Thursday, December 20, 2012

St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge

Like all Wildlife Refuges, St. Mark’s is alive with nature on a level not found any longer except in protected areas such as these. Often it is hard to find decent camping close to these places. Most do not allow camping within the refuge boundaries, so it is necessary to find camping close by so that the drive into the sanctuary is not a long one in the early morning and evening when wildlife spotting and light conditions for shooting pictures is the best. While visiting St. Mark’s we camped in a private campground in the town of St. Mark’s called Shell Island Fish Camp. It is the oldest remaining fish camp in Florida. It is right on the river and only four miles from the refuge. Dec. 2012 we paid $20 per night for water, electric and cable. We found another great campground right at the entrance to the refuge. This is a county park that was off my radar. It was not on any of my apps or maps. It is called the Newport Park, a Wakulla County park. Dec. 2012 the price was $35 for full hookups and $20 for primitive. It is close to the refuge, but you may still want to drive about three miles up the road and eat breakfast at Savannah’s restaurant before you drive into the refuge. Savannah’s opens at 5 a.m. which gives you plenty of time before the wildlife wake up and start moving in the early morning light. Ten minutes into the refuge we came across a beautiful specimen. A large cottonmouth, also known as water moccasin, was taking up our whole lane of the road. We pulled up next to it and no movement. It looked whole, no tire marks. It was stretched out with just its head pointing skyward and its mouth agape in a defensive posture. Not a muscle moving. I shot several pictures, drove around for different angles, but never got out of the car. My wife was sure it was dead and told me to get out and hold it while she took my picture. I actually gave it some thought, until I had a vision. It was my wife in the future telling someone, “My first husband died from snakebite when I told him to pick up a water moccasin, and he did. He wasn’t the smartest man!” We finally left the snake to sun himself, or whatever was going on, and drove the seven miles into the refuge. It is a target rich area for shooting wildlife pictures. Eagles, waterbirds, songbirds, bobcat and butterflies. We were over an hour coming back to where we saw the snake. When we returned he was still in the same position. Again, I pulled up beside him and put the long lens on him. At this new angle I was looking into his open mouth. I could see his tongue moving in slow motion. This brave soul was out here basking in the sun, transferring thermal energy from the asphalt to his nerve center. We went for a short hike a few hundred yards down the road, when we returned to the car I could still see the snake taking up the whole right lane. There had been a dozen vehicles go by but everyone gave him the right-of-way. His bold stance had so far worked out for him. After another hike we went back to check on him. It was later in the morning and much warmer. He was gone. I could stop worrying about him and get on with my morning also.

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