there that this is a place worth a few hours - especially if these birds are new to you (only the Starlings are European!) - and children will enjoy the  shows while dad or mom spends an hour on the boardwalk birding.

In the next instalment - Cape Canaveral - not seeing SpaceX launch - and a great day on the Seven Mile drive - the birds don't fly away!!!

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