“Sophie” is the resident alligator of Stephen C Foster State Park. She has been out there patrolling the waters on every one of our Okefenokee visits, and populates the boat launch with baby gators. My nature journal from March 10, 2015 describes our first meeting with Sophie:
Tuesday, 6:29 PM – We failed to see any gators out on the swamp boardwalk, so before heading back to camp we decided to check the boat dock and canoe launch up the canal. Amanda called out, “GATOR!” as a ripple splashed in the middle of the boat bay. “It went under right there.” We watched and waited for a minute. When it resurfaced, our gator turned out to be a rather large soft-shelled turtle.
A little bit further on, the water stirred and swelled just beyond the “Danger, Alligators Present” sign. Again we waited. After a minute we spotted a foot-long scaled creature just below the surface. But it wasn’t an alligator. We had been tricked again, this time by a Gar.
Twice tricked, but not giving up while there was still some light, we decided to walk further down the canal. Out towards the swamp we spotted a dark object in the lane between the lily pads. By the v-shaped ripples breaking in front, we could see it was travelling rather quickly in our direction. Finally, a gator, and heading our way! I began snapping photos even though it was low light. It swam all the way in and circled the boat bay; quite comfortable in close association with the visitor’s office. As the sky darkened, I tried some low-light manual camera settings. Using the flash brought out some beautiful red-eyed gator shots that turned out to be my favorite photos from the entire week.
We later learned from the park staff that this was Sophie, the “resident gator.” She frequented the boat bay and had babies along the bank opposite the rental canoes. Each morning and evening for the rest of our trip we stopped to say hello to Sophie. She calmly patrolled the boat bay in the evenings and occupied a small opening or harbor in the lily pads during the day. Just behind her daytime resting spot was a ramp of loose dirt up the bank; no doubt a convenient ascent to her nesting site. Our final morning of the trip, we were finally able to catch a glimpse of one of Sophie’s babies crawling out of the duck weed.