Gators & birds & bats, oh my!


Due to my son’s birthday party today, I didn’t think I would have much to say or show today.   After all, I had a house full of teenagers to make pizza for, and who knew how wild that might get?  As it turns out, it didn’t get wild at all.  They ate plenty of pizza and drank plenty of soda, and watched movies and played games.  So after the pizza was made, I headed out to see the bats down at UF.  I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again.  There are bat houses on the UF campus, at the community gardens across from Lake Alice.  As long as it’s warm enough, the bats will come out just before the sun goes down.  So I headed out there at 5, just as the sky was starting to change from blue to pink.


****

Before the bats, we wandered along Lake Alice, looking for gators and whatever other wildlife we might see.  Along the way, we saw trees full of birds.  I posted one of these earlier, but I got much closer this time.  They were full of egrets and anhingas.  When I asked to make sure that they were anhingas, I was told they were cormorants, so I checked up on that.  They are actually anhingas, which do look very similar to double-breasted cormorants, but cormorants are low-flying salt water birds and anhingas are soaring fresh water birds.  Since the lake is fresh water and these birds were soaring, I feel I can safely declare them anhingas.

When I got a little closer, I saw this beautiful blue heron among the anhingas and egrets, just sitting there in the tree.  He posed so nicely, even making sure I got his good side.  Around here, with all the water and wetlands, the bigger herons, like great blues and grey herons are fairly common and very easily seen, but the smaller ones don’t show up as much, even if they are just as common.

This may be the first time I’ve ever actually seen a blue heron, and to be completely honest, I had to look him up to know what he was.  I thought he might be a night heron, or a green heron, but his coloring was wrong.  When I was much younger,  I dated a birdwatcher who took me along with him on his outings.  I was all outfitted with books and lists and binoculars, and really enjoyed stomping (okay, quietly walking) through the woods, looking for birds.  If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you may have noticed that I like nature walks and trails and such, so I was always glad to go, but I didn’t always pay as much attention to the birds as I could have.  I do still have a habit of listening for birds, and sometimes even know what I’m listening for.  Mostly, though, I just enjoy seeing their pretty plumage.

As I was looking at one island full of birds, I noticed this dark spot on the ground below them.  Thinking it might be an anhinga sunning his wings, I zoomed in on it.  Do you see what that is?  Patiently waiting on an island full of birds is a gator!  The birds, each of whom he would gladly eat, just sit there in their trees ignoring him.  I guess they know he can’t get to them up there.

A little farther down, we noticed people stopping and staring, going down toward the lake.  There are any number of things they could be looking at around here, but my hopes were high for a gator swimming near shore.  What I saw was even better.  Look at this guy, sunning himself in the mud!  When I first saw him, his eyes were closed, but as I zoomed in, they popped open.  Look at that smile!

We got to the bat house just as the bats began to fly.  There were literally thousands of bats streaming out across the sky.  Even at this time of year, it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes for them to all exit the bat house.  It’s an amazing thing to see, and my photos don’t do it justice at all!

The bats move quickly, and the stream of them is constantly shifting.  There is also the problem of impending darkness, which makes it hard to get a sharp shot.  If you ever get a chance to see them yourself, it is well worth it.

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