My brother-in-law David has been here for more than a year and has been asking to see a big Florida alligator. I told him if he’d take some time off work, and we’d take him to Myakka River State Park on State Road 72. Well, he finally took a week off, so we made plans for a trip to Myakka.
We love coming to this park because the birding is always good, and the wild Florida surroundings are beautiful and peaceful. This particular day was a bit overcast with a hint there might be some precipitation. We just ignored it and went off with high hopes.
We stopped at the bridge, which is always a good place to view the ‘gators. This day was no different: Three 10- to 12-footers were lolling near us on the bank. Don explained to David that the distance from the eyeballs down the snout in inches would be the approximate length of the alligator in feet. Across the road on the opposite side was a mama with several of her young.
A quick thought went through my head that I hoped she wouldn’t eat all of her babies. Of course, mama gators are excellent and protective mothers. But there are predators that will happily dine on little alligators. One of the biggest threats to baby gators is the great blue heron, which eat them up to about 18 inches long.
We did point out all of the waders in the vicinity, including the great blue heron nest empty but still intact on a far island. In a distant pond, we picked up a yellowlegs but could not tell whether it was a greater or a lesser. We also spotted tri-colored herons, little blue herons, anhingas and some very noisy limpkins. David then told us that was the very bird that was keeping him up to all hours of the night as it screamed behind his house, which is on a canal.
I told David that this was only the appetizer at Myakka’s wild version of Gatorland, and we headed off to the weir. We spoke about seeing turkeys and deer and wild pigs here as we slowly drove the paved road. Suddenly David asked what that big black thing was far out in the field. Don pulled over and much to David’s glee we crossed the wild pig off the list.
We continued on, and shortly Don thought he spotted a turkey out on the wet lands. We stopped and focused our binoculars — sure enough, there was a small flock of turkeys. Another one off the list. We stopped to look down the power line road. Usually, we pick up a couple red-shouldered hawks and a possible bald eagle here. But today, there were many workmen and trucks there, so we crossed that off our excursion’s itinerary.
Finally we made it to the weir parking lot. We hiked through a grove of trees to get to the weir. I didn’t want to ruin David’s ultimate surprise by telling him much about what to expect. As we approached the area, I spotted several black-necked stilts — one of Florida’s most stunning birds, in their black, white and pink garb. There were also more limpkins screeching at each other and a raft of blue-winged teal.
We turned left to hike along the water and quickly discovered that Gatorland did not disappoint. There were about two dozen huge gators were sunning themselves on the opposite bank. Yes, David was happy! Interestingly, a small flock of roseate spoonbills were resting near the gators. We also spotted a cormorant and a snowy egret. The egret was on a rock and we got a clear look at his golden slippers.
We spent a while at the weir, but left plenty of time for the boardwalk. We certainly could not bring David for the first time and not go to the boardwalk.
The reeds were extremely short and dried up along the sides of the boardwalk — typical for the dry season. We also noticed a huge amount of uprooted vegetation due to the wild pigs. As we approached the end of the walk, I could see a huge flock of black-necked stilts wading in the shallow water. We also had a few osprey sightings. The white pelicans were all clustered together and looked like they all were napping. How rude of them; didn’t they know we had come to see them?
We loved the breeze and the overcast day, perfect for spending several hours at Myakka Gatorland. This is a great place to bring your relatives when they want to see the huge beasts Florida is famed for. Over the many years we have lived here, we have often enjoyed the gifts that Myakka State park provides to all. This is an incredible park, and we are so lucky it’s nearby.
Don said we were going to have a late, late lunch and off we went into Sarasota. He took us to a place that he knew David would love: Der Dutchman. Oh, my goodness — all that good Amish cooking. We all left stuffed and feeling like we will burst. David said it was the best day he’s had since he moved to Florida. That made me very happy, but I wasn’t too surprised. How could you not have a wonderful day at Myakka River State Park?
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.