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Florida bird photography in mid April

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Old Tuesday 26th February 2013, 01:06   #1
opticoholic
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Florida bird photography in mid April

Hello,
I'm sure you get a million posts like this, and I WILL spend time digging through the old threads, I promise, but that's a bit overwhelming so thought I'd start my own little thread anyway.

I recently found out I'm headed for Florida during the 2nd-3rd week in April. I'll be stuck in the Orlando/Disney World area for the first 2-3 days, but I have no interest in the amusement park or golfing etc. I will be trying to sneak away to parks, refuges and birding areas at every opportunity. After 2 nights at the resort (business), I will extend the trip with about 5 days of free vacation time. I know this isn't enough time to scratch the surface so I'll need to make some choices.

I've been to Florida to bird but only once briefly back in 2005. I've never been to the Everglades in my life, so one possibility is to spend most of the free days down there. I'm sure I need lots of the Florida "specialty" species on my life list, but I'm really not a list-driven birder. I'm more interested in quality photography opportunities especially in areas where I can find a little seclusion at least part of the time without other visitors constantly walking past me and my big lens. I love walking in wooded settings and stalking migrating songbirds, but I'll take any bird that cooperates. A guided trip into a cypress swamp or a few stops at feeders would be fun.

Thanks in advance for pointing me at links or suggesting ideas. I will update you on my final plans and I'll give you a short report after the trip with a few of the best photos I get.

--Dave
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Old Tuesday 26th February 2013, 18:40   #2
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Hi Dave,
Have you thought about basing yourself in the Naples area, Devils Garden Bird Park, book yourself on to a one on one trip for the day. My lad and myself found them very helpful throughout the trip and could not do enough for us. The gentleman that took us round was a mind of local information. Then you have Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary just outside Naples. Found if you get there as its opening you can the whole place to yourself for a couple of hours. Then access to lots of area's of the everglades within a short drive.

Steve
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 04:13   #3
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Thanks Steve. Yes, I like the idea of finding an well recommended "base of operations" located pretty close to a lot of nice birding areas, and maybe stay there most of the time, as long as there are plenty of fun and different places to go each day. As I'm starting from knowing next to nothing about birding Florida, it will simplify matters to decide where this base of operations will be. Right now I'm inclined toward south Florida, just because I have never been in that part of the state, never seen the Everglades, and maybe I'll see a few more migrants arriving down there. I'd like to stay for 5 or 6 full days of birding after I leave the Orlando resort, then drive back up to Orlando at the end of the final day, stay the night and fly back the next day.

--Dave
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 08:15   #4
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The drive from Orlando is straight forward, and if you cut across county there is some good birding stops on the way. The beach at Naples is also very good for wader,s, Tern's, and Gull's. The Everglades is right on the door step really. I found the Tamiami Trail to be the better for birding then the Everglades Parkway. Can recommend the Naples Gulf and Spa Hotel right on the beach.

Steve
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 17:00   #5
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I was in that same Orlando / disney area and for someone who likes wildlife etc...bummer...I did see some wild turkeys in the parking lot!..

Okay...rent a car and drive east to Merritt Island....wonderful birding area, alligators, all types of birds.... I spend a few days there ...about 45 min from Orlando as I recall... I want to return! jim
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 18:57   #6
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The Disney area of Orlando is more full of birds than most people realize - it just takes getting away from the touristy areas and finding the quieter trails. Even throughout Disney property, there are lots of nice quiet spots where a good number of birds can be found. On a typical trip there, I come back with counts of 35-50 species, and that's while on vacation with family where my birding is limited to 30 minutes to an hour during a day.

