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Great Blue Heron

The fog was rising over the water, as I prepared to put the boat in the water – and I saw a great blue heron swoop down to the waters edge. The sun was rapidly rising, and I wanted to get my tour on the river before the influx of boaters disturbed the peace of the river. An ibis and a great egret were also feeding in the shallows.                              

Great Blue Heron

Because we have had so much rain, the Silver River – east of Ocala – was high and darker than normal. In times of drought, there is little water in the forest, and the wildlife must come more frequently to the rivers edge to drink and hunt. On most tours we would see many species of water birds, alligators, monkeys, otter, turtles, an occasional snake, and hog, turkey and deer can be spotted. Because of the rains, the forest is now flooded in many areas, so the wildlife sightings had been less frequent – due to the fact they could get water in the forest just out of our sight.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron So when I saw the heron, ibis and egret even before the tour began, I had two thoughts run through my head…this is a good sign, and we’ll see everything we normally do, or this jinxes it – that will be all the birds we will see today! Today, my ecotourists/photographers came from the local area – unusual for me, as most of my clients come from out of state and around the world.

Yellow Crested Night Heron

I am still amazed that people move down to north central Florida, live here for years, and have never seen the treasures of the Silver River. So, I was happy to share this special place with someone that can pass the word locally. As we motored out slowly, the smells, sights and sounds of the forest and river overcame the drone of the engine. I have been coming out on this river for over 22 years, and every time has been a different adventure. Today, the focus was on photography, with some swimming and snorkeling on the agenda. When the focus is on photography, my greatest fear is none of the wildlife subjects will show up! When no one shows up with a camera, I can guarantee that not only will everything show up, but the otters will practically come in the boat, the monkeys will pose with their babies very close, flocks of birds will practically run into you as you go up the river, and the alligators will ignore you as you glide by. Oh, well, pessimist that I was, I decided to try and be optimistic..

Alligator Face We had traveled but a few hundred yards, when I spotted it…what appeared to be a large log, suddenly turned into a large alligator, its mouth wide open.

Alligator Face

Shutters clicked, and curses were muttered when one of the photographers saw the need for another lens. I already warned them that Murphy’s Law dictated that whatever lens you had on the camera was the wrong one for the subject you would run into! We were able to get within several feet to get close-ups of the reptile. I also warned them that I would not do anything to disturb the wildlife to get the shots, but would get as close as the animal dictated to me. I explained how the wildlife had their own boundaries and personal space, and one can read by their body language and behavior, whether they felt threatened. We did not want to disturb anything they were doing, whether it be feeding, resting or eating. Getting too close and making the animal flee, only uses up energy they may need for survival. So, with that said, we headed up the river.

Monkeys on Silver River

Monkeys on the Silver River

Turtles were on every log, lined up with the “no vacancy” sign out. Alligator sightings got so numerous they stopped taking photos. My sharp old eyes spotted water movement by the cypress knees, and a couple of otters came swimming out – one with a fish he was attempting to eat. They cavorted around the boat, until they got bored and continued down the river. Suddenly, another movement in the forest caught my eye – on a dry hillock, deer were calmly feeding! More shutters clicked away as the moment was preserved on film. As they “focusing” their attention on that, I heard noises in the forest, and suddenly a herd of wild hogs came to the bank, rooting in the mud and talking to themselves in a language only they understand. Because wild hogs spook so easily, I was desperately trying to quietly get the photographers attention, and more curses were heard as they realized film had to be changed. I quietly maneuvered the boat in a position that wouldn’t scare the hogs, but allow the photographers a good shot. A squeal pierced the air – it was not from the hogs, but from one of my human companions –“Look!!!

Wild Hogs on the Silver River

Wild Hogs on the Silver River

Baby pigs! Oh, how cute!!!” With that, the hogs disappeared in an instant. Wow. I started to feel very smug…acting like this was an every day occurrence with all these encounters. Yet, I was uneasy, for we had spotted but a few birds – mostly little green herons, and an ibis or two. Where were the birds? Before that thought left my head – I saw out of the corner of my eye, a huge form take flight … .it was starting to fly right across the bow of my boat! Oh, no!!!! It was a turkey! A Big turkey! And he couldn’t quite get the lift he needed! We were going to crash! I felt the tips of his wings smack my cheek as he flew to the other side. Not one shot was taken. We were so awestruck; no one even lifted their cameras to try. I was glad the bimini was not up, for he would have surely crashed into that and been injured. As I tried to regain my composure, I told them not to expect this much excitement for the rest of the trip – after all, we had gone more than half way, and had yet to go swimming. I was trying to prepare them for the fact that maybe we won’t see too much from now on. Well, was I wrong again. As we rounded the bend, I saw the limbs and leaves in the trees shaking – Monkeys! There were mothers and babies, and the adult males guarding the troop. A very tall tree was bent at the top across the river, coming within feet of the trees on the other side. The troop scurried up, made the leap and ran down to the other side of the river. Suddenly, we heard a screaming, and looked to see a youngster still up in the tall tree, too afraid to make the leap. The troop immediately ran back as close to the baby as possible, and in unison started urging the baby to leap. After some moments of indecision, the youngster leaped, to the cheers of the people in the boat, and the grunts and calls of his family. What a moment!! Later, when we finally slid into the cool water, it seemed almost anticlimactic to view through our masks the gar, bream, mullet and bass that fill the underwater part of this world. I watched my passengers with their heads in the water, swimming this way and that to view all the fish – they never saw the great blue heron that glided over them, or saw the swallowtail kite floating in the sky.

Racoon on the Silver River

Racoon on the Silver River

The jungle-like cry of the pileated woodpecker filled the air, and an armadillo rooted in the underbrush. I sat there wondering, with all the wonderful things we saw today, how much we really missed because we weren’t looking or listening hard enough. We ate lunch in silence, listening to the forest sounds. I noticed the clouds were building, so we reluctantly left our quiet beach and went up river a ways, before heading back. The cameras were put down, as it seemed now they wanted just to look and enjoy the scenery and wildlife, and not have the act of taking pictures interfere with the experience. For me, it is as exciting as the first time I saw the river; and even though I never know what to expect to see, just knowing this place exists fills my heart with joy. If you are interested in an eco, photo, snorkel or dive tour of this historic waterway, or wish to respond to any of the articles, and if you have news you wish to share, please email me at




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