Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gator country

The undisputed highlight of our most recent Louisiana trip was the opportunity to see and photograph American alligators at Jean Lafitte NHP near Marrero, Louisiana. We engaged a guide through Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours; Jason has worked there for 17 years and, in addition to being a good all-around naturalist, knows most of "his" gators on an individual basis.

Jessa spotted the first alligator just before Jason pointed it out to us, and any concerns we may have had about not getting photographs dissipated. In fact, almost every gator spotted allowed a close approach.

Alligators are not hunted within the park; even so, it's likely they would have quietly slipped away at the approach of a strange boat, but they are well acclimated to Jason's vessel and those of his fellow guides.

While there are some natural bayous (creeks) here, most of the waterways we traveled were straight-cut artificial canals. The gators make no distinction.

The gator below is a 12-footer Jason calls "The King". A good way to estimate size even on a swimming alligator is to look at the head: the distance between the snout and the eyes, in inches, is the length of the gator in feet; half of that overall length is the muscular tail which propels them through the water.

"The Queen", basking close by her consort, was about 8 feet in length. Females rarely get much larger than this.

Another "named" gator is "Snag", a female (in Jason's estimation) who re-grows her egg tooth on a recurring basis. (The egg tooth is usually lost permanently soon after hatching.)

And so it went: one photogenic alligator after another, the time passing unnoticed as the shallow-draft boat slipped through the canals and bayous. The small gators are charming; the large ones nothing short of magnificent.

As I stated, this was definitely the highlight of our trip, and we plan on returning, perhaps at a different time of year. We were glad, though, to be here when the gators were active but not yet territorial, as it made for ideal viewing opportunities with abundant and relaxed subjects; in another month or two, they'll space themselves much more carefully—especially the smaller ones. "The King" goes where he pleases.

[Jessa, who took all the photos except for this one and the next:]

["Petitjean", a juvenile alligator held under educational permit.]

[Yours truly.]

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