Many of the best photographic spots in South Florida are not going to give you loner-type solitude - there WILL be other birders there, and there will be regular tourists there...but you will get by far the best photograph opportunities with ridiculous proximity to many birds. Places like Peaceful Waters, Wellington Wetlands, Arthur Marshall, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Green Cay Wetlands, etc will be excellent, but also populated. Even Everglades tends to be fairly populated - unless you branch off randomly throughout the massive expanse of the place to find your own spot - typically the 'gathering' spots for birding like Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley will put you around other birders and tourists. I'm not sure if your reasoning for not wanting to be near other birders is because you just want to be alone, or because you don't want to receive comments about your lens or rig - if it's because you want to be alone, then there are fewer places to find in populated South Florida...if it's because you don't want comments or conversation or to 'stand out' with a camera and big lens, I can at least comfort you in noting that you will not be the only one with a big lens - there are dozens of them out there sometimes. And even at the more crowded parks, there are down hours (early AM), and ways to avoid too much intrusion...and the birds at these locations could not honestly care less - people can be shouting, dancing, running, laughing, and posing for photos sometimes mere inches away from some birds, and not even give the bird enough cause to open its eyes. Quite a few species sit right on the handrails of the boardwalks as people walk by them, mere inches away...not a care in the world.
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 21:25   #7
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Originally Posted by Zackiedawg View Post
I'm not sure if your reasoning for not wanting to be near other birders is because you just want to be alone, or because you don't want to receive comments about your lens or rig.
I guess the reason is a little of both, but also my experience is that especially some smaller birds are rather shy and big groups decrease your chances to get close. But on the other hand, other "resident" birds can get so habituated to human passers by that they become the most photograph-able of all... In any case I'm glad to hear maybe some of the Florida birds are oblivious to humans. I guess the colorful songbirds are my favorite subjects as a birder and photographer--warblers, buntings, tanagers, etc. Several of the eastern warblers would be lifers for me, and many other eastern species I've only seen a few times because I go east so rarely. A "fall out" situation would be a treat, but I'll be happy to work with whatever allows me to get close. It would be cool to get some good close-ups of herons or egrets with that intense color in the lores, etc. that only lasts a short time. I will be looking hard for bird feeders where visitors are welcome, and also might reserve a photo blind one morning, if it is reported to be a good one...

Any recommendations on a guided boat tour deep into a marsh or out to an island? That might be a memorable thing to do one day. I also want to try to squeeze in a few hours learning to snorkel.

Alas, I will run out of time. I'll plan most days out completely, with multiple destinations and "plan B" options, but after that I'll just relax and enjoy what unfolds. I'll probably leave my last full day free to return to the area(s) I liked best.

Thanks a lot Justin and everybody for sharing your suggestions and advice.

--Dave

Last edited by opticoholic : Wednesday 27th February 2013 at 21:41.
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2013, 22:57   #8
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I guess the reason is a little of both, but also my experience is that especially some smaller birds are rather shy and big groups decrease your chances to get close. But on the other hand, other "resident" birds can get so habituated to human passers by that they become the most photograph-able of all... In any case I'm glad to hear maybe some of the Florida birds are oblivious to humans. I guess the colorful songbirds are my favorite subjects as a birder and photographer--warblers, buntings, tanagers, etc. Several of the eastern warblers would be lifers for me, and many other eastern species I've only seen a few times because I go east so rarely. A "fall out" situation would be a treat, but I'll be happy to work with whatever allows me to get close. It would be cool to get some good close-ups of herons or egrets with that intense color in the lores, etc. that only lasts a short time. I will be looking hard for bird feeders where visitors are welcome, and also might reserve a photo blind one morning, if it is reported to be a good one...

Any recommendations on a guided boat tour deep into a marsh or out to an island? That might be a memorable thing to do one day. I also want to try to squeeze in a few hours learning to snorkel.

Alas, I will run out of time. I'll plan most days out completely, with multiple destinations and "plan B" options, but after that I'll just relax and enjoy what unfolds. I'll probably leave my last full day free to return to the area(s) I liked best.

Thanks a lot Justin and everybody for sharing your suggestions and advice.

