St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

We set out this morning with the intention of walking along the man-made levee at the ocean’s edge next to the St Mark’s Lighthouse. I was expecting as quick, easy walk and then back home. It turns out there was so much more to explore at St Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge Currently, the Education Center and Visitor’s Center are closed due to Covid, so we’ll have to go back some other time to check them out. For today, we stopped and explored several stops along the 17 mile road between the Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park and the lighthouse at the water’s edge.

Our first stop was a little pull off that had a levee running off perpendicular to the road. There was an informational sign there that I wanted to read. The sign turned out to be uninteresting, but as I was reading, Rob say to me, “hey, do you hear that?” Sure enough, we heard a repeated deep bellow from the marshy area just to the north of the levee. We could tell it came from a large animal. We figured it was probably an alligator or a wild boar (we’ve heard bears before and it didn’t sound like one of them). We walked out onto the little bridge that separated the parking area from the levee and looked for an alligator or boar or whatever was making the nose. It continued for several more bellows while we were there. I kinda got a little freaked out and started walking quickly back to the car. Rob laughed at me, but followed. In the car we looked up alligator sounds. It turns out they do not have vocal cords, but do make a deep bellowing sound just like we heard by pulling air into their lungs and expelling it. They bellow in May as part of their mating ritual, either hoping to attract a lovely female or to deter any fellow males from venturing into their territory. I really wish we had recorded it, but you can look it up yourself on the internet. It does sound kinda cool and kinda creepy.

Our next stop was called the Headquarters (not sure why). There were restrooms and a picnic area and a couple of short trails. We set off on one through the woods, but quickly abandoned the trail when I was swarmed by biting flies. They buzzed around my head an got stuck in my hair, bumped into my lips and bit my legs. I was not having an enjoyable hike! So, we turned back, but did venture on the much shorter trail that led out to an observation pavilion set up on stilts above the water. A couple was there, with some serious birding equipment. He pointed out 2 mudhens with their babies in tow in the water just below us. The babies were so cute! We could hear several other unidentified creatures from that spot, including another alligator bellowing. This one was farther away, so less creepy.

From here, we drove on out to the lighthouse. We did the walk around the levee there, as we had planned. As we rounded the 3rd side of the square we met a cute little vole hanging out in the grass. He was not afraid of us so we got a couple of pretty good pictures of him. Then, as we were about to get in the car and drive away, (literally the car door was open) a pair of boat-tailed grackles caught our eyes. They perched in a palm tree about 15 feet away from us and sang and sang. The one did a little wing flutter that made a sort of percussive sound from time to time. Then they would sing some more and then hold their beaks straight up in the air. While we were taking some video of the grackle show, a brown bird that may or may not have been a brown thrasher walked right up to us, literally less than a foot from my feet. He walked between me and the car, heading toward the open car door. I was a little worried he would hop up into the car, but he stopped just short of that. Then wandered away. Rob’s theory is that he’s been fed by tourists at their cars and was looking for a mid-morning snack from us.

Check out the video of the grackle song here.

And here is a video of an alligator bellowing (note, this is not my video, we never did see the alligator or get a chance to record it).

On the drive out of the park, we stopped to check out a soft-shell turtle being harassed by a pair of crows beside the road. Not sure what the crows wanted with him, he wasn’t dead. We also stopped to check out an old, rusty sluice gate. We’re pretty sure it doesn’t work anymore, but it made for a pretty place to take a picture.

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