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Panther PursuiT
Written By: OC Fotoguy
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Panther PursuiT
Panther PursuiT
Panther PursuiT
Panther PursuiT
Panther PursuiT
Panther PursuiT

    There’s several other campsites occupied this morning on this last December day. I presume they are deer hunters, so I’ll give them their space this morning and stay on Bear Island Grade Trail, here in Big Cypress National Preserve (www.nps.gov/bicy/), where I’ll probably see tourists and birders, since it intersects with Rt. 29 rather than go into the back country, so I doubt if I’ll see much, but it’ll be safer.  I don’t need the hunter’s lead and I’d think at sunrise the hunters will be more careful than later in the day after they may’ve done a little sipping on some hooch.
    The large pond about half mile away which I’ve named Bass Pond is crystal clear and I can see the lush green bottom with tilapia and bass swimming around.   There’s always several alligators sunning themselves here later in the day. I’m sure the fish give them a tasty food supply. I’ve never had any luck catching any though!
    As I round a bend I see the motion of something big in the road about mile a way. I use my binoculars on it and it’s a deer about a year old. It stops and looks directly towards me. It better learn not to do that when it gets older or it’ll be a hunter’s dinner. I walk farther and see a brownish large bird with a long curved neck fly up and away from the wet lands on the side of the trail. It was a limpkin, a rare sighting and a very skittish breed.  Next there’s a small gator hole that’s inundated with gar fish and there’s usually a resident gator and a good birding spot. The gator is the only thing there. He must like the taste of those leathery fish. When a cormorant or anhinga catches one it usually discards it uneaten on the dirt road.
    As I’m  walking and enjoying my morning coffee with eggnog in it as cream, I’m surprised by a big hawk-like bird sitting about ten yards away above another water hole. I quickly raise the camera and fire a photo, but there’s shadow from a branch across it ruining the image. Then it leans forward away from the shadow and flies, but I got a keeper full frame photo first. This was an endangered rare sighting, an Everglades Snail Kite, which reside only here and subsist on indigenous snails, which sometimes are in short supply.
    I’ve walked several miles and am surprised I haven’t seen or passed any people or heard any shots from hunters. I glance over my shoulder and OMG, at least a mile away is a huge animal going up the trail away from me. Yeah, you need to look behind once in a while; there’s things happening there, too. I quicken my pace in pursuit stopping to fire a few photos, but it’s so far away. The 400mm lens lets me know what it is though. The body is too low to the ground to be a deer, it’s stocky enough to be a bear, but the camera reveals it’s a panther! It’s sniffing the trail and may have the scent of the deer I saw. I step very quickly, but I’m not gaining ground on it.  It moves with effortless grace and I’m tiring out!
    I look at the camera’s time setting and it’s 9:30am. Animals are very repetitious in their daily routines and where they do it. I see the same type of animal or bird at the same place along the trail here in Big Cypress year after year. I saw a panther right here last January. A couple days ago I saw a Sora, a type of rail, water bird, that lives in the grass of marshy wet lands like is out near BJ’s Restaurant in Ocean City.  I’ve seen Virginia Rails there. The sora was precisely where I saw one several years ago. There’s two gator holes, one on each side of Perocchi Grade Trail, where I saw the same thirteen foot gator for years. I gave up the chase of the panther, no National Geo picture this time, but I’ll remember the time and place and I’ll be back. The breeze was blowing towards me as I pursued it. That prevented it from picking up my scent. It probably watched me as I passed minutes ago! I know that nature’s critters see me much more often than I see them.  I walked a ways farther, but decided I’d walked far enough.
    There’s so many air plants in the jungle of Big Cypress and my eyes always examine them, since they are so unusual. I only see them here. The back lighting of one catches my eye, so it’s photo.  I tried to keep some in my camper (nest) as “house” plants, but they are saprophytic and need a live host for their nutrition. As I got close to my campsite I saw something dark lying on the road. It was bigger than a wallet, but triangular shaped. This may be another of what Mother Nature shows me, that other people never see in a lifetime. It was a large moth on the road surface in the heat of the bright sunshine. The moth was every bit as big as a small bird. It would make a great addition to my collection of natural decorations in my nest, but it was still alive. I saw one years ago in the evening hovering above the pink flower of sticker weed.  That made a favorite photo.
    Last January near here I saw a very shiny silver object several 100s of yards away. The shimmering in the sun light got my attention. It was an orange butterfly, which must’ve been nearly frozen by the nights chill. It appeared to be dead, so I put it in a jar and put it in my camper. The next morning it had come back to life and was clamoring to be released; I did, so it could enjoy the jungle. This big moth I moved and put in the grass along the dirt road. I would check on it later.  If it was dead, it would become part of my collection of memorable stuff. It was gone when I checked. Hopefully it flew away. If not a snake, hawk, or other critter had it for breakfast. Which is a bigger thrill for me: seeing a panther, what Mother Nature shows me, or a helicopter rolling and flying upside down, like in O.C.’s outstanding Air Show? Hmmmm.... The panthers have it!  We’ll need to put up with this inundation of June bugs for awhile. Good Luck!!! I remember what my graduation trip was, Basic Training!!!

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