Guardian Mother Gator

A guardian mother American Alligator and her pod of babies in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 12, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

Thursday, 2:20 PM – Trying not to disturb the exhilarating, tense moment, I whispered to my daughter Amanda in a low voice, “Momma gator has to be here somewhere.” Sure enough, in the midst of the dozen or more colorful babies, her eyes peered at us attentively from between the abundant swamp vegetation; her body completely submerged. We daringly pressed in a little closer. Cute little chirps arose from a few of the babies. Mom tolerated our approach for only about thirty seconds before swiftly swimming directly toward us and emitting a forceful release of air.

Sitting in the front of the canoe just a few feet from this upset maternal guardian, I knew what was “safe”, and what was not. This was bordering on “unsafe”, and, in fact, a bit foolish. While most gators predictably retreat or submerge upon approach, a mother gator is quite courageous and assiduous in defending her young against onlookers. So I let wisdom prevail and we backed out the canoe a bit, took a few more photos, and paddled onward.

-Excerpt from my March 2015 Okefenokee Nature Journal


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30832403

Okefenokee Bird Roost – Quite a Stir

Great Egret; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 7, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

Excerpt from the 1926 Okefenokee Swamp journal of Hamp Mizell:

“We ​arose early the next morning, before daylight, and before the sun began to rise (and a clear sunrise in the Okefenokee swamp is a most beautiful site) the birds began to twitter and call for their mates. When daylight comes at a large bird roost there is quite a stir and much noise made by the calling of birds… Their early morning noise in the great Swamp can be heard from miles across the water.”


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36669822

Up the Suwannee Middle Fork

An excerpt from my March 2015 Okefenokee nature journal:

Kayak trail sign pointing up the Suwannee Middle Fork; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 12, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

Thursday, 9:12 AM – The number of large basking gators quickly dwindled as we paddled up the narrower channel toward Minnie’s lake. Large lily pads crowded in toward the canoe on either side; Spanish moss hung overhead. After about a mile we came to the cove where we had spotted the juvenile gator on the boat tour the day before. He was in the same spot, on the same log.

Juvenile American Alligator on a floating log along the Middle Fork canoe trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

​We turned the canoe in toward the cove and came to rest on the lily pads and thick floating vegetation. After about a minute of shooting him with different focal lengths, flash and without flash, I finally noticed an even smaller juvenile lying about five feet further down the log to the left. Glistening scales, bright yellow bands, a grinning look. We pushed even closer until the larger of the two flipped off the log into the water. We backed out and paddled further up the flowing channel.

Deep Booming Roar

An excerpt from E.A. McIlhenny’s 1935 book, The Alligator’s Life History:

Large American Alligator swimming in the blackwater of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia USA.  January 21 2021. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

“​The deep booming roar of a twelve foot male alligator is a sound that once heard will never be forgotten. It is not unlike the first boom note of the ostrich, or the deep, slow-throat roar of the lion before he begins the quick short-cough roars; but exceeds in volume both of these sounds. It has much more volume and is deeper in tone than the bellow of the largest of our domestic bulls. I know of no sound, natural or artificial, that causes such a tremendous vibration of the atmosphere as the full-throated roar of a full-grown alligator. Often when near these reptiles as they bellowed, I have felt a very distinct vibration of my diaphragm caused by the trembling of the air by the broken waves of sound thrown out by these great creatures.”


​E.A. McIlhenny (1872 – 1949), of the McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce company, was a hunter, explorer and naturalist that established the Avery Island wildlife refuge on his family estate in Louisiana and wrote The Alligator’s Life History in 1935. While some of his statements are criticized by modern science, he was one of the most knowledgeable alligator experts in the country at the time. His work contains valuable information and entertaining anecdotes.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/68858729

Animal Shelter Photography: “Precious”

When I’m not in the Okefenokee, I’m in the animal shelter using my photography to get dogs and cats rescued and adopted. Here’s a recent adoption…

White and tan female Pitbull and Bulldog mix breed dog with large pointed ears outside on leash. Dog rescue pet adoption photography for humane society animal shelter. Stock sales support the pet adoption website http://www.waltonpets.net. 

“Precious” was surrendered to the animal shelter on May 17, 2021. The owner said her daughter moved off and left Precious behind about a year ago and she could no longer take care of her. I did her glamour photos on May 17, 2021 and she was adopted into a new home the next day!

White and tan female Pitbull and Bulldog mix breed dog with large pointed ears outside on leash. Dog rescue pet adoption photography for humane society animal shelter. Stock sales support the pet adoption website http://www.waltonpets.net. 

William Bartram’s Cypress

Excerpt from William Bartram’s Travels, published in 1791:

Cypress Tree knees along the Suwannee River Middle Fork kayak trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 6, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

“THE Cypress stands in the first order of North American trees. Its majestic stature is surprising, and on approaching them, we are struck with a kind of awe, at beholding the stateliness of the trunk, lifting its cumbrous top towards the skies, and casting a wide shade upon the ground, as a dark intervening cloud, which, for a time, precludes the rays of the sun. The delicacy of its colour, and texture of its leaves, exceed every thing in vegetation. It generally grows in the water, or in low flat lands, near the banks of great rivers and lakes, that are covered, great part of the year, with two or three feet depth of water, and that part of the trunk, which is subject to be under water, and four or five feet higher up, is greatly enlarged, by prodigious buttresses, or pilasters, which, in full grown trees, project out on every side, to such a distance, that several men might easily hide themselves in the hollows between. Each pilaster terminates under ground, in a very large, strong, serpentine root, which strikes off, and branches every way, just under the surface of the earth; and from these roots grow woody cones, called cypress knees, four, five, and six feet high, and from six to eighteen inches and two feet in diameter at their bases. The large ones are hollow, and serve very well for beehives; a small space of the tree itself is hollow, nearly as high as the buttresses already mentioned.” Part II, Chapter III


William Bartram was a botantist, artist, and nature writer that explored the southeastern United States around the time of the American Revolution (1773-1776). He was a scientist, creationist and Christian that gave glory to the Author for all the wonderful works he observed and documented in his book, Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida.

