Kissed by a Gator

Discussion in 'Nature' started by Phocal, Jun 25, 2016.

  1. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    As many of you know, the American Alligator (Alligator Mississippiensis) is my favorite wildlife subject. Many of my friends call me Gator Bait because I do things they think are crazy and are going to one day turn me into gator bait. Like me crawling this close to an alligator for a photograph (I actually got a bit closer by the time it was all over). A gator will typically hiss or outright take off into the water if it feels you are to close. When they do hiss at me (every gator is different in how close it will allow you to approach) I back off and respect their uneasiness with me.

    24398980163_189c6acfe0_c.
    Gator Bait 08
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I will admit that when I was looking thru the viewfinder and this big guy stood up to walk over to the lake (this trail has swamp on the left and to the right out of view is a lake) I was a bit startled. It's not often I have a gator stand up and walk while I am laying on the ground photographing him and I was not sure what he was doing. This day was pretty busy at the park and the gators seemed a bit uneasy because of all the activity (especially the bus loads of little kids running around screaming). I did manage to pull off a quick shot as I stood up because I was worried he was going to head towards me (I was laying on the ground 8 feet away).

    24395262764_ae3fb3f4bc_c.
    9
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 8
  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I honestly take very few chances around these natural born killers who are the apex predators of the swamps here in Southeast Texas. I have spent years observing their behavior in natural settings as well as reading every available bit of research I can find. While in college I had access to every scientific journal and databases full of master papers and PhD dissertations, which I took advantage of and between my own observations and reading I know gators pretty well. I also know that they are wild predators who are not predictable and can/do things that are unpredictable. So.... I am not fooling myself into a false sense of security and I am very much aware of the danger involved in my activities.

    Until recently my worse encounter with a gator was when this big 12 foot male kept swimming up to me and bellowing. He was being overly aggressive for the time of year, typically they are aggressive during mating season or when they have young (females are very aggressive protecting their young). I snapped this shot of him the first time he swam up to me.

    27286901803_718a35c460_c.
    Alpha
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Because of his location I had to go by him multiple times while moving around the park. My last time by him he actually crawled up the bank and chased me a bit down the trail, which was a real shock to me. They can hit speeds of 35mph but only for a very short time but he did not come at me full speed, was more a warning that he did not want me anywhere around. I talked with a friend who is a park ranger at the park and he said they had been having problems with him the past few months and were preparing to close that section of the park to take care of him (after my report they closed that section). They really had no idea what was wrong with him because it was not typical behavior of what we call nuisance gators (ones who lose their fear of humans because they associate people with food). The sad part being he was too big to safely catch and release so they were going to have to put him down.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 7
  3. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I have always said that if anything were to happen to me while in the swamps it would be from a gator crawling out of the swamp and across me. I wear full camo and spend a lot of time lying right next to the water very still either photographing something or waiting for a stupid bullfrog to resurface. There have been a few times that one has walked past me (within 5 feet) while heading to the water or come out of the water within 5 feet of me. These guys are silent and you will rarely hear them moving about. I was taking this photograph.

    27151198111_31d10a2aa5_c.
    Careful
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    When my friend warned me about his guy coming up behind me.

    27160131301_ed88764ef6_c.
    Gator Bait 28
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He moved up a bank from water on the other side, thru all that vegetation, and into the water without ever making a sound. If she had not told me he was coming I would never have known he was there unless I happened to catch him sliding into the water out of the corner of my eye. I was able to snap this shot of him after he got into the water.

    27151177671_fb25accac0_c. Slowly by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The park where these photographs are taken is basically a very large swamp with open areas (they call them lakes). You typically have water all around you, which makes knowing which way to look for a gator impossible because they can come from any direction.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 8
    • Winner Winner x 4
  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Last year in late May the park flooded and most of gator nest were destroyed. I am good friends with several of the rangers at the park and they told me they only knew of 4 nest that survived and only one was in a location that the public could to see the babies. That location was where I got this photograph of a baby gator.

    27151180681_887a6b6fb9_c.
    Relax
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Here is a photograph of me in that location taking the above photograph.

