Monday, July 16, 2012

Spring Visits to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- Part Two

            Many of you have already read Visits to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- Part One in which I recounted Carl's and my first Spring visit of 2012 to this beautiful and historic site close to Charