More Eyewitnesses Including My Own!

I’ve finally seen a North Alabama Gator!

Unfortunately not in the wild.  But nevertheless, here is PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF of a North Alabama Gator!

Finally, a North Alabama Gator

Finally, a North Alabama Gator

On Labor Day I took the family to a local safari park… you know the kind, where you drive through and look at free range animals in their, well not NATIVE environment but at least free range.  The exception to the free range rule was the Alligators.  As the only predators in the park, the gators were all kept behind fences and away from the other animals.

The picture above is one I snapped as we drove past.  This particular gator is, I guess, about 6 feet.  Nice and fat and I’m sure does just fine during the winter months. (In fact, I know he does since I asked.  They only collect the smaller gators and their one caiman.  And they had one very small crocodile as well.  But they don’t do anything special with the big gators to keep them healthy over the winter.  Once it gets cold, they stop feeding them, and when the weather warms up and the gators get active they return to feeding.

Better yet, they’ve successful BRED these gators.  They had a two year old in a tank inside the “Planet Reptile” exhibit.  This wonderful park is Harmony Park, and it is my new favorite family fun place in North Alabama.  For $6 a person, you get up close and personal with LOTS of animals.  And I do mean close!

An Emu sticks its head in the car

An Emu sticks its head in the car

So I highly recommend that you take your kids, your date, or whatever to the park.  Click on the link for directions and hours, but the park is closed November to March.

My daughter finds someone slower but not uglier than her father!

My daughter finds someone slower but not uglier than her father!

But I also got another comment about seeing a gator in the wild here in North Alabama.  This one really excites me because its late in the season AND in an area I know.  Here’s the comment form Charlotte.

Just last night around 9pm, we were at the boat launch on Sharp Ford Road in Morgan County and spotted a 5 foot alligator. It was under the bridge appearing to be trying to hide until we shined the light on it. We then watched it as it swam around like we were not even there with the light shining directly on it. There are here. We were considering gigging some frogs but that quickly changed our minds.

– Charolette, September 7th, 2009

Now I know where the boat launch on Sharp Ford Road is.  Clearly they were there at night, which I’ve been told is the easiest time to find a gator because their eyes reflect light so well.  So I continue to get eyewitness reports of gators here in North Alabama.  Here is a map of where the boat ramp is.  It’s the bright white square just north of the road and east of the water.   I’ve actually put the boat in close to there.

So I’m still not sure if I’ll ever see a wild North Alabama Gator, and with my current run in a play, my weekends are sorta full. till the end of September.  So it is unlikely that I’ll make it this season unless September remains unseasonably warm.  But gator hunting 2010 sure looks promising.  And I’ll leave you with some more photos of gators from Harmony Park.

A "little" gator

A "little" gator

There are two gators in there, hard to see in the picture.

There are two gators in there, hard to see in the picture.

More Eyewitnesses and a little help!

So I posted this YouTube video from my first trip in my new kayak this summer.  I got an interesting comment on it today:

dude i fish out there all the time you look like you are out at arrowhead. I see tons of gators back there you just arent in the right spot. the second week in April is the best time to find them they are out in the open getting there first meals. Cool to watch.

guitarshredder849 via YouTube

Besides checking out his shred video on YouTube, it seems he spins a rod as well as shredding guitars.  So he’s given me a place and a time to look for the elusive North Alabama Gator.

But this shows me that this cryptid is clearly not elusive to the locals.  In fact, it seems that it is a nuisance to them, which is a shame.  I got another comment here on the blog that made me quite sad.

I have seen several gators at wheeler NWR. I have seen several babies 6-8″ long and one about 8′. one about 5′ and a couple about 3′. Flint Creek on the south side of the River is a good place to look as is Limestone cove near Mooresville. Part of the problem is that the locals shoot them whenever they get the chance. So if a gator is not shy it is quickly dead!! Gators are sneaky and will lie at the surface with just their eyes showing. I found two babies that were dead with their tails missing.

-Tom via WordPress

If locals really are killing the gators, I’m quite upset.  These are still federally protected critters, even if they are out of their “normal range.”  If you’re caught killing a gator in Alabama without a tag, and there are NO tags given for hunting them in North Alabama, the fine is pretty high and is a felony under federal law.

I think what Tom is calling Limestone Cove is what I’ve come to call Limestone Bay.  It is a large backwater near Mooresville, Alabama.  I’ve not tried Flint Creek yet, it’s an extra 30 minute drive or 60 minute paddle from my home base, and since I often just get a few hours, I haven’t gone there yet.

Now guitarshredder849 speaks of Arrowhead, and that’s the boat launch on Limestone Bay/Cove.  So that’s two people who’ve given me tips to try that area.  Earlier this summer, I got this:

Hey just stumbled on your blog and can tell you with certainty that there are gators in the limestone bay area. Somewhere around 2001 or 02 I caught one while fishing in Limestone bay at night. It was a farily small one about 2 feet at the most. I hear about some others but that it the only one that I have actually seen personally. Blackwell Swamp is also said to have some but I have yet to see one there even after a lot of hours canoeing over the years there. Good luck with finding one.

-Matthew via WordPress

There’s that Limestone Bay area again.  I’m liking Limestone Bay more and more for my future gator hunts.  But that’s not the only tips I’ve been given.

Wheeler is where they are. I am an avid kayaker with wheeler in my backyard. Cotaco creek off upper river road in somerville is where i see them the most. Day or night. You can also access the remote parts of the creek from AL HWY 36 in Cotaco. I know for a fact a 12-14 foot gator stays there.

-Jansen via WordPress

I’m not familiar with Cotaco or Somerville, so some time with Google Maps is in order.  But I do know where HWY 36 is, so I think I might have a general idea where he’s talking about.  I’ve tried emailing Jansen, but haven’t gotten a reply so far.  I’ll hit him up again and see if he can give me better directions.

I also got this one:

I know for a fact there are aligators in north alabama. My family and i have been camped out in Mallard Creek camp ground and saw a gator. The manager of the camp ground warned us about feeding the ducks because he had spoted a gator between 10 to 12 foot long. Try the areas around mallard creek and fox creek in Lawrence and Morgan county

-Meagan via WordPress

I’m even less sure about Mallard Creek than I am about Cotaco.  Funny, I’ve lived in Madison County, Alabama all my life, but I’ve learned more about the local geography since getting my canoe.  And I’m learning even more since getting interested in gators and getting the kayak.  Life is funny sometimes!  Plenty of leads and new places to look!

But the weather here in North Alabama has clearly shifted.  While it is still getting a bit warm late in the day, the temps have fallen enough that I’d imagine the gators are starting to go dormant for the winter.  I may get lucky and find an active gator over the next couple of weekends, but I doubt it.  Not that I won’t try!  I’m thinking a trip to Cotaco or Arrowhead is in the offing for this weekend. (No gator hunting trip this weekend.  I’m also in a play, and seems our technical director won’t be in town to build the set on the stage.  Just been drafted to do that instead of something I want to do.)

Last weekend I went out to “the bottoms” where another commentator had sent me a picture his wife had taken of an estimated 10 foot gator.  I looked for a while from shore, but I wasn’t as lucky as they were.  I’ve yet to spot a gator there, but I tell ya what…  if ever there was a spot that SHOULD have a gator, that’s it.  It looks like something in Louisiana instead of Alabama.

Gator Hunting Winding Down

Mike on the RiverLooks like I’m going to have to give up on finding a gator is 2009. Weather is turning cooler earlier, and with the nights now normally going well below 70 degrees, gators will be hunkering down for the winter. Finding a sleeping and hiding gator isn’t going to be easy… but it isn’t going to stop my hunt. There are other reasons to hit the gator area’s this time of year.

Migratory birds are starting to arrive. That could be good for gator hunting as well as just for the pleasure of looking at the birds. Over the next month, Canadian Geese will be arriving in massive numbers as they migrate south. They stop over in Wheeler by the tens of thousands. Me and my kayak will be floating among them as often as possible, and if the day is warm and has been for a while, you better believe I’ll keep my eye open for an active gator that takes advantage of a goose dinner.

Also, I’ve taken this year as a chance to explore and figure out the Refuge. Having never explored it before, I had no idea how extensive the area was. I ended up on the Tennessee River proper more than once thinking I was in a backwater, and was on a flooded swamp thinking I was crossing the river. I’ll be investing in a kayak-worthy GPS system this year to help keep that from happening. (Ya hear me, Santa?)

