Tag Archives: Tri-colored Heron

Comparing Gatorland to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Intro



Tri Color Heron_DSC9601_7_nx2
Tri-color heron at Gatorland

A few weeks ago, I promised to compare the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to Gatorland from the point of view of a nature / wildlife photography enthusiast. And in this post, I’ll do it.

This entry is only a top-level summary of what you can expect at each place.  For more information, please look at earlier posts I’ve done, which you can find via the blog table of contents or by using the search box at the top of the page.

Roosting Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron roosting at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Summary table

Both of these parks have rookeries where wild birds come to roost.  This concentration of avian visitors is very handy for the bird photographer. Why would you pick one over the other to visit? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm caters to photographers and tries to make it easy to capture images of the birds, while Gatorland has canceled their photo pass program.  In my opinion, this is a huge difference and a major advantage for the Alligator Farm. This table lists other factors that I think would be important when comparing these parks.  I’ve listed each along with a comment to explain and a + or – rating to show which place I think comes out ahead on that factor.

Factor: Gatorland Alligator Farm
Birds
variety: Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks, anhinga, limpkins, vultures, others+ Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks,  vultures, others+
number of birds: Many+ Many+
Distance: Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+ Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+
behavior: Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+ Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+
Other wildlife: Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+ Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+
Information available: Lots of info available on the Website, and especially the blog (no longer being updated). There is a Flickr group where you can see the types of photos possible.+ Lots of info available on the  Website, There is a Flickr group, where you can see the types of photos possible. A Yahoo group used to post rookery updates, but has now been replaced by an Alligator Farm Blog.
Exhibits and shows: Several, good for the kids.+ Some, good for the kids.
Price: $20 – 100 (adults).  Some discounts available. $20 – 70 (adults)
Photo pass available: Yes: re-instated in 2012.  February through July, 7:30am to dusk. $99.99. Yes, $70 – with early entry at 8:00am+
Proximity ~40 minutes from Winter Springs.  Closer to Orlando.+ ~1 hour, 50 minutes from Winter Springs.  Farther from Orlando.-
Other photo ops in the area: Gatorland is a little isolated from other photo opportunities in the area. Historic St. Augustine has a huge number of photo opportunities.+
Other attractions in the area: Many attractions and parks in the Orlando area within a short drive.+ A few smaller attractions are close by.-

Conclusions

Which one should you go to? For nature and wildlife photography, I would say you probably can’t go wrong with either place.  Having an early entry program is very important to photographers so in my opinion, the overall edge goes to the Alligator Farm until Gatorland restores their program.  The staff at both parks is friendly,  and in the past  Gatorland has seemed even more so, but I’m concerned about the turnover at this park (apparently, Mike has left).

If you’re going for more than just photography, then  Gatorland is also probably a little more well-rounded, with more to do.  On the other hand, the Alligator farm makes for a nice day trip from Orlando when you combine it with a stop in the historical district or the fort.

You can capture stunning images at both places, so pick the one that is most convenient for you.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery

For my birthday this year, Lynn gave me a photographer’s pass to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. While you can take photos of alligators, the special thing about this park is that they’ve expanded the Alligator Swamp exhibit. The extra area includes a boardwalk where you can stay safely above the monsters in the water and get within feet of nesting birds. These wild birds have learned that the gators keep predators out of the trees, and as a result the park has become one of the largest natural bird rookeries in the state of Florida.

From March 2 – July 18, the annual pass allows you to enter the park early (~8 am) before it opens to general admission. May is the prime time for nesting and breeding. Lynn and I have been back several times.

Since they’re accustomed to people, you can get quite close to a variety of birds, although you’ll still get the best results with a long telephoto lens and a sturdy tripod. I get by with my 70 – 300 zoom, but there are people there with monster glass! Many use flash with a “Better Beamer” magnifier for greater range.

There’s an annual photo contest, with the winners used for a calendar sold at the gift shop.

For more information, visit the St. Augustine Alligator farm website .

My bird rookery photographs are here.

©2007, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.