My sister loves vultures. Until learning this curious fact, I'd never encountered anyone with a fondness for vultures, but apparently these big ugly birds have their fans. My sister tells me there are websites and a Facebook page devoted to vultures and their fans. Since learning of her interest, I've found myself noticing them more frequently. This probably helps explain why I was stalking them with my camera on the recent visit to Myakka River State Park. The park has both Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures, and the hike to Deep Hole was a vulture bonanza.
I had never seen so many in one place, and kept thinking "I wish my sister were here to see this!" A perfect storm of environmental factors the day of our hike resulted in remarkable wildlife viewing. The warm sunshine brought the alligators out to sun themselves, but an uncharacteristic cold snap just a few days earlier had killed large numbers of catfish, creating an "all-you-can-eat" seafood buffet for the vultures.
The alligators and vultures seemed to have an understanding, as neither bothered the other. Black Vultures are large birds, and with their 5 foot wingspan they have few predators. However I assume that a hungry or angry alligator could make short work of a vulture if so inclined. Thankfully, these alligators were not so inclined. I don't watch those animals-eating-other-animals shows on TV, and definitely did not want to see it in person!
The other bird we encountered on our hike is more universally admired - the pelican. On the day of our hike, we hit the bird watching jackpot. There were literally thousands of white pelicans congregating around Deep Hole. One of the rangers we encountered on the way out had also seen them and was as thrilled as we were. He told us he'd never before seen that many pelicans at Deep Hole at one time, estimating their numbers at around 2000. Lucky us!
White pelicans are even larger than vultures, with a wingspan of 8-9 feet.
Watching them take flight was quite a sight.
It was thrilling to be at this mysterious and wild place, just the four of us with dozens of black vultures, hundreds of alligators, and thousands of white pelicans. But all good things must come to an end, and eventually it was time to leave. The sun sank lower in the afternoon sky as we started the hike back, and I found myself wondering about Deep Hole at night. In such a remote area, miles from streetlights and the electric glow of civilization, the darkness must be complete and impenetrable. I thought about this as my feet, unaccustomed to hiking in sand, left clumsy tracks along the trail. Where do alligators sleep? In the water? On the shore? Well, one thing I did know for certain...
I would not be there after dark to find out.