I’ll keep writing up my Flint River excursions. Even my mistakes like the recent twilight trip through the most technical part of the Flint. (Bad idea, don’t suggest it to anyone!) And if I get out on the Refuge, I’ll be writing about that too.

Stay tuned for Gator Hunt 2010. It should be a fun one!

Twilight isn’t just for Vampires anymore.

Got a text during church from my usual canoe buddy about taking the boats out today. So I got permission and cleared it with everyone and went out, perhaps a little latter then I like.

Did the stretch from Ryland Pike down to Little Cove Road. Normally I do the stretch from 72 to Little Cove Road, but adding Ryland Pike to the trip only adds a little over a mile. That’s like 20-25 minutes. So we added the extra little bit. And that extra little bit was pretty much our downfall.

First, a little over the mile, AS THE CROW FLIES, is more like 2 miles on the water. So that’s 40-50 minutes. And then as we passed Highway 72 we stopped to talk with some other kayakers and canoers. A little kid there fell in the current and banged himself up, and since I NEVER go on the river without a first aid kit, so I had to help out. Then we left there, and we had the river all to ourselves… cause no one else was stupid enough to be on it that late.

So on the other end, the scariest portion of the river in my opinion, we ended up paddling in the dark. Now I’d gladly paddle a LAKE in the dark. I’d even paddle a nice slow wide river in the dark. I’d like to get a water proof headlamp and actually do that sometime, as some commentators have mentioned, it’s easier to find gators that way. This isn’t a scared of the dark complaint.

The last quarter mile of the river on our chosen route is a pretty quick moving section with lots of snarls. Nothing we haven’t done before, but I’ve had plenty of trouble here too. I’ve flipped a few times, nearly flipped more times than I care to count. Last time Jim and I did this section in the canoe, we got sideways against a log. The current was fast and strong and rolled over the side of the canoe. Jim is quick to point out we didn’t flip, but that didn’t keep us out of the water.

So we get to the danger zone, and the suns behind the mountain so it might as well be dark. It’s that stupid twilight time when you can’t see for crap. And yet we’re running down the river dodging logs and trying to keep from rolling over a log, rock or snarl. It wasn’t fun. Okay, it was fun. But it was pretty darn scary.

And thankfully uneventful. Couple of close calls. I got hung up a time or two, Jim ran the canoe into a sticky spot in a place I couldn’t help much. I’m still not sure how he did it. In some freak way he got the front of the canoe hooked around the branch of a tree in a weird way that I still can’t wrap my head around. And the current was so quick I couldn’t get back to help. Somehow he freed himself and we got the boats pulled out of the water.

So for the first time in a couple of weeks I got the boats wet. And it was good. If scary in the end. But hey… scary is good too.

Kids are Amazing Creatures

Kids are pretty amazing. I took my kids out for a day on the river, and they went along fairly happily. We went down to a place on the Tennessee river where I spent a few hours in a cave hiding from a thunder storm a few weeks ago. The kids wanted to see the cave and so we went.

The trip to the cave was uneventful. We saw some fish, a turtle or two, and lots of boats. In fact, my only concern was some idiot motorboater (is my bias showing?) running us over.

But that didn’t happen and we had a grand time. We scrambled up into the cave, hung out a bit and the kids wanted to try some swimming.

The swiming didn’t go well. The girl, my four year old, hurt her knee and the boy, my six year old, got scared when he realized there was no shallow water.

DSCF0445.JPG

I tried go coax them back into the water by going swimming myself. I dived from the cave and swam out a bit. I turned to try and coax the kids into the water but they wanted none of it. The girl was still crying over her hurt knee. The boy thought there might be snakes. I looked downriver and no longer cared. A big thunderstorm was heading our way. Looked like we’d be spending some more time in my weather cave.

Problem was, unlike the first time, this storm didn’t want to die. It kept on for more than an hour. Then pushing two. I had no clue when it would end. So after the thunder stopped we started looking for a break in the weather to dash the quarter mile from the cave back to the car.

Jim and Sean

The problem was that quarter mile was across open water that was rolling with wind induced waves. Big waves. So we waited. And looked for a pattern. And when I thought I found it I threw the kids in the canoe and took off across the river.

My friend, Jim, had taken my kayak out with us. I found comfort in the fact that if something went wrong and the canoe rolled over, Jim was there with the kayak to grab a kid.

