09/28/2014 Just one of many pictures of the mother alligator and her babies at the spillway trail nest. Just one cropped image as a reminder that I need to post more of them.
November 4, 2012 Sometime
around 12:30, David told me that Greg and Joann had come by the VC.
They mentioned that the female alligator with babies at 40 Acre lake
that we've been watching had appeared, and the babies were crawling on
top of her. EVERYONE likes to see this, and get pictures of baby
alligators on top of their mother. But I had to set up for my program,
and wouldn't have time to go out to see them and get back. So I didn't
I was doing my Hard To Be an Alligator program when my cellphone chimed with a text message at about 2:07PM. Later I saw David, and found out he'd sent the message. The female alligator with babies at 40 Acre lake had crossed the trail.
David explained that when he passed by them on the way to the Observation Tower the mother and babies were in 40 Acre lake, but when he came back the other way, they had the crossed the trail into Pilant Lake. A handful (about 6 babies) were in Pilant Lake with her. David said the mother alligator had been a bit agitated, and was circling around. This is probably the same alligator that I talked about lower down on this page (August 19, 2012).
I decided to go out and look. When I got there, about 3:30, I could see a number of people standing on both sides of the trail taking pictures something in the water. As I walked up quickly, the groups broke up and moved away. I could see that they had been taking pictures of the baby alligators in Pilant lake and their mother (which was near the wild rice); and also the group of baby alligators in 40 Acre lake. When the people moved off, I moved about 10 paces west of both groups of alligators. This put me out of a direct path between the groups, and far enough away (I hoped) so the baby alligators wouldn't pay attention to me; and the sun was behind me so I wouldn't be looking into it. Then I waited.
After some time, I noticed stirring in the plants at the water's edge of 40 Acre Lake, and I knew at least one baby alligator was coming ashore. But a few people came by, and the movement stopped. David appeared on his bike, and after some talk, he moved East (towards the tower) about 10 paces on the other side of the alligators, while I stayed where I was. Time passed, and we tried to keep people from standing near the two groups of babies. We both explained what we were waiting for (baby alligators crossing the trail) but nothing happened. David eventually rode off West (and headed off an oncoming John Deere gator on the way). I stayed and waited. There was more quiet time without any passing visitors. During that time, the mother alligator moved into the rice; then stayed quiet for a while. Then she'd come out, move around, and go back into the rice. When she moved, the babies that were scattered around her in the water would chirp.
Finally, at about 4:18, I was rewarded with more movement in the grass. One tiny alligator appeared near 40 Acre Lake. Then another. Diane, one of our previous Volunteers, happened by at about that time. We watched as the first few babies moved through the grass and climbed closer to the trail. And then one just started walking, and crossed! And another followed close behind. Others started appearing in the grass. I was able to shoot some photos and video clips of the first babies crossing.
I had to stop shooting to stop park visitors from walking over the baby alligators. But that was fun. More visitors started coming by. Quietly, I motioned for them to stop, then motioned them to approach slowly. While stopping the visitors (and keeping them quiet them) I whispered about what we were seeing. Unknown to me at the time, Diane had been counting the babies as they crossed. I tried to communicate how very VERY rare the sight of this "parade" was. From what I could tell, the 15-25 people who came by were all engrossed by what they saw. At one point, as I explained how special this was (we were actually seeing something many of the park folks have been wondering about for years!) and when I said that a number of them had crossed so far, Diane then mentioned that 12 had crossed (or 14 at that time). I explained how the female crossed earlier and how she defends her young. Yet, I pointed out, as we were watching, any number of park predators could have grabbed one of the babies from 40 Acre lake--or what would happen if they just got lost? But, in this case at least, they followed their mother into Pilant Lake.
People were coming from both directions, but I was able to stop them with hand signals. It helped that almost everyone behind *me* was gesturing and whispering to stop as well. They were *all* spellbound as we watched the tiny alligators crossing the trail. It was kind of funny at one time, when 2 folks on bikes came from behind and the whole crowd quietly waved them to stop. I whispered that alligators were crossing the trail. They looked, and couldn't see anything--looked at us like we were crazy. Then...a couple more little ones came out of the grass. Alligators were crossing, but at about 8 inches each, quite a bit smaller than the 6' or greater ones that usually cross.