    27131987552_36314c0369_c.
    Gator Bait 29
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 10
  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Female gators will typically build their nest in the same location every year and this one has been here for the past 4 years that I know of. She usually keeps the young farther out in the swamp, which makes getting any photographs of them almost impossible. Gators mate in late May to early June and the young are born in late August to early September. The female gator will guard the nest (they bury the eggs) and then the young after they are hatched. They can have 75-100 eggs but only 1-3% of those that hatch will survive until adulthood. The female will stay with the young until the next mating season and will even allow her previous hatch to stay until the following hatch. Kind of confusing so lets see if I can do it by dates. Babies are born in August of 2014 and in May of 2015 she will breed again. When that 2015 breeding cycle hatches the 2014 babies are 1 year old and she will allow them to stay around. In May of 2016 the 2014 babies are about 1 ½ years old and by the time the 2016 babies hatch she will chase off the 2014 babies because they could now eat her new babies. By the time she chases them off there are only 1-10 (if even that many) still alive and most of those will get eaten by large water birds or other gators with only 1 or 2 living until adulthood.

    Well, mom was out breeding so the young moved up close to that bridge and were hanging out there. This made getting photographs of them pretty easy, this baby was right next to that front post you see in the photo above.

    27123449912_1700da6c52_c.
    Hello
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 11
  6. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I talked with my ranger friend when I returned the following Saturday and he said the mom had been gone 2-3 weeks. When I took the photos above there were around 15 babies in the area but the following Saturday I could only locate 3 of them. We had been getting really bad rains and the park was actually closing that evening because they expected the park to flood again (which it did and still is, probably wiping out all the gator nest for a 2nd year in a row). In this photograph the blue arrow marks where I was shooting the babies from the previous week and the red arrow shows where the point of this story really starts. The pinkish blobs mark the locations of the 3 babies I was able to find.

    27086321650_5173e59408_c.
    Initial View
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The top pink blob is where I got this photograph from, which was several hours after my gator kiss.

    26776750993_87739f0d98_c.
    Vicious
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I initially was trying to photograph the baby at the center blob. In the photo below the red arrow marks where I was laying with my camera between the curb and wood post and the baby is marked by the blue arrow. Yes, if you look you can see the moma gator in this photograph but this was taken after the kiss, she was not there when I was taking the photograph.

    27086316310_e8ed339c47_c.
    Shooting Location for Gator Kiss
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    From that location I got this photograph of the baby.

    27822290991_2db1f0e030_c.
    Baby Gator
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    When I arrived here I was looking all over for the babies as well as the mother gator. I am very observant and not much goes without me noticing it, especially when I am in the swamp looking for gators. All I could find in the area were the 3 baby gators, not sure what happen to other 12 or so that where there the previous Saturday and I did not see any adult gators. After getting the above photograph I wanted to switch the EC-14 for the EC-20 so I rolled onto my back and made the switch (during this time I was looking up and it's probably when she came out from under the bridge and why I did not notice it, they can sense vibrations very well so she knew I was up there). After the switch I rolled over and placed my lens in position but before I could even get the little guy in the viewfinder all hell broke lose. The event is really just a blur but I remember seeing something move in front of and to my right as I put my eye to the viewfinder. I also remember hearing a noise and feeling the bridge vibrate a little while at the same time the camera was pushed back into my face. Something told me it was a gator (not one of the babies) and as I got to my feet to get out of the way I guess I hit the shutter button on the camera and it captured this.

    27620527210_9f2308d75c_c.
    Momma Gator
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This is like one of those photographs you see in the movies when someone goes missing and all they find is their camera and the last thing they photographed. I honestly have no idea where she came from. The only thing I can think is that she had returned from mating to look after her kids and was hanging out under the bridge. If you look in this photograph the red arrow marks a beam sticking out from the bridge that I really believe saved me from getting bit because she smacked it while lunging at me and it slowed/stopped her progress. It is also what made the bridge vibrate giving me a warning that something was happening. The blue arrow marks the fairly large mother gator (8-9 feet long).

    27086309490_21e795dbda_c.
    The Saving Wood
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Winner Winner x 5
    • Like Like x 3
    • Informative Informative x 1
    • Wow Wow x 1
  7. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    This incident really spooked me and had me on edge the rest of the day. It is the closes I have come to getting hurt by a gator and it shows that no mater how careful you are something can always happen. It is also why I probably never saw this bullfrog croak again after I got into position.

    26776754723_ba6dca5309_c.
    Waiting Game
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I was still really shaken up (this was a few hours later) and I could not stay still while watching the frog. I kept looking around for gators and the frog knew I was there so was not going to do anything until I was gone. When I did spot a gator in the water about 15 feet away I decided to abandon the endeavor and head home (it was getting pretty late and the light was going to shit). I have also not photographed gators since this and I am wondering how it is going to affect me the next time I am in the swamp. Once school slows down and I have time to get back out there (after the summer semester is over) it will be interesting to see how I react.