--Dave
Dave,
There was a great fallout at Fort Desoto, on the West coast of Florida, near St.Petersburg in April last year. Great spot for shorebirds too.
I go every year. I like Orlando Wetlands Park, Vierra,The Gator Farms in Orlando and St.Augustine and Merritt Island.
Neil.
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Old Thursday 28th February 2013, 10:40   #9
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Yes ft desoto can be amazing on fallout. Am lucky to have in my backyard. Last week march into April you never know what might happen. Can go from nothing to amazing if the right weather front comes through. Dave if you head to st Pete on a weekend drop me a note as am usually at park one day a weekend. Would also be checking birdbrains listserv before you come. Lots of postings for central Florida area that might help you plan where else to go
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Old Thursday 28th February 2013, 14:41   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by opticoholic View Post
I guess the reason is a little of both, but also my experience is that especially some smaller birds are rather shy and big groups decrease your chances to get close. But on the other hand, other "resident" birds can get so habituated to human passers by that they become the most photograph-able of all... In any case I'm glad to hear maybe some of the Florida birds are oblivious to humans.
Indeed, even with the smaller birds and migrational birds, they don't really get too perturbed with lots of people. The key is that many folks simply walk by - probably 2/3 of the people at the small urban wetlands parks are exercisers and locals, and maybe 1/3 out there for photography - the 2/3 will walk by without much fuss, and the birders usually have the sense to stay quieter and observe. I've been among a group of as many as 20 photographers while photographing a big migrational gathering of warblers last September - and the warblers were still coming within 10 feet of the group, sitting right out in the open on branches while camera shutters slapped...I even got 3 lifers that day.

Quote:
I guess the colorful songbirds are my favorite subjects as a birder and photographer--warblers, buntings, tanagers, etc. Several of the eastern warblers would be lifers for me, and many other eastern species I've only seen a few times because I go east so rarely.
The biggest impediment you may have is the wonky weather. Due to our complete lack of a winter since March 2011, the migration has been getting completely out of whack - the birds are confused and migrating through in a much more spread out fashion, some not coming as far south as normal, coming down later, or leaving earlier. It's very ironic that the northern US has had some of their hardest winter this year, while we once again have had none at all. We're seeing very strong numbers of warblers, vireos, robins, and other small birds passing through now, so the warbler numbers may be down a bit by April. The ones you'll have the best chance at are the palm warblers, eastern phoebes, painted buntings, common yellowthroats, yellow-throated warblers, and maybe a few other stray warblers. Purple martins should be around, and the stilts & sandpipers should be filling in by then. Least and American bittern usually stick around all summer, and all the usual waders will be in force. The best you could hope for is any kind of late cold snap that might creep down here in March - though the way things have been going, you're more likely to see near-90 temps.

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I will be looking hard for bird feeders where visitors are welcome, and also might reserve a photo blind one morning, if it is reported to be a good one...
Some of these same wetlands parks have feeders set up near their entrances or nature centers, which are often quite good for drawing the colorful birds - Green Cay Wetlands' feeders are downright common for painted bunting and occasional indigo - similar for the feeders at Okeeheelee Park. The feeders in the cypress woods at Arthur Marshall bring in some oddballs sometimes - like waterthrushes.
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Old Sunday 3rd March 2013, 18:37   #11
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If you are searching for warblers and neotropical migrants, then there are two prime locations in peninsular Florida to observe them in the spring: Fort De Soto in Pinellas County on the central gulf coast OR the string of state parks (Key Largo State Botanical, Windley Key, Long Key, Bahia Honda, Fort Zachary) all along the Florida Keys. The latter also puts you in a better position to observe Florida's specialties: Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Nighthawk, White-crowned Pigeon, Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, etc. The Florida Keys can be amazing in spring, and if you hit a place at dawn, you might witness the spectacle of warblers streaming in off the water and over the park.

Quote:
The ones you'll have the best chance at are the palm warblers, eastern phoebes, painted buntings, common yellowthroats, yellow-throated warblers, and maybe a few other stray warblers. Purple martins should be around, and the stilts & sandpipers should be filling in by then. Least and American bittern usually stick around all summer, and all the usual waders will be in force. The best you could hope for is any kind of late cold snap that might creep down here in March - though the way things have been going, you're more likely to see near-90 temps.
Justin, by the time April has rolled around, American Bittern, Eastern Phoebe, Painted Bunting, and the bulk of the Palm Warblers will have departed Florida. They do not summer here.

April can be very good in Florida or very bad, but it does help to be in the tried and true spring migration hotspots mentioned earlier in this post.

Carlos
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Old Tuesday 5th March 2013, 21:29   #12
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If you are searching for warblers and neotropical migrants, then there are two prime locations in peninsular Florida to observe them in the spring: Fort De Soto in Pinellas County on the central gulf coast OR the string of state parks (Key Largo State Botanical, Windley Key, Long Key, Bahia Honda, Fort Zachary) all along the Florida Keys. The latter also puts you in a better position to observe Florida's specialties: Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Nighthawk, White-crowned Pigeon, Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, etc. The Florida Keys can be amazing in spring, and if you hit a place at dawn, you might witness the spectacle of warblers streaming in off the water and over the park.



Justin, by the time April has rolled around, American Bittern, Eastern Phoebe, Painted Bunting, and the bulk of the Palm Warblers will have departed Florida. They do not summer here.

April can be very good in Florida or very bad, but it does help to be in the tried and true spring migration hotspots mentioned earlier in this post.

Carlos
Painted Buntings breed on the north-east coast of Florida so not all of them leave.

check out this new free guide for birding the Orlando area

http://myfwc.com/media/2345471/RSGOrlando.pdf

I highly recommend Orlando Wetlands Park. Reinhard Geisler, a very good bird photographer visits that site a lot and gets great pictures. Tom Dunkerton one of the state's best photographers gets terrific pics from Viera Wetlands and Merritt Island NWR.

the only problem you have is deciding where to go as photographic opps in Florida are plentiful! You'll have a great time wherever you decide to go.
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Old Sunday 10th March 2013, 00:42   #13
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this might be on interest to you . The Orlando wetlands park

http://nbbd.com/godo/orlandowetlands/
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Old Thursday 27th June 2013, 23:44   #14
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Final gallery and trip list

Hello,
I know April was a long time ago, but I recently finished a gallery of bird photos from my trip back in April. I used Flickr in the past, but I'm giving SmugMug a try:

wildbirds.smugmug.com

I want to thank everyone who gave me advice in this thread. I followed many of your suggestions and I had a great time. My main destinations included Merritt Island NWR, Orlando Wetlands Park, Green Cay Wetlands, Everglades NP, Big Cypress NP, Marco Island, Corkscrew Swamp, and Fort De Soto Park. And for anyone reading this thread planning an April trip to Florida, can heartily recommend all of these places.

The migrating songbirds on my trip were pretty scarce, even at Fort De Soto, but I was forewarned that might be the case. That's okay; I took photos of whatever birds would cooperate, and it worked out fine.

Based on my brief experience, I have to agree with Justin's statement that many birds in Florida are amazingly tolerant of people. For example, Red-shouldered Hawks here in California are far more wary of people than the ones I encountered in Florida.

The final tally of species heard or seen was about 112; I'll paste a list below. I know 112 isn't much for a week of birding in Florda, but I got decent photos of about half of all these birds, so I'm satisfied. I got 14 life birds, and the rest will just have to wait for next time. I did see a few other ducks not listed below... Greater/Lesser Scaup for one. How could I have not seen a Mallard? Oh well. It's hard for me to keep accurate lists, especially when I'm focused on photography.

