No, the title does not suggest that we attended a University of Florida football game. Instead, we went kayaking at Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park. The name is a bit deceptive, since the park is technically on the Dead River, which connects with Lake Griffin, but who would think of the Dead River as a neat destination?
Fortunately, we have been to the park on several occasions, and thought that an early paddle on a Tuesday might result in more wildlife sightings than on previous trips. We were rewarded with close encounters of the prehistoric kind with eight members of the species Alligator missippiensis, the American alligator, not to be confused with its smaller Chinese alligator cousin or the salt water-based American crocodile.
It was a still morning, and the reflections of the trees and foliage in the glassy waters of Dead River were a delight.
Alligators were not the only wildlife we encountered. This snowy egret was foraging for lunch (probably small fish or frogs) as this ‘gator watched from a few feet away.
Called an “apex predator” (it’s comforting to be at the top of the local food chain!), alligators will eat just about anything that comes to hand… er, mouth… fish, turtles, crabs, small to medium sized mammals, and birds are all part of their diet. Muskrats and raccoons are the most favored mammals on their menu, and the rare attacks on humans are mostly in cloudy/muddy water and are attributed to mistaken identity. (Frankly, I doubt that such a defense would make the human recipient of an alligator attack feel an awful lot better.)
There were other birds out, such as this great blue heron (Ardea Herodias) with its six-foot wingspan. They prefer to stay more than 50 feet from paddlers, so as we moved along, this guy would launch, fly 50 yards or so, and land, then repeat the process as we moved along in his direction.
Along with several anhingas and a dozen or so disgusting-looking turkey vultures soaring over a carcass (suspected, not confirmed), there was an immature red-tailed hawk taking his “bird bath” in the water right at the canoe and kayak take-out.
It’s probably a pretty safe place to bathe, since there are usually people around (helps keep the gators away) and the water is very shallow with a sandy bottom, so visibility isn’t too bad (he might see a gator coming and be able to escape more easily). The somewhat amazing thing about our short paddle was that we were never more than a mile or two from Hwy 27/441 in a relatively heavily populated area. You don’t have to go all the way to Idaho or Alaska to enjoy nature…
We joined our friends Janis and Jim Murphy at their lakeside house in Mt. Dora for dinner with Rita and David Berkowitz, who are visiting from Norwell, Mass. Janis is a medium, and she and Suzanne studied together in England at Arthur Findlay College in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex. Rita is a well-known and highly respected psychic medium and spirit artist, and is co-author of Communicating with Spirits. While the ladies discussed mediumship, the guys admired Jim’s recently acquired 1993 Acura NSX mid-engine sports car and talked sailing and politics. These 3 ladies are highly sensitive and Suzanne had to clear the air when she came into the room where the guys had been having a heated discussion. Janis again impressed us with a splendid meal (left-to-right in the photo are David, Jim, Suzanne, Rita and Janis).
Janis and Jim also rescue animals. Here is a cute little girl named Woofie, an 8 year-old purebred Brussels Griffon (like the cute dog in the Jack Nicholson Movie “As Good As It Gets”). Woofie is in dire need of a new home where she will get lots of nurturing. She is a real sweetie who is quiet, healthy, house broken and very well behaved, but needs to go out every few hours. She is looking for a new owner to adopt. If you know someone that needs some puppy love, please contact us. (The big guy in the orange shirt, Jim, is also well behaved, might be considered cute by some, and is house broken, but is not up for adoption at this time.)