Meeting Sophie the Stephen C Foster Resident Alligator

“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:

Sophie, the resident American Alligator of the Stephen C Foster State Park; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 10, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

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.

Softshell Turtle Turtle Okefenokee Swamp Georgia

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.

Published by William Wise

Hi, I’m conservation photographer and nature writer William Wise. Nature journaling and wildlife photography has been a favorite pastime since the ‘90s. I graduated from University of Georgia Warnell Forestry School's wildlife program in 1996. I'm currently an animal shelter manager/photographer and reside in Athens, Georgia, USA with my wife and two teenage daughters. My website www.williamwisephoto.com is a wildlife and birding photo website documenting the beauty, design and wonder of creation. I have a deep love of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. I became a devoted Christian in 1993 under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. I am also a guest author at Lee's Birdwatching Adventures and The Creation Club. The theme of my blogging comes from The Message version of Psalms 104 -- "What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, You made earth overflow with your wonderful creations."

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