I was so looking forward to March but, not originally for the trip. I planned to wrap up most of the work I've been doing, mainly from my new product range and session guides, so I could begin shooting again. The work feels like it's taking forever but I'll admit, I have changed my mind a few times and I'm always checking it over!
Another plan came into place quite quickly and of course, I began to look forward to it just as much. I was happy to start shifting my sessions into April instead. My dad has recently moved and settled in Florida from living in Dubai for many years. So now, most of my immediate family are there! My Auntie and Uncle moved out there when I was a kid, back when I too was living in Dubai. A few years after that, my grandparents moved over. The last time I visited the family was when I was 18! I was long overdue a visit for sure. I loved seeing everyone and it was especially nice for my partner to meet some of the family he hadn't met and to spend more time them too.
We heard about Circle B Bar Reserve from a few of dad's friends at his house warming party. It was only 10 minutes down the road and sounded absolutely wonderful! I gazed in amazement when I heard about all the wildlife we were almost certain to see, including the many, many alligators that could walk across the path at any moment. (One couple who visit the reserve often did tell us to bring a knife, I'm still not sure if they were joking or not!)
The very next day we checked out the reserve online and made our plan. We also watched a video on youtube from the reserve where a group of people witnessed an alligator eating a smaller alligator but that didn't deter us, oh no, I only got more excited! Poor alligator though, obviously..
At around 8:30 - 9am the next morning we were dropped off at the reserve before dad headed to work. We didn't see a single soul for the first half an hour or so. We wandered down Shady Oak Trail, keeping our eyes pealed. The first wildlife sighting we saw came very unexpectedly and gave us both a fright! We were heading towards Alligator Ally too which didn't help! Edd heard a rustle in the bush along the path where we were stood. A moment later, a rather large otter leaped in front of us, ran across the path and into the dense foliage on the other side! Yes, you can image how excited I was getting! No more than 10 minutes into our journey and we were already encountering the wildlife. Our second sighting were a pair of incredible Bald Eagles, flying between the trees. I didn't get a photo opportunity again but what a sight to see!
I only brought my old, old camera, my very first DSLR that I got when I was 16! So the images aren't the usual standard and I only did basic editing, but the experience was amazing!
Before we approached Alligator Ally, we spotted Wild Boar grazing. There were a few piglets too.
It didn't take more than a few minutes to see our first sighting when we reached the beginning of the alligator trail. Quite close to the bank in the water, there were a pair of eyes staring back at us. We stayed in the same spot for a while, watching him. Eventually, we looked up and saw many more alligator shaped silhouettes in the lake! The more we looked, the more we saw!
We began to make our way along the trail. One side of the trail was the lake and the other side was a swamp with huge trees. There were all kinds of birds and they were everywhere you turned.
As we strolled along, I looked out towards the lake. I stopped suddenly in my tracks as we passed an opening along the bank. Lounging on the edge was a very large alligator facing our path. We didn't know much about alligators before the visit but on our last day in Florida we went on a nature tour on an airboat. Before the boat trip, we were given a talk on alligators. It was very interesting! Although at this moment I was a little apprehensive, we were pretty safe. Alligators only hunt at dusk or at night. As it was also spring, it was still quite cool. Sometimes the weather can be too cool for alligators to feed, their digestive systems don't work well.
We started to see more people, many with large cameras and massive lenses - I really wished I had my camera too at this point! There was a dock that lead into the water with a wooden hut at the end of it. An alligator was near the dock allowing me to get some good close ups.
I spotted an Osprey picking at a fish in a tree along the bank. We'd seen quite a few already and I remember seeing many from my last visits. I was still pleased to get some shots of the beautiful bird. I was even more pleased when another one swooped down in front of us and grabbed a fish! Now I REALLY wished I had my new camera!
After I viewed my shots, something happened that made everyone freeze instantly. There was a father and his kids on the dock too. Nobody made a sound as we were all shocked to hear some very loud growls of an alligator climbing onto the bank. I watched a couple walk towards him, another growl was made and they jumped out of their skin! I did manage to film a short video of the last couple of growls but I wished I'd captured the people on the trail! After all the excitement, we got off the dock and continued along the trail, keeping an eye out for the noisy gator. We passed a family who exclaimed an alligator walked across the path in front of them not too long ago. Edd and I agreed on how amazing it would be if we could witness the same thing. Literally a minute later, we did! I only caught a captured photos of the gator before he disappeared into the swamp. I wanted to experience him with my own eyes rather than always viewing everything via the camera. It's a very hard thing to achieve for a photographer I know!
The images below are of a water Moccasin snake. I crouched down and photographed the snake.. of course I would! It wasn't until our last day at the airboat tour where they explained that if there was anything you should stay away from in the water... it would actually be this snake! They are in fact venomous. Apparently young ones are also worse since they tend to release all their venom at once. I'm glad that neither of us decided to get any closer!
The next path was just beautiful, I didn't think it could look any more stunning. We were super lucky that we saw this Barred Owl in the trees.
We spotted another Osprey eating his lunch.
Not sure on this guy, possibly a Suwannee Cooter?
We thought this was a baby alligator but actually he was probably around 4 - 6 years. They grow pretty slowly and the size of an alligator is determined by how well fed they are.
We only saw one Bald Eagle for a short moment on Eagle Brook but we saw a few vultures.
There were also plenty butterflies and dragonflies around.
Hours later, we were making our way along the last trail. There were a few animals we still wanted to cross off our list. We hadn't seen any armadillos, a bobcat, tree frogs or racoons. Edd said he wanted to see a racoon the most. I thought he was joking when he said he'd spotted one hiding in the grass behind a tree a minute later! I slowly walked closer, round the tree and there it was! A very cute, young racoon peering at us. How adorable is he??
About 4 hours later we had completed the whole trail! The experience was so amazing and I'm 100% going to visit as many times as we can during our next trip!
I also loved the airboat nature tour. It was a little scary at the front, I admit, but so so much fun! The things are super speedy and it was insane how well the driver was able to navigate around the water trails. Our driver also stepped it up a bit by doing some crazy turns where half of the boat got submerged and we got sprayed by waves of water.
The only photos I managed to capture of a Bald Eagle were the images above. A mother guarding her nest which was in a tree close by. We even saw one of the chicks practice flying from branch to branch. If you ever find yourself in central Florida and are a lover of wildlife, I highly recommend checking out the nature reserves and Captain Fred's airboat nature tour. You even get to hold baby gators!