Colorful Baby Alligators

An excerpt from my 2015 Okefenokee nature journal:

Baby American Alligator laying on a cypress log in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Middle Fork red canoe trail of the Suwannee River. March 12, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

On our first day in the Okefenokee, the number of huge gators lining the edges of Billy’s Lake was quite mind blowing. As our count climbed higher, we lost track of how many of the big swamp sentinels we saw. In some places, groupings of four to eight large alligators sunned in one spot; many of the same gators in the same exact spots we had seen them on the previous day’s guided boat tour. But after the initial shock of the giant gators was waning, we began to desire to see a colorful juvenile gator, or better yet, a pod of babies surrounding their mother.

Baby gators are something special. Their more distinct patterns, texture and coloration with bright yellow banded tails makes them more beautiful than the older, drab, bluish-black monsters. They have a lizardy – almost gecko-like look – with cute upturned smiles that border on a mischievous grin. And not to mention the chirp! It is hard to imagine this happy little chirp emanating from an animal that will one day emit a thunderous bellow and strike fear into any living creature.

In 1997 I had come upon a mother gator and her babies in the Okefenokee. And only on a couple of occasions, another being in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, had I heard baby gators chirp unseen from amongst the reeds. Perhaps today Amanda would hear that chirping up close for the first time.


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30037286

Scarlet Snake at Donnelley WMA

Scarlet Snake; Donnelley Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Colleton County, South Carolina by williamwisephoto.com

The sun was climbing higher and brighter. The humidity and warm, stifling air was already bearing down on me, causing my feet to stumble through the thorns, briers and saw palmetto. I had been pushing through South Carolina low-country scrub for several hours already.

I was thankful to escape the bush and come out onto a dirt road that cut through the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area. As I walked through this shady mixed forest of hardwood and pine, I didn’t feel like lifting my heavy lens to shoot any birds. I just walked with my head looking down toward the ground. And that’s when I spotted it…!

Scarlet Snake, Cemophora coccinea, coiled on the ground. Red, black and yellow bands sometimes mistaken for venomous Coral Snake. Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, Colleton, South Carolina, USA. Part of the ACE Basin refuges supported by Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  ©williamwisephoto.com

A glint of color caught my eye amongst all the green vegetation lining the road. A snake! My normal reaction was to reach down and grab it. But the colors were red, black and yellow. I had to take a moment to calculate this one before grabbing. But I quickly recognized it as the harmless pattern of a non-venomous variety. I reached down and quickly grabbed this small Scarlet Snake.

The thought that gave me pause was the possibility of the venomous Coral Snake. Also a beautiful snake of red, black and yellow… but with a deadly bite! I know there are rhymes to help remember the difference. “Red on yellow kill a fellow…” or is it, “Red on black…” or… I just remember that if the black separates the colors, you’re okay.

Scarlet Snake; Donnelley Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Colleton County, South Carolina ©williamwisephoto.com

This cute little snake was quite docile and calmly sat in my hand as I switched from my 600mm lens to a macro lens. A beautiful find! The first I’ve found in my thirty years of herping (snake hunting).

Donnelley Wildlife Management Area; Colleton, South Carolina, USA.
– Sun and clouds with afternoon thunderstorms. High of 86 F.
– Sunrise 6:15 AM, Sunset 8:27 PM
– Day length: 14 hours, 12 minutes (+40s)
– Moon 19% Waning Crescent

A Place of Memories

A passage from my Okefenokee journal on Mixon’s Hammock, March 5, 2017:

Pied-billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps, swimming in Mixon’s Hammock; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

After tensely navigating through over a mile of the Narrows, the scene expanded forth into a beautiful prairie. A juvenile alligator and a pair of Ibises welcomed us into the opened, bright sky. Yet again, I missed a photo of a colorful male Wood Duck, but captured a sharp shot of a nervously diving Grebe.

A young American Alligator on the swamp prairie near Mixon’s Hammock; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

It appeared as if we had emerged onto a remote African savannah in another time. Tall brown grasses lined the sides of the canoe trail and stretched far off into the distance. Large green Spatterdock leaves floated in small bays as the canoe channel began to widen.

​This beautiful prairie was a place of solitude, a place of memory; memories of logging and wild fires of centuries gone by. Like passing through jagged dragon’s teeth, the waterway was lined on both banks with large, jagged Cypress stumps, blackened by fire. We passed through a double line of vertical pilings standing five feet out of the water; the remains of a logging train track. ​

White Ibis; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

iNaturalist observations:

One Large Specimen

A large American Alligator slowly approaches the side of our canoe on Billy’s Lake; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 11, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

Excerpt from the 1926 History of the Okefenokee Swamp by AS McQueen and Hamp Mizell:

“To make certain that there was a large opening or prairie ahead, my father waited and listened for the bellow of the alligators, which comes always just after sunrise. Shortly after the first rays of the sun began to penetrate through the underbrush he heard the first alligator bellow, followed shortly by hundreds of others to be heard for miles ahead.

“Shortly after the morning start they could see a large opening in the distance towards the west, and they began to meet alligators coming down the trail, and one large specimen made a desperate attempt to drag the dog from the boat. Soon they saw a deer feeding out in the open near a clump of bushes, which eyed them with mild wonder. And shortly there after they entered the large prairie but now bears the name of Chase Prairie, which is 6 miles long and 3 miles wide.”


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/29977469