    I did get to see some new gator behavior because of this female gator. I stuck around a bit after this and took some photographs and the entire time she kept a watchful eye on me. She would move off a bit but if I got to close to the babies or they chirped she would come right over to me. She was never aggressive again, but she let me know she was watching me and I made sure to always be aware of where she was. I went to the other side of the small lake to see if this older baby gator I photographed the previous Saturday was still around. Here is a shot of him from the previous Saturday.

    27151173051_eb6855a42d_c.
    Smile
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He was there but never in a position for any good photographs. When I returned to other babies there was a park volunteer with a group of kids looking at the babies. This is when I got to observe the new behavior of the female gator. Most of my time observing gators is when I am alone or with one other person so I don’t have a lot of experience around them when there are large groups of people. With the large group of people by her young she went out into the lake (about 20 or 30 yards) and started swimming back and forth while putting on a show that was similar to what they do when mating. I thought to myself that she was doing this to get the attention focused on her and not her babies and she continued this behavior for the entire 10 or 15 minutes the group was in the area. When they moved on and it was only me standing there on the bridge she swam right back up to me to let me know she was still their, confirming my suspicion about her behavior. It was really interesting to see the different behavior from her depending on the number of humans in the area.

    It was not until later that I realized she actually did bite the lens hood. There were multiple cracks in it that I had to tape up to keep it together until I got a replacement.

    I don’t think this incident will stop me from doing what I do. It has given me a new respect for them and I will make double sure the mother is not around or that I know where she is before photographing baby gators. I also know it would be very helpful to always have a spotter with me when out in the swamp but that is not always possible.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
    • Like Like x 10
    • Winner Winner x 6
  8. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    You are definitely crazy. No question. If we had gators in Ohio, I would be doing the same. :D

    Really nice write up. I like to know the details, and the story behind a shot. As a fellow student of animal behavior, it's all fascinating. It does make me glad that the most dangerous critters in my swamp want nothing to do with me. I'd have to provoke a beaver or snapping turtle pretty bad to ever have any issues. Those are probably the most fearsome bites I could get in the swamps of Ohio.

    Don't go gettin' the yips. Just be careful. And don't get tunnel vision waiting for a frog to resurface!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    In the words of Sheldon Cooper "I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested". Crazy would be the stupid people I see at the park who have zero knowledge about gators still trying to get close enough for a "selfie with a gator" after it has been hissing at them for 30 seconds. I normally get ready for some action photography when I see that stuff happening because I have found that unless you wear a park rangers uniform they will not believe a word you say.

    My love of observing animal behavior is probably why I have stuck with wildlife photography so long. LOL, I would love to watch you getting chased by a beaver or even better a turtle. Pretty sure you could outrun the turtle unless it was in the water then it would be a pretty even race.

    I don't think that will happen. Have had much worse happen while in the service and my jumpiness after that was similar to then. Super hyper vigilant the hours after but a few days later all is back to normal. I seldom if ever get tunnel vision like that, always have my eyes looking for danger. I have always been super observant, a skill I honed from years of hunting with my older cousin who could get a shot off faster then me. If I wanted to get a shot I had to see it before him because his reflexes where faster then mine. That super observant nature I have developed has come in handy more then once in my life time.
     
    • Like Like x 4
  10. sphexx

    sphexx Mu-43 Regular

    54
    Feb 19, 2010
    Harrogate, Yorkshire
    Great story/photos. You are definitely not crazy. However, I do hope you won't go to Australia and try the same technique on their salties :-o .
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Funny Funny x 1
  11. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Would not think of it. They may look similar but are completely different animals with different behaviors and temperaments.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. VisualUniverse

    VisualUniverse Mu-43 Rookie

    20
    Jun 25, 2016
    Phillip L Jones
    Great photos and great story. Observing animal behavior is fascinating and addictive, making wildlife photography an absolute joy and adventure. Risk is part of it. Just this morning I went looking for a gator and almost stepped on a Cottonmouth in the process.

