Revisiting the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

Since my hours were drastically lowered at my part-time job, I took that opportunity to explore familiar locations and adventured on a couple of new ones. 

First stop- Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

Just an hour and forty minutes from home, I traveled 86 miles to re-visit a place where I encountered several incredible photographic experiences. When reached my destination it was just before sunrise. Yes, that’s early for me. It was one of those days when you have so much on your mind that being in nature helps unclutter all that mess in your head. 

A couple of tips I would like to share.

Number 1– OFF! 

If you are like me when you are driving around seeking photographic opportunities and listening to the sounds of nature, you’ll have all the windows open. But be sure you have bug spray readily available! The noseeums (these were the ones you could actually see) were horrid. However, nothing that a good spray with OFF! couldn’t handle. (OFF!, nature explorers substitute for body spray and perfume.) 

Number 2– Nature Drive

There are two entrances off of NW Creek 347. The North entrance is ½ mile from the US Fish & Wildlife Services Headquarters and Suwannee River Trail. The South entrance is a few miles further south. It’s an incredible drive and well maintained. 

If you plan on arriving early in the morning, I suggest entering at the south entrance. Why? Great question. The sun will rise on your opposite side. (While this may be good for you, but not so much if you have a passenger.) I know how it is for me when the sun is beaming in your eyes as you are trying to look for things to photograph. Once you reach the north entrance, you can turn around and go the other way. Now you will get the chance to see what you couldn’t see on the other side. It’s like a whole new experience!

But if you forget this tip, no worries, you can work on mastering nature/wildlife silhouettes! 

Silhouettes

There are no straight-out camera settings for you to follow. Remember, there are no rules for nature photography. Just get out there and shoot. Take tons of photos, play around with your settings, and just have fun. (Oh, and by the way, when you’re doing this, you are learning more about your camera settings and how YOU like to photograph, but we’ll just keep that between you and me!)

This shot: 

Aperture Priority 

F5.6 – ISO 2000

Exposure Compensation- varied

Manual focus-blurred 


Playtime with a North American River Otter

The famous saying, you have to be there at the right place at the right time. 

Very few times, I have the opportunity to experience the wild in the wild, and when that opportunity arrives, I take advantage of it. What I mean by that… take hundreds and hundreds of photos.

I happily encountered a North American River Otter, and let me tell you; it was so much fun to watch this one. It surely had a healthy appetite catching some crawfish and catfish from this peaceful swimming hole.

I slowly walked to a safe area and snapped away, but once I realized the otter was going to stay for a while, I went back to get my tripod. I position myself between two trees around ten or more feet away from the swimming hole.

It was a great experience to spend time with this otter. It did appear it had some confrontation, as you can see its battle wound on its back in the videos.

I would have loved to stay longer and really observe the otter’s foraging behavior in the wild, but I did not want to overstay my welcome. 

Links: Aquatic Mammals – River Otter | FWC (myfwc.com)

I did my best with the video, trying to follow this otter was a challenge especially using my 400mm lens.  More videos here: American River Otter – Alice Herden (smugmug.com)

River Trail Boardwalk

After my round-trip on Nature Drive, I drove back to explore the River Trail boardwalk. This time of the year, nature wandering on the boardwalk is a perfect stroll to relax and enjoy various species of birds.

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouses,  Warblers, and off in the distance the sounds of a Pileated Woodpecker.

The River Trail boardwalk takes you on a journey through the bottomland hardwood swamp. There are two directions you can go, one way leads to the edge of the Suwannee River and the other leads to another trail.

When I first looked upon the river, I truly was blown away. It was massive, powerful, and emotional. Those emotions and many more were consuming me all once. I realized how thankful we all need to be for those that fight and work every day to help keep areas like these protected and a haven for Florida’s incredible wildlife.

Where there’s water, there are snakes. 

During my explorations, there are days where I see nothing, to days where I see everything. Luckily on that visit, I came across not only one Florida Cottonmouth but three. 

Perfectly camouflaged, these Florida Cottonmouths are able to hide in plain sight but what was super cool about this encounter, I was able to see different ages of this species.

Florida Cottonmouth

  • They are native to Florida
  • They are water snakes
  • As they age their markings fade
  • They are venomous snakes- they inject venom through their fangs. The venom of the Florida Cottonmouth contains hemotoxins.  
    • Hemotoxins are toxins that destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting, and/or cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage
  • Most venomous snakes have vertical pupils – Coral snakes are venomous but have circular pupils 
  • Many water snakes are killed every year by Florida residents who mistake them for cottonmouths. Florida Cottonmouth – Florida Snake ID Guide (ufl.edu)

I am not an expert on snakes, and if you happen to cross paths with a snake, it’s best just to let it be. *Do not pick up any snake, especially if it’s in the wild, unless you have extensive knowledge of snakes or a professional in the field of herpetology. 

I do feel it is essential for nature photographers to be at least able to identify Florida’s snakes.  Florida Snake ID Guide – Florida Museum of Natural History (ufl.edu) 


Links:

Places of Interest – Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges (friendsofrefuges.org)

Home – Lower Suwannee – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

Maps: Refuge Map – Lower Suwannee – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

*Note: Check the website for hunting dates and have plenty of fuel in your gas tank. 

Be safe in your travels!

2 replies

  1. This vast refuge is a wonderful place to explore!

    Your cottonmouth images are terrific! Great advice on becoming familiar with our resident snakes.

    I just marked my calendar to include a few visits as we get into spring. Thank you!

    Like

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