More than a Family Fun theme park, Gatorland gives unparalleled access to wide variety of birds and alligators in their natural habitat.
We spent a week in Orlando last March for some much needed vitamin D. As with most of Yvonne and my vacations we chose a day for Yvonne to do her thing, stretch out by the pool and for me to do my thing, get in some photography. When in the Southern United States that means visiting wildlife preserves for me!
I made my list of potential targets before hand, and to be honest Gatorland was not high on my list. I tend to choose locations that feature search, discovery and a lot of hiking. I assumed a theme park would be too manicured and contrived for my taste. I ended up going to Gatorland because it was the closest to our resort, leaving me more time for shooting and I found positive comments and feedback on the local birding blogs. My day at the park was one of the best days of birding that I have ever had. An unanticipated advantage of being close to Orlando was that AAA got to me quick when I locked my keys in the car! I would have had a different story to tell if I had have trekked into one of the large preserves that have areas with no cell phone service!
Gatorland was founded by the late Owen Godwin in 1949, and still is owned by his family. It is a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve. It showcases thousands of alligators and crocodiles including four extremely rare leucistic "white" alligators, a free-flight aviary and many attractions such as a petting zoo, zip line and animal shows.
Of particular interest to me was the Gatorland Photographer's Pass. This pass is available for purchase from late January to the middle of June and allows access to the park 2.5 hours before it opens to the public from Thursday to Sunday, and allows the holder to stay until dusk on Saturday. It gives access to the Gatorland Bird Rookery, which was created in 1991 as an alligator breeding marsh. This unique habitat is one of the largest and most accessible wading bird rookeries in Florida and provides protected nesting, foraging, and roosting area to over 20 different species of birds, many of which are listed as Endangered or Species of Special Concern.
Gatorland's boardwalks provide birders and photographers with close access to the birds, alligators and crocodiles while keeping them relatively undisturbed.
There were quite a few birders and photographers there when I was, but not to many to interfere with my shooting or enjoyment. I was salivating at some of the high power, high quality glass that I saw. I also felt like the novice I am next to these seasoned birders. They were very friendly and I learned of a few 'hot' spots including a Walmart parking lot that was home to a family of Osprey! I think I enjoyed the comradery as much as the shooting!
Students from one of the universities were studying the alligators and filming while I was there. It was interesting because they were in the water inciting the males to growl. Apparently they growl to mark territory and to attract a mate. They sound like a loud truck engine. Below are some images of the growling. I've included a pic of a group of students in the water. They must be nuts.
There is also a short nature trail in the park. I thought it was pretty lame until I came face to face with an Agkistrodon Piscivorus. An Agkistrodon Piscivorus is a venomous snake found in the southeastern United States. Adults are large and capable of delivering a painful and potentially fatal bite. I didn't know this when I took the picture in the gallery at the top of this blog!
I highly recommend checking Gatorland out if you like Birding and Gators. I used my 70-200mm zoom lens for the majority of my shooting, but also pulled out my 150-500mm Sigma lens for some shots across the marsh and my 70mm 2.8 macro lens for some close up shooting. The parking lot is close to the rookery so minimal hiking gear is required. I wore runners and a light jacket that I stripped off later in the morning.
There are a few different passes to choose from. For prices and more information visit gatorland.com
A Photo In The Life Of is a weekly PHOTO blog on LARRYLEWISPHOTO.COM. It is an evolution of my original blog A Photo in the life of that began in 2006. I hope to give a little context to my photography and maybe make a few new photography friends.