In between our many adventures into the Disney Parks and other theme parks around central Florida, we like to spend time looking for wildlife to photograph. As a result, we often go to zoos or other places where we’re likely to see animals up close. Recently, we paid a visit to the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. We’ve been to Saint Augustine several times in the past, but never made it out to see the alligators. We’ve spent most of our time around the Spanish Fort and wandering through the old town. Still, we kept reading about all the great opportunities to photograph wildlife, especially during the months when thousands of shore and wading birds come here to nest. We had no idea what to expect.
No doubt about it, the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm is a legitimate zoo, specializing in the American Alligator, and it’s worth the visit just to have an up close and personal view of these creatures. But nothing we read prepared us for what we found when we got there.
We arrived during spring when nesting was in full swing. The way this works is that the back portion of Saint Augustine Alligator Farm is a large swamp area housing dozens of animals. Guests walk along an elevated walkway to view the gators, but this area is also the site of the wading bird rookery. Trees are situated next to the walkway and out in the distance. What probably occurred here is that years ago, wading birds began nesting in the trees off in the distance. It’s safe because there are alligators everywhere on the ground, discouraging predators that would prey on the birds from coming anywhere near the trees. As the word got out among the birds, the site became more and more popular and other birds moved in to fill all the available space.
Now, they nest in the trees sitting next to the elevated walkways, just feet from passing human guests. We’ve seen this behavior before, where animals that normally won’t allow a human within 100 feet, will allow humans literally within inches in other circumstances. One place that comes to mind is at the Disney parks, where wildlife will mix with humans, looking for handouts.
No one is feeding the birds at Saint Augustine Alligator Farm, but they’ve learned that humans in this environment pose no threat. It was quite a treat to be able to walk up as close as we did and observe, knowing that we were not disturbing them in any way.
If you want to see the nesting birds as well as all the other exhibits at Saint Augustine Alligator Farm, the best time of year is in the spring, between April and July. We have no doubt that we’ll return now that we’ve seen what this place has to offer.
Below we’ve assembled a few of the images we made during our last trip.