Everyone cooperated, and as a result, we got to watch 16 alligators cross the trail. As the babies straggled across to Pilant Lake they began chirping. After a while, the mother alligator would come out of the rice, and approach the bank, and wait for the babies to swim to her. Then she would move back toward the rice. She did this a number of times--swam out towards the trail, met some babies, moved back to the rice so the babies would follow.
Baby Number 17 chickened out turned back towards 40 Acre Lake. At this point the sun was going behind clouds, and it was starting to darken. So I walked past the babies, and couldn't see any in the grass. But...there were at least 3 more still in 40 Acre lake. I know because I saw three in the water--but didn't count more. I figured I'd leave and that the remaining babies would cross later.
Although I would have gotten more photos and videos if I had kept "filming"--it was much more rewarding to get all the other park visitors involved. It was a REALLY wonderful thing to see--especially when everyone understood who and where "mom" was, and what went on before, and how alligators defend their young, and much more. That helped put the tiny wanderers into a greater perspective.
Consider this. The babies *knew* which way to go to follow their mother. They couldn't possibly see her. Mom did vocalize once or twice, a sort of low growl-but that's all. I had assumed that the sound was to keep *us* away. The babies near her did chirp often. But the babies came to the point nearest where their mother was across the trail. They gathered there. And then they climbed up through the grass and crossed the trial, then back down the other side--to where they were met by their mother. They did not spread out in 40 Acre lake. They did not swim back towards the islands. They moved to where the mother alligator was. How did they know which way to go? Did the chirping do it? I've noticed some other things baby alligators do--how they will seek each other out in a tank, or after travel; and that they will often clump together to sun themselves in the wild, or they just maintain a group in the wild. It sure looks to me like some kind of social activity and more than just automatic "seek out the 'alligator-shape'(whatever that would mean to an alligator) because it's safer to be in a group". I suppose those are distinctions that the animal behavior people could make. The pictures are either still photos or edited from frame grabs from the vide. The edited video is here (.wmv 53mb) or here (mp4 98mb)
August 19, 2012-- This
story actually started in May. On May 27th, a park visitor reported an
alligator digging a nest at 40-Acre lake. Alligators had been bellowing
there that morning (I know, because I was there) but I had totally
missed seeing the alligator and the nest. I went back and took some
pictures (one is shown below). After that, I inspected the
nest (which was on one of the islands on the lake--about 50 yards
across the water) almost every weekend. I wanted to get a picture of
the female on land near the nest. But, she never appeared in that
position. I did get some pictures of her in the water near her
nest--the pictures from 06/10/12 and 06/17/12 below show her clearly.
I continued watching through the summer, although I didn't take pictures every time. For most of the summer, I didn't see her at all, and I worried that something had plundered the nest, or she had abandoned it. I have a picture from 07/01/12 (below). Although there is no alligator in the picture, it does show that the water level has dropped. Since the nest is on an island, the female could have been on the other side, in the water. Nothing changed during the first part of August.
nest_052712 nest_061012 nest_061712 nest_070112
On Friday, 8/10/12 the alligator eggs that were incubating in the Nature Center hatched. I started paying closer attention to the nests outside. Then, on the morning of 08/19/12, I looked at the nest, and saw the image below. The nest had been devastated! The top had been dug out, the bark chips pushed aside (interesting--they were just a veneer), and I could see a few fragments of egg shells near the when I looked through binoculars.
nest_081912 COULD BE TROUBLE.....
But I remained hopeful as I scanned the bank of the island. Finally...I saw it. Tiny yellow vertical lines. On a tiny body. Then another. And...there was a large alligator's head with more of the tiny alligators around it. THEY HAD HATCHED!! The image below is stitched together from photos I shot from 50 yards away. And, there is a video clip here (wmv) or here (mp4). The video clip is compiled from shots I took at full optical zoom (35X), and then others that I shot with full digital zoom (140X) and compressed so they'd be clearer. In the video clip, the babies are crawling around, and some seem to be catching food. I counted at least 13 babies....but at that distance it was hard to make them out if they were clustered together.
