Sunday, January 13, 2008

Drama on the Low Seas

Location: Bushnell, FL

Click for Larger Image of Turtle NosesWithin the campground, there are three fresh water ponds -- really pits left over from some excavation that have filled with rain water -- and, as is common in Florida, each one has a resident alligator. The alligators here are quite small as alligators go, somewhere around 4 foot long, but big enough to hunt the turtles and waterfowl that also call these ponds home. And there are a lot of turtles -- in this photo, each bump breaking the surface of the water is a turtle nose.

Click for larger image of Black Bellied Whistling DucksThere is also a healthy population of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) in one of the ponds. These waterfowl have black bellies, bright orange bills, and startling white wing patches that are displayed when they fly. I did get to hear their call -- it is a very pretty, clear trilly whistle (hence the name). They are very much a southern species -- their northern-most range is Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, and they are typically found in South America. Their name in Spanish is quite interesting: Pichichí or Pixixi.

But this morning's drama was all about the other ducks that live on this same pond. They had been splashing and preening on the shore of the pond when they spotted a nose moving towards them through the water. This nose was not a turtle nose! As the alligator got closer, they got more and more agitated and moved onto the shore, always keeping an eye on the predator. The alligator continued to stalk the ducks, dipping underwater as he closed the distance to his duck dinner. From the shore, it was not hard to figure out where he was submerged -- all beaks pointed directly towards the approaching gator. When he got near the shore, he broke the water's surface as he watched the now very focused ducks, apparently trying to decide if a sprint might net him a meal or just be a waste of energy. After about a minute, the alligator must have decided that the ducks were out of reach as he then submerged, the ducks calmed down, and then they waddled off. The drama was over.

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