We’d pulled the kayak up in the cave when the storm really started because it is more likely to have trouble with to much water in it. The canoe stayed tied up outside the cave. So when the kids and I where in the canoe, we headed off while Jim had to put his boat back into the water, scramble aboard and set off.

We’d picked a point in the rain when the wind and most of the waves had died down, the rain was slacking and we had a good chance of crossing. I got about 100 yards from the cave and could get a good look downstream.

The Cave

Moving in fast was a wall of water. In front of that was wind driven waves and I knew it was going to get rough. I hoped it was far enough downstream that we could get across before it hit. I screamed over my shoulder to hurry Jim up and paddled hard.

We didn’t make it. The winds in front of that rain came in quick and pounded into the canoe. I yelled to the kids to lay down in the bottom of the canoe. The lower the weight, the more stable the canoe. The winds were pushing me hard, and the best I could do is quarter the wind and cross against the current. The wind still managed to push me far off course, about an eighth of a mile upstream.

My kids, however, thought we were having a grand time. They thought the waves were fun, the rain a hoot and the wind exciting. I, however, was convinced that they were going to panic, the canoe would flip and I’d be in trouble. That didn’t happen. They giggled and teased each other, but stayed low and still all the way across. They were brave little troopers. They made me quite proud!

Of course after getting back to the car, loading both boats onto it in the pouring rain, and dripping wet, Jim and I got in the car and started to leave. Which is EXACTLY the moment the sun came out!

Still a fun day, and the kids actually enjoyed the trip.

More eyewitness testimony

Seems my gator hunting antics have brought commentors out of the woodwork and I’m getting more eyewitness accounts of Alligators here in the North Alabama area.

The first was from Matthew who responded to my post, Gator Hunting in North Alabama.   Here’s what he had to share:

Somewhere around 2001 or 02 I caught one while fishing in Limestone bay at night. It was a farily small one about 2 feet at the most. I hear about some others but that it the only one that I have actually seen personally. Blackwell Swamp is also said to have some but I have yet to see one there even after a lot of hours canoeing over the years there.

I’ve been in both Blackwell Swamp and Limestone Bay hunting, thus far with no success.  But its good to get more conformation that I’ve been looking in the right places.  I’ll keep looking in Limestone Bay, as I’ve gotten the most reports of gators in that area.

Maegan had this to say in a comment to the same post:

I know for a fact there are aligators in north alabama. My family and i have been camped out in Mallard Creek camp ground and saw a gator. The manager of the camp ground warned us about feeding the ducks because he had spoted a gator between 10 to 12 foot long. Try the areas around mallard creek and fox creek in Lawrence and Morgan county

I’m not familiar with Mallard Creek or Fox Creek, but you can be sure I will become so.  I’m getting more and more willing to go farther and farther afield in my search.  I’ve been a somewhat lazy kayak/canoe person, having mostly confined myself to about a 20 minute radius of my house.  I’ve certainly expanded that this summer.

Not a comment to the website, but I’ve been given a clue as to where a few nests might be.  On Sunday I got caught out on the Tennessee River during a thunderstorm.  (This is the great story I alluded to in this post, and I’ll post more about it as soon as I get the pictures off the camera.)  As a result, I ended up taking shelter in a cave just off the river.  I hid out in this cave with a few locals who were also out and about in a kayak and a canoe.  They had just found what they believed where two alligator nests near that same cave.  I got a good description of how to get to the area, but couldn’t investigate this past Sunday because of the weather.

Friends and family have also been talking up my crazy idea of Alligators in the area, and I get more reports from people I know.  It is clear that the majority of the reports are in the Wheeler area.  (I suspect that Mallard and Fox Creeks are too.)

So thanks to everyone reporting in on their gator sightings and sharing your gator stories.  I hope this trend continues!  And for those of you who canoe or kayak, let me know!  If you’re in the area, maybe we can paddle together!

First Attempt At Gator Hunting

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

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

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.

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.

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!

Back on the Flint, An Exercise in Tree Avoidance

Loaded Up and Ready To Rumble

Loaded Up and Ready To Rumble

Living in Huntsville, Alabama is a great treat.  Everyone says so.  One of the things that makes Huntsville a great place to live is the easy access to so many recreational activities.  Including my favorite, going out in a canoe.

