Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Offlede sees first alligator - for real

My first gator in the wild.

Lake Jesup supposedly has more gators than any other lake in Florida. Unfortunately, this warning sign spells "Jesup" with two S's, instead of one. In this photo, the improperly spelled sign is in the foreground, and if you look really really really closely, you'll see another gator in the background.

Florida is swarming with wildlife, and perhaps the most widely known critter is the alligator. But in 10 months of being a resident of the Sunshine State, I hadn't seen one in the wild.

2tree0007Today, that changed.

I mentioned the alligator that I saw at the Brevard Zoo. It was huge, but it definitely didn't count.

I wanted my first gator sighting to be serendipitous and 100 percent in the raw.

And when I went to Central Winds Park in Winter Springs yesterday with my cousin, I had no clue about what was in store. I figured we would do some hiking, then play some tennis (both of us hadn't hit the court in two years, so it was nothing like Rafael vs. Roger).

But the park is set along Lake Jesup, left, which many say has the largest gator population of any Florida lake. "If you shine a light over the lake at night, all you see are red eyes," my cousin said.

Signs throughout the park warn of hungry gators. Swimming not advised.

After an exhausting five-minute hike, we finally reached the shores of the great Lake Jesup. No gators in sight, though.

We continued our hike along the park's trail, which wound around fields and oak trees and through mosquito-infested woods. It came to an end next to a large retention pond swarming with creatures with wings, below.

Creature with wings.

"There's one," my cousin said anti-climatically.

"What? Who? When? How? Huh?" I said.

"Over there," he said.

There, among the retention pond water that reflected the greenery surrounding it, was a 100 percent authentic alligator. It was tiny compared with the one I saw at the zoo. But it was real.

We then walked to the other side of the pond. And we saw another one. But this time, the experience was old. Gator? Whoop-dee-doo. Big deal. I had lost interest.

I need a new first.

No. 2 and creatures with wings in background.

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