This post is about a week late. No, it’s exactly a week late. This is the story of my first attempt at hunting for the elusive North Alabama Gator. It took place on Sunday, 14, 2009.
As I said in a previous post, I’ve decided to track down the North Alabama Gator. Rumor has it that the gator can be found in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, but there are few pictures available, if any. And no pictures of active nests. In fact, since the gator release in the 70’s, only one nest has been found and that was in 2001.
Limestone Bay at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
So I went looking. My first attempt at finding the gator was to try the backwaters of Limestone Bay. I put in at Arrowhead Landing, but that may not have been the best choice. Everyone claims the gators are in the various backwater swampy sections, so that’s where I wanted to go. Arrowhead Landing, however, is a long paddle to the backwaters. Over a wide bay that can be quite windy. But I made it to the backwaters and explored as far as I could after the long slog.
Water Lillies in the Backwaters of Limestone Bay
Actually, I was willing to explore more, but my GPS wasn’t working at the time, and I came to a point where I wasn’t sure I could find my way out if I continued. So I turned back instead. Quite disappointing for the first time out. But the trip wasn’t wasted, as I learned quite a bit about myself and my abilities.
One of the interesting things I learned is how and why eyewitness testimony in the search for cryptids isn’t the best of evidence. I was on a channel where I’d heard rumor that gators had been seen. I was coming up on a log, and thought I saw a turtle sunning itself on a branch. As I reached for my camera, the “turtle” jumped off the log. Only as it left the log and I got a better, if fleeting, glimpse of the creature I realized it wasn’t a turtle. Now I can’t swear it was a gator, but it sure looked like one. It had the typical markings of a young gator, with the yellow bands found on the very young. But it could have just been a typical turtle and I could have had “gator on the brain” and seen what I wanted to see. Without the picture to identify the critter, I basically have nothing.
Take a look at this picture of a young alligator:
Yes, these two cuties are on the back of an adult gator, but you can see the color difference between the big one and the very young. You can really see the yellow stripes in this picture.
Now look at a common turtle in the refuge:
I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone confuse these two critters. They are clearly different. But think about a quick glance as it slips off a log to disappear into the water. Add to that the fact that you’re looking for a gator, and trust me, you can get them confused. So I don’t know what I saw.
(BTW, I shamelessly pirated those pictures off the web. Bad researcher!)
This is the area I think I may have seen a baby alligator. Maybe.
Now I do know this, if it was a gator I saw, Momma wasn’t far away. The American Alligator is one of the very few reptiles to care for their young. It is thought this is a throwback to the dinosaurs, which really the American Alligator is a modern version of a dinosaur. So if it was a gator, I was damn close to my ultimate goal of seeing and photographing a North Alabama Gator. Frustratingly close. I didn’t see momma anywhere, so I’m leaning toward believing I saw a turtle.
I didn't come up completely empty. I managed to anger this momma mallard.
But I clearly had gator fever. Every splash, every rumble and every log was thought to be a gator by my brain. It was completely infectious, I was convinced I’d see one around the next bend. It got me to wondering about field research into mystery animals. I can see how someone could easily get Big Foot Fever when out in a camp for the purpose of finding Big Foot. How ever sound, every falling acorn, could become the creature you’re looking for and how hard it would be to stay objective and watch for real signs of your quarry.
So I learned alot about this project of mine. Not all of it just about looking for Gators. I learned using a kayak paddle in a canoe isn’t a good idea. There is a reason canoes use canoe paddles and kayaks use kayak paddles. I got that. And I got to test out my new waterproof digital camera. I’m pleased with the results, and the video isn’t half bad.
And now, I’ll leave you with a video of the point where I decided it was time to return to my car and slog back across Limestone Bay!