About ten minutes east of Huntsville is the Flint River.  It runs from just north of the state line to the Tennessee River, making it almost exclusively a Madison County treasure.  And at one point or another I’ve floated just about all of it.

Raccoon and Deer Tracks

Raccoon and Deer Tracks

Today I had the chance to redo what was once my favorite section of river.  I don’t think it will be my favorite section anymore.  The recent rains monsoons have brought down far to many trees and I spent the better part of the trip avoiding them.  From zig-zaging down the river to get around them to actively going under, over and through them.

I talked my normal canoe partner, Jim, into going with me on this odessy.  The wife and kids had other plans so they dropped me off at the Little Cove Road canoe landing.  Jim parked at Hays Nature Preserve and while I readied the boat, the wife ran and got him.  Then we headed out around 5pm.

The Little Cove Road landing is an interesting one, and not in a good way.  Usually there is about a 6 foot steep drop from the parking lot to the river.  Right now it’s about 3 foot as the river is still up pretty high from all the flooding and rain.  And right at the landing is a huge fallen tree that blocks the exit.  To get around it, you paddle upstream under the road before turning quickly and going downstream.

The early part of this 7 mile or so paddle is a fairly deep hole, and even with the higher water the going was pretty slow.  Jim and I felt little urgency, we’d done this section of the river in under 2 hours before, so we didn’t feel much pressure despite the late start.  We figured we’d be at the take out by 7pm and at dinner up the road by 7:30.  And the wide clear start of the trip only re-enforced this feeling.

Oh how wrong we were.

Ultimately the trip took 2 hours and 40 minutes.  The reason was trees.  Lots and lots of trees.

NewCanoe - 2

A wide hole on the flint river

Now you may think that avoiding trees in a canoe isn’t much of a problem.  Trees typically don’t grow in the middle of a river, so what’s the big deal, right?  Wrong.  They do grow in the middle, on lots of little islands, that get saturated in all the recent rain and then they fall over.

Lots of them fall over.

Many completely crossing the river.

This tree completely blocked our passage.  We had to lift the canoe over the tree.

This tree completely blocked our passage. We had to lift the canoe over the tree.

About an hour and a half into the float we hit our first magor obstical.  A tree completely blocking the way, and large enough we had to get out of the boat and lift it over.  While not overly hard, it wasn’t a peice of cake either.  Some fancy footwork between Jim and I, along with some interesting rope work, got us up and over.  Luckily it was the only one that we had to portage over.

From that tree, things continued to be interesting.  We limbo’d under several, once passing the boat under while going over the tree ourselves.  Once I had to lay down in the bottom of the boat and PUSH the canoe down to get it clear.

The author, With Canoe

The author, With Canoe

In the end the trip to Hays Peserve was wonderful, if a little full of trees.  We stopped only once to stretch (not counting all the limbo stops) and found both Raccoon and Deer tracks.  We saw one heron, a woodpecker, an otter (we think) lots of signs of turtles, a few larger fish, and ducks (I’d never seen mallards on the Flint prior to today’s trip).  Blessedly we didn’t see any snakes.  We didn’t beat sunset, but still had plenty of twighlight to load up by.  And then we hooked up (late) with friends and family at a mexican place up the road.

Chips, salsa and a good canoe trip.  No wonder Huntsville is #1.

A canoe trip!

(I used to blog about canoe trips elsewhere but the host is closing. I’ll move the canoe stuff here.)

This past Saturday I got the chance to be on the water in my canoe. It was a realatively short trip and instead of finding a canoe buddy I talked the family into going along.

We went down to Ditto Landing in Huntsville and put in at the old and mostly destroyed fishing pier on Alders Creek. We loaded up the family and headed upstream. We didn’t get far since the rains and high waters pushed us against a sewer pipe that is easy to pass at normal water levels. But the total trip was just shy of three miles round trip.

The kids did well although the boy didn’t like it as much as the girl. He didn’t like it when we weren’t paddling and only felt safe then. Didn’t have the heart to tell him we were far more likely to flip during paddling than coasting.

We had a mostly fun time and pulled out just before Saturday’s thunderstorms. I hope it means more family trips in the near future. Maybe a distance trip where we don’t return to the same place we put in.

Here’s a picture: