An American alligator lies mostly submerged in Huntington Beach State Park

I spent the summer of 1994 on the eastern coast of Florida and, as an animal lover, was delighted to discover a nearby wildlife refuge, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. There was much to love about the park but it was the alligators that drew me back again and again. Yet my only camera at the time was a point-and-shoot which wasn’t well suited to the task. I wasn’t into photography at the time and regardless couldn’t afford a better camera.

I returned to school in the fall and in January was surprised to receive a check from Motorola, a bonus (a rather nice one) from my time as an intern. I was on fellowship by that time and had already budgeted my expenses for the year so I decided to treat myself to my first SLR, a Canon Rebel with a kit lens and an inexpensive telephoto. My wife bought me a bird guide and thus began my foray into photography.

But I didn’t return to Florida the next summer and instead stayed at school to concentrate on my doctorate, and the next year I finished my degree and moved to Oregon. So it seemed my chance to photograph alligators had come to a close.

But when my mom and stepdad retired they moved to South Carolina and during a family reunion in 2005 my brother and I headed out before sunrise to a nearby park, Huntington Beach State Park. We photographed the sunrise on the beach and then went back up towards the lagoon, with freshwater on one side and saltwater on the other. My time in Florida came flooding back. There were egrets and herons and cormorants hunting in the marsh. And alligators! So many alligators! I was also able to see them again the following morning before it was time to head to the airport and return to Oregon.

This time, with alligator pictures.

Blend Modes

A western fence lizard sunbathes on a rock at Smith Rock State Park

Fence lizards come in a variety of shades from light to dark, but most of the lizards I saw at Smith Rock on this hike had this light coloring. I don’t know if it is genetically more common or if it leads to higher survival rates by enabling the lizards to better blend in with the lightly colored rocks in the park.

Red-spotted Breakfast

An American bittern eats a red-spotted garter snake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Red-spotted snakes are almost too beautiful for words. They are not too beautiful for breakfast, apparently, at least not if you’re a hungry bittern. I came across this bittern after it had captured a red-spotted garter snake early one morning. It killed the snake by applying pressure with its beak, often to the snake’s head. The snake was already bleeding a little bit and not putting up much of a fight.

While it adjusted the snake’s position in its beak from time to time, it never let the head get too far from its beak so the snake couldn’t swing up and bite any soft tissue. It took a while for the snake to die, this shot is from right at the end of the snake’s life, it went limp after this final crushing of its head. The bittern made sure the snake was dead before swallowing it by thrashing it around.

Probably a good idea when your breakfast can bite you back.