    I am envious of your shots. Clearly your patience pays off. Went down to your area back in Feb. Rented a kayak to photograph Armond/Horsepen Bayou on day 1...my first time to photograph gators while floating by 'em. Visited Brazos Bend S.P. on day 2 and was stunned at how many gators were relaxing on the shore. Even more stunned, as you described, at how many folk were standing a few feet away from gators while taking selfies.

    Been lugging around heavy DSLR equipment when on trails, and am now going to try out M4/3 gear. Your photography gives me hope.
     
  13. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thank you. When you live in an area that contains both gators and poisonous snakes you do have to keep your eyes looking for every danger. If you are ever in the area again let me know, I have some better spots for paddling with the gators as well as a 2nd kayak. The one thing I like about BBSP, the gators are more tolerant of people and I can get much closer to them then I can in other places. In some ways it makes it more dangerous but I enjoy being able to get closer. I want a wifi enabled backup camera (currently have the EM5 as my backup) so I can use a remote controlled car to get a frame filling fisheye photograph. Need a cheap backup camera for this incase the gator decides the remote controlled car is a good meal.

    I also come from the DSLR world and got tired of carrying around the big gear. Once the EM1 was released it made Olympus a serious option for me, especially since it could use the amazing 4/3 lenses. I hate tripods or even monopods because they get in the way a lot of the time. When I take one with me I am always worried about it getting stolen because I will pull the camera off and end up 1/2 mile down the trail and have to go back for it. Now I just never take it unless I am going to shoot sunrise and I always go right back to the Jeep afterwards to dump it off. While I hate my tripods I do love the skimmer pod that @faithblinded@faithblinded printed for me. This thing is becoming my new favorite camera accessory. I love that low perspective and this makes it so much easier for crawling towards stuff and for sitting there waiting for the action.

    Here is a thread I started that is nothing but links to the other threads I started. I did this as an easy way to point people to various threads about using an EM1 and two 4/3 lenses for wildlife and action photography. Using the EM1 with 4/3 Lenses for Sports/Action/Wildlife Photography

    One you may be interested in is this one: ZD 150mm ƒ2.0, a park, and why I shoot Olympus This thread really shows my shooting style and why I prefer the smaller format over trying to lug around a 400mm+ lens all day.

    Speaking of Cottonmouths, here is a shot I took at BBSB over the winter. There were about 20 people standing on the trail and watching me crawl towards this guy for a photograph. He was in the perfect spot for a great photo but I spooked a Bullfrog while moving towards him which caused him to move and put this stick in my way (he was curled up to the right of the stick). He crawled off right after I shot this, I was a little nervous as he crawled away because I was not sure where he was going. While I am fine with gators I am actually pretty nervous around snakes and prefer to avoid them.

    p1504177292-5.

    Edit - This was one of those times I was thankful for the 150/2. Was small enough that it was easy to crawl forward (was crawling under/thru bushes to get there) and shooting at ƒ2.0 let me keep ISO down to 200.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
    • Like Like x 5
  14. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Barry
    @Phocal@Phocal, maybe you could use a GoPro on your RC car, they have wide lenses... I'm not sure about remote, but they have time lapse options and video of course.
     
  15. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I want to print the image and would love to print it big so would prefer a µ4/3 camera. I am going to get my shot this winter, right now the weeds are to high around the edges of the swamp. Once I get the EM1mk2 I will volunteer my EM1 to be the camera and give it a try, after getting a cheap remote controlled car.
     
  16. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Barry
    OK, but be aware many of the cheap cars don't have enough torque to go up a slight hill, especially with a pound of added cargo.

    Maybe you can find a used Tamiya or similar.

    Sent from my iPad using Mu-43 mobile app
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    • Like Like x 1
  18. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    That's pretty cool, print up a holder for your EM5mk2 that will mount to it and then ship the frame, holder and EM5mk2 to me.
     
    • Funny Funny x 3
  19. VisualUniverse

    VisualUniverse Mu-43 Rookie

    20
    Jun 25, 2016
    Phillip L Jones
    Thanks for the offer. I plan to get back down there in Dec.

    This is a great idea! I have a GoPro and a 4x4 Axial RC Bomber. I have thought about trying this configuration to get to one of the bobcats in the woods behind my house. Never even thought about approaching a gator.

    It does look like an ideal tool, as you don't have to mess with 3 tripod legs as you slide across the terrain.

    Thanks for the info...will check it out.

    This is a superb capture!! Nice work.
     
  20. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    December is a good time for gator photography, November thru about Feburary are my favorite times.