Sunday, April 13, 2008

Alligator Removal

As I was leaving the house yesterday I noticed that the truck of the state alligator trapper was parked by the pond nearest to our house. Apparently someone had lodged a complaint about a nuisance gator and they had come to capture it. I dashed back into the house and grabbed my camera and went down to the pond to observe these guys in action.

A lot of the job is waiting and watching for bubbles in the water.

They were able to observe a pair of gators in the pond and captured the smaller of the two. The other gator was a bit older and wiser in such matters and scrammed out of the area altogether. The game wardens waited around for it to reappear but finally gave up and carried their lone captive back to the truck.


Watch your fingers bubba.

Taped shut

The really sad part of the story is that once a gator feels comfortable approaching humans it must be destroyed because releasing it elsewhere runs the risk that it would just repeat past behaviors in a new locale. Alligators become habituated to being around humans because people irresponsibly feed them, which is a violation of state law, and this makes them dangerous because they lose their natural fear of humanity. This loss of fear increases encounters and can lead to attacks and serious injuries.

The warden shows me a gator's ear.

As I walked back to my house I passed the game warden's truck and heard a slithering commotion in the back of it. Much to my dismay I discovered that were three other caged captives awaiting their fate as a pair of shoes or a suitcase. Just another day in the life of the Florida Nuisance Alligator Trapper.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hontoon Island State Park

Hontoon Island State Park is a wild and beautiful 1,650 acre tract located in western Volusia County that preserves a large island in the St. Johns River. It requires taking a short ferry ride to get to the island (free of charge) and once there it is best explored by kayak or canoe, which are available for a nominal fee. We chose to hike the main nature trail of the park which leads through a variety of forest types and eventually to a gigantic shell mound that was built by the former occupants of this island some 2,000 years ago.

Owl totem (replica of the original)

The first inhabitants of the island were the Timucuan Indians who gathered snails from the shallows of the St. Johns River as a staple food item. Through the years the discarded shells accumulated to form large mounds which can still be seen today.

The Hontoon Island group were known as the Clan of the Owl and they carved a large totem which they placed by the banks of the river to show others their affiliation. The original carving was unearthed in the 20th century and is now on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It is said to be the largest native carving ever found in the state.

Visitor ferry to the island

Pine flatwoods occur on the higher areas, while palm and oak hammocks, cypress swamps and marshes border the river and its tributaries. Wildlife is plentiful with West Indian manatees using the shallows around the island as a wintering ground. Other mammals include river otter and raccoon. Wading birds such as herons, ibis and egrets can be readily observed as well as osprey and bald eagles. Watch out for the occasional alligator and on our hike we saw many snakes and lizards.

Dusky pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri)

The park is popular for picnics, camping and fishing and there are six rustic cabins in the thickly wooded forest near the campground.

Hammock Trail

Hontoon Dead River

Cypress swamp with abundant ferns along the river

Peacefully fishing the day away along the St. Johns River

This particular locale takes a little extra effort to find and is definitely off the beaten path but is well worth the time spent in transit to see this beautiful gem of the Florida park system.

Be careful where you step on this island.