THE MOTHER ...AND MANY OF HER BABIES!!
BABIES 01 BABIES 02 BABIES 03 BABIES 04(WELL...NOT BABIES)
March 21, 2010. The temperature was 40 degrees when I got to the park at about 8:30. I hurried down the 40 Acre Lake Trail for two reasons. One--to see if a Bald Eagle would fly over or hunt; and Two--I was very curious about what the baby alligators that have been seen there would be doing during this cold weather. I easily found the female that had been with the babies. She was lying in the water with just the top of her head and her nostrils above the surface. The water was very clear, and I was hoping to see the baby alligators near her in the water and lying on the bottom. No such luck though. However, after careful searching I found 3 baby alligators hidden among the weeds. At 10:11, I shot this photo of one of them (01). Although immobilized by the cold, it is still very well hidden. Here's the mother at the same time (02). At 10:14 I photographed this one, again well hidden, at the base of a clump of grass (03).
Nothing happened for a while, except that I talked to a number of park visitors as they passed by. As a couple moved by, and were headed towards the Observation Tower, a HUGE flock of White Ibis flew in front of them, heading out over Pilant Lake. Quite breathtaking. So much so, that I stood there and gaped instead of snapping a picture.
Above and behind them (and almost in the sun) a large bird flew in the same direction. I took a quick look through my binoculars--then dropped them and grabbed my
camera. The bird was far from me, but I got one shot at about 10:45. This was the best I could do with the photo (04). The bird was far off. I tried to walk after it, but as I
watched, it seemed to drop out of sight. But I could see enough to be sure it was a Bald Eagle!
BABIES 05 BABIES 06 BABIES 07 BABIES 08
At about 11:40, one of the small babies appeared, and a minute or so later, one of the large ones. I shot this (05) at 11:43. After that, one baby after another appeared from the same spot in the water in the grass. I shot this (06) at 11:44; and then 11:45 I got these two moving towards each other (07). In another few minutes, at 11:47 it started to get crowded (08). This group probably represents the offspring from two years. The smaller babies would have hatched around last September, and the larger babies probably hatched the year before that. They are still so small because they wouldn't eat much (if at all) during the months October - February. It was an uncommon chance to see these young alligators.
BABIES 09 BABIES 10 BABIES 11 BABIES 12
Notice how many of them are appearing from the same direction. Here's the pile (09) at 11:51; from another angle (10) at 11:55; and from other angles (11,12) at 11:56. From then, they just laid in the sun all day. From time to time through the day, the mother would back away from the shore a few feet (13). She'd stay in the slightly deeper water for a little while (I didn't time it) and then move back to her spot near the bank (14). This seemed like odd behavior. She wasn't hunting. I finally guessed that since the temperature had dropped so quickly, the water would be warmer than the air--especially the deeper water--and the female was actually "warming up" by retreating to slightly deeper water. But, that's just a guess. I stayed with these alligators for most of the day, until I left at about 3. I'm passing on this story so we can help dispel some of the worry that some of our park visitors have for the baby alligators when the weather turns bad. They sure looked ok to *me*. Today's RICKUBISCAM shot shows one of the babies near the mother's head.
BABIES 13 BABIES 14
Even though this has been a dry summer through most of Texas, we had one
or two good instances of rainfall this spring. Evidently, the alligators
at Brazos Bend State Park liked the amount water in the lakes (managed
very well by Park Manager Steve Killian) enough to make at least 24 nests
this year. As usual there is at least one nest that can spare some eggs
due to questionable circumstances. This year a little over 30 were gathered
and incubated. Today, a few began hatching by poking their noses through
the shells so we met to help the alligators hatch. I was able to make it
this year. We had a good crowd (but not a huge one) for the hatching,
and I even got a chance to hatch a couple eggs myself! Watching the people
watching the hatching is always fun; but hatching an egg myself...well
that's even better. With all the milling around and so on, I couldn't
record a lot, but I've done it before on my other pages
( babies 1 , babies 2 ,babies 3 ). Here are a few pictures from today. Today's RICKUBISCAM is another shot of the newly-hatched alligators piled together.
