Mary was in town last weekend and Lynn and I took her to visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm before our annual passes expire. The bird activity seem a bit slow now, compared with last year (at the end of April 2007). It was also overcast with light rain, but we still had a good time.
I used to drive on I-75 near Gainesville, Florida and see the marsh area just a bit south of the rest stop. From the interstate, it looked so picturesque that I always wanted to explore it and make some photographs. When my daughter went to UF, I made quite a few trips up there and discovered Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park . In addition to the state web page for this park, you can find some very good background information here and here .
This is an absolutely wonderful place – and there are certainly many photo ops in the park. More than 200 species of birds can be seen there, along with many, many alligators and other large animals such as deer, bison, and wild horses.
To really explore this park, be ready to take time and cover some distance – it’s very large (21,000 acres). If you only have a short time, you can start at the visitor’s center, climb the observation tower and hike out on Cone’s Dike Trail in an hour or two. If you have a bit longer, the La Chua Trail could easily consume a whole day.
Get out on the La Chua trail in the early morning and you will quickly be far away from any civilization. Please be very cautious, the alligators are everywhere, and if you don’t pay attention you can be right on top of them before you know it. The photo I made below shows a mama gator guarding her nest with her (out of focus) baby gators behind her. I made this photo with a 300mm equivalent focal length and didn’t want to get any closer.
Take a long lens so you can stay away from the gators too and to help you with bird photos. A wide-angle lens and a tripod will be good for scenic shots. I’ve been there several times most often late in the year, which seems to be a good time to go to avoid insects.