Friday, January 11, 2008

Argh! (Critters redux!)

There was some kind of internet glitch with my post yesterday that ate all of the photos. Rather than reload them all, I’ll just post something else.

These are a bare few of my favorite animal photos from my various trips the past two years to National Parks, state parks, National Forests, and wilderness areas.

This first one was on a visit to Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina. It’s an unusual area—a classic monadnock. The high area has lots of exposed rock, and some spectacular waterfalls. I had been hiking in the hot summer sun and visited this waterfall where I took a bath. After washing the sweat off, I noticed that the stream passed through a narrow grotto beyond the falls and so I walked down to take a look. Inside the grotto, on the rock wall, was this very tiny bird nest which contained a single extremely small egg. It could have been a hummingbird nest—I don’t know. But I took this photo and it remains one of my favorites.
The next photo was taken in Silver River State Park in Florida. The Silver River emerges directly from the ground, its headwaters being the absolutely stunning and tremendous Silver Springs, around which was built a commercial amusement park. My family and I put our canoe into the Silver River at a county park and paddled up the river to the Silver Springs, thus avoiding any nasty admission fees. We’d been told that the area around the river was home to a large and growing population of feral rhesus monkeys. Escapees, according to tales, from various Tarzan movies filmed in the vicinity. The State of Florida has decided that the monkeys pose no risk to the area as an invasive species, and their numbers have increased somewhat. If you are lucky while paddling along the Silver River, you may encounter them. We were lucky enough to spot some, one of which I was able to photograph.

This guy had one of the most symmetrically perfect racks of any whitetail buck I’ve ever encountered. He was in a field inside Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While certainly no record, he was just one of the most spectacular deer I’ve ever seen.

Continuing the deer theme, these were part of a small herd of extremely small Key deer that we saw on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys. Endangered, these are a sub-species of the whitetail deer. Adapted to island ecology, these deer are very, very small. A fully grown buck is no larger than a medium-sized dog. This doe and fawns were very tiny, indeed.

While on one of my hikes to locate and photograph the world champion Sag Branch poplar tree, I noticed this red newt along he Boogerman Trail in the Cataloochee area of the park. It was chilly that morning, and the newt was sluggish, and in the midst of chowing down on an earthworm.

This fellow was sitting in the Silver River as we were cruising under paddle-power toward Silver Springs. I've seen many alligators in my travels, but this guy just seemed more than others to want us to go swimming.

These big boys were sitting along the river in Rock Island State Park in Tennessee as we were paddling by. Later, while rock-hopping, I found out why they were gathered there. They were sharing an enormous gar-fish lying on the rocks.

We met up with this hawk (red-shouldered hawk?) while camping at Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest in Florida. He kept trying to steal the steaks off our grill, but the heat kept him at bay. The ranger told us that he was a particularly talented thief and generally got away with quite a lot of people food every day.

This last photo is one of my favorites, if a bit blurry. We were paddling down a stream in Florida called Juniper Run, through the Juniper Prarie Wilderness Area (Ocala National Forest). We came around a bend in the crystal clear stream to see this racoon in the water, and just beyond a whitetail deer. Off to the right, out of sight of my lense, was a wild turkey. It was just very neat and very exciting to encounter so many different large animals together in one spot in a wilderness setting.

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