RICK HATCHING AN ALLIGATOR CLOSER LOOK AT RICK'S EGG FRIEND CAN YOU COUNT THEM ALL? -NEWLY-HATCHED, ABOUT 30 MINUTES OLD.
behind these eggs--The park had borrowed about 33 eggs from one of the
alligator nests at Brazos Bend State Park some weeks ago (there were 24
nests reported in the park this year). The eggs are placed in conditions
similar to the nest (dirt/vegetation/heat/moisture) for the remainder of
the 60-day incubation period. For those of us who work at the park (State
employees and Volunteers) this is an exciting time; and we await news of
when the eggs will hatch. They are monitored constantly. This is necessary
because it is possible for the babies to suffocate in the shells if they
aren't released in time. This is partially because we can't exactly copy
conditions in the field, so the eggshells sometimes aren't weakened by
the chemical/bacterial action of the nest. In any case, even on the wild
nests the female alligator will sometimes help eggs hatch by gently crushing
them in its mighty jaws, and carrying babies to the water. This *sounds*
unlikely, but we have seen (and some have videotaped) this gentle handling
at the park.
(like this year) the babies will let us know it's time by breaking through
the egg shells (I said *sometimes* they can't), and/or chirping (see the
image below). Then we have a few hours to get started. The waiting is to
allow people to get to the park to witness the event. We just try to get
there in time. :-)
BABY GATOR POKES ITS NOSE OUT OF ITS OWN BUSINESS RICKUBISCAM SHOT
many unique natural events at the park, we try to use the opportunity to
share something really unique with the people who visit the park. Few people
get a chance to hold an actual American Alligator. And, fewer still get
to HATCH one. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing the little
head pop out of the egg, and watching that 8-inch long baby dragon uncurl
as it comes out of the egg and takes its first look at the world. By the
way, baby alligators don't "imprint". That is, they do not *ever* recognize
humans as a parental figure--even if they are hatched by a human. Even
babies we have kept for a year will still recognize an adult female alligator
when they are released and will chirp and swim towards her. On her
part, the adult responds to the chirps and will become immediately defensive
of the babies she has never seen before.
Most of these newly-hatched will be released back to one of the females in the park (possibly the one they were borrowed from) within a few weeks. Baby alligators are near the bottom of the food chain (even though the female protects them through incubation and a few years after hatching). The ones we hatch have a good chance for those few weeks. We keep a few in the nature center (to be released next year when we get new ones). A few others go to some local educational facilities and parks.
Brazos Bend State Park The main page.
Bend State Park Volunteer's Page The
volunteer's main page.
Here are a few links to more information on alligators. There's a LOT of it out there.
Adam Britton's Pages 1
Adam Britton's Pages 2
Fish and Wildlife Page (Text)
Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species
Here are my "alligator behavior" pages:
|SOCIAL INTERACTION||CONFLICT AND CANNIBALISM||FEEDING||BABY ALLIGATORS||ALLIGATOR DENS||ALLIGATORS ON LAND||FOSSIL CROCS|
|SIGNALS 1||CONFLICT 1||FEEDING 1||BABIES 1||DENS 1||ON LAND 1||FOSSILS 1|
|SIGNALS 2||CONFLICT 2||FEEDING 2||BABIES 2||ON LAND 2|
|SIGNALS 3||CONFLICT 3||FEEDING 3||BABIES 3||ON LAND 3|
|SIGNALS 4||FEEDING 4||BABIES 4||ON LAND 4|
|SIGNALS 5||FEEDING 5||BABIES 5||ON LAND 5|
|SIGNALS 6||FEEDING 6||BABIES 6||ON LAND 6|
|SIGNALS 7||ON LAND 7|
And, this page shows alligators at the park, on land, near various landmarks at the park.
Go back to my main alligator page, Alligators
Go back to my home page, Welcome
Go back to the RICKUBISCAM page.
Go back to the See the World page.