--Dave

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna autumnalis
Mottled Duck - Anas fulvigula
Blue-winged Teal - Anas discors
Wood Stork - Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga - Anhinga anhinga
American White Pelican - Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalis
Least Bittern - Ixobrychus exilis
Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias
Great Egret - Ardea alba
Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron - Egretta tricolor
Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens
Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron - Butorides virescens
White Ibis - Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus
Roseate Spoonbill - Platalea ajaja
Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatus
Red-shouldered Hawk - Buteo lineatus
Sora - Porzana carolina
Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio martinicus
Common Gallinule - Gallinula galeata
American Coot - Fulica americana
Black-bellied Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
Wilson's Plover - Charadrius wilsonia
Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus
Piping Plover - Charadrius melodus
American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus
Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius
Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria
Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
Willet - Tringa semipalmata
Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Sanderling - Calidris alba
Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla
Dunlin - Calidris alpina
Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata
Laughing Gull - Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull - Larus delawarensis
Least Tern - Sternula antillarum
Caspian Tern - Hydroprogne caspia
Forster's Tern - Sterna forsteri
Royal Tern - Thalasseus maximus
Sandwich Tern - Thalasseus sandvicensis
Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia
White-crowned Pigeon - Patagioenas leucocephala
Eurasian Collared-Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura
Common Ground-Dove - Columbina passerina
Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia
Barred Owl - Strix varia
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris
Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker - Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker - Dryocopus pileatus
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet - Brotogeris chiriri
Great Crested Flycatcher - Myiarchus crinitus
Eastern Kingbird - Tyrannus tyrannus
Gray Kingbird - Tyrannus dominicensis
Loggerhead Shrike - Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo - Vireo griseus
Red-eyed Vireo - Vireo olivaceus
Blue Jay - Cyanocitta cristata
Florida Scrub-Jay - Aphelocoma coerulescens
American Crow - Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow - Corvus ossifragus
Purple Martin - Progne subis
Cave Swallow - Petrochelidon fulva
Tufted Titmouse - Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren - Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Polioptila caerulea
Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos
Brown Thrasher - Toxostoma rufum
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Northern Waterthrush - Parkesia noveboracensis
Black-and-white Warbler - Mniotilta varia
Prothonotary Warbler - Protonotaria citrea
Common Yellowthroat - Geothlypis trichas
Hooded Warbler - Setophaga citrina
American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla
Cape May Warbler - Setophaga tigrina
Northern Parula - Setophaga americana
Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia
Palm Warbler - Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga coronata
Prairie Warbler - Setophaga discolor
Summer Tanager - Piranga rubra
Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus ludovicianus
Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea
Painted Bunting - Passerina ciris
Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus
Eastern Meadowlark - Sturnella magna
Common Grackle - Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle - Quiscalus major
Shiny Cowbird - Molothrus bonariensis
Brown-headed Cowbird - Molothrus ater
Orchard Oriole - Icterus spurius
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Old Friday 28th June 2013, 12:45   #15
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Some superb photographs.
Florida really is a bird photographers dream location, plenty of light, great birds and as stated above they're generally very appoachable.
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Old Tuesday 2nd July 2013, 19:42   #16
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congrats. Wonderful pictures, I enjoyed looking through them. The only problems bird photographers have in Florida are, where do I go and how many memory cards to take?
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Old Wednesday 3rd July 2013, 03:12   #17
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Thank you! Those are wonderful shots.

It may be a bit late for this but when I don't want to be bothered with people I go to Apoxee Park and the SWA trails. This is south of, and connected to, the Grassy Waters Preserve. Sometimes I'll see several cars in the parking lot but never encounter another person out there. Many people go there to bike.

I've read threads on other forums where people say they never see anything. I go and see spoonbills lined up on the boardwalk rail, and, on one occasion, a bobcat 4 feet away. It is a place that requires patience and some snacks and water.

Some people walk through the Apoxee trail when it's flooded. I was once such a fool.

I changed my mind when I saw 2 large gators in the Jog Rd parking lot.

Some people think the gators don't come over the back levee.

I don't like living in South Florida but I do love the fact that I can go to Wako, Green Cay. Arthur Marshall or Apoxee after work on any given day.
Aside from that, you can keep it!!hahaha

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Old Wednesday 3rd July 2013, 03:42   #18
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Great photos!
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