Gator Hunt

Location: St. Petersburg, Florida

I arrived at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve with an eager smile. It was an annual trip; every year my grandparents would drive my brother and I up to the park for a relaxing stroll through the trails. We always took our time, moving about ten-feet every minute, searching every blade of grass and speck of water for any sign of interesting life. It was my favourite place to go.

I had first gone to Boyd Hill five years ago, and that was also the very first time I saw a wild alligator. I spotted it in a moss covered lake just below a bridge.

American Alligator (Baby)

Though it was just a baby, I found the sight simply amazing. I loved animals, specifically reptiles, and being so close to such a spectacular creature was like a dream come true. From that moment on, my grandparents and I made it our goal to find at least one alligator a year.

And so the hunt began.

I stepped lightly down the trodden path, eyes pierced, head flicking between every grain of dirt and every leaf. Not even a minute in, did I make our first discovery. In a garden just outside the discovery center, the usually vibrant plants were speckled with large black spots. At first, I thought maybe a disease was spreading, but as I neared, I saw that the spots were grasshoppers. Not the usual green or brown grasshoppers, but large black ones with orange and red stripes. And there were hundreds of them too! It was a good way to start the trip.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

I continued on with a bright smile and a slight skip to my step. I couldn’t wait to see what we would find next.

With every interesting find, I stopped to observe and take a photo from every possible angle until the perfect image was captured. By the end of the trip, I had over a thousand photos and multiple gigabytes of storage space taken up. And that was because we made a lot of interesting finds.

On a patch of coarse dirt, I spotted a resting butterfly, waving its wings in rhythm with the beating of its heart. On my hands and knees, I crawled toward it inch by inch, pausing every time it tensed its wings. I wouldn’t let it escape the camera of my Iphone8. Nothing ever did.

I followed the exact same steps for my next three discoveries, though the terrain made matters much more difficult. Leaves rustled beneath my creeping arms and pointed sticks scratched at my bared legs. But despite the noise I made, my targets did not escape.

White Peacock

After an hour of trekking through the super-heated trail, we began to tire. Luckily for us, several water stations filled with ice cold, refreshing water had been spread at equal intervals to quench the thirsts of worn out hikers. I was the first to the station, and as I chugged the last of my revitalizing drink, I made our fifth discovery:

A bright green lizard relaxing peacefully atop the lid of the trashcan.

Green Anole

During the next hour, all we saw were spiders. A whole lot of them. Their webs strung between every leaf on every bush. Some even overlapped each other, and those that did, did not seem to get along. With wide eyes and an open mouth, I watched the spiders fight. It involved many erratic lunges and flailing limbs.

Golden Silk Orbweaver

Then it was time to enter the boardwalks – my favourite part of the entire trip. I stepped onto the bridge with my heart beating like a pounding hammer. My eyes swept the calm surface of the lake, digging through piles of algae and peering through cracks in the water lilies. My worry began to grow as none of us saw anything other than chunky piles of green and squawking moorhens, but if there was one thing I should have known, it was that the alligators wouldn’t be easy to find. We would have to look harder.

After a long time of searching, I finally spotted a pair of small lumps protruding from the murky surface – the eyes of a baby alligator. I felt relieved, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted more.

And more is exactly what I got. One by one, they began to appear. A juvenile resting atop a mound of broken sticks, a baby paddling through the thick layer of algae, four more juveniles circling a family of helpless moorhens. And then I saw something that made my hunt all the better: a great big, fully grown alligator resting on the bank.

American Alligator (Juvenile) & Moorhens
American Alligator

I smiled. This would be a gator hunt to remember. Half a dozen babies and one fully grown adult. It was my most successful one yet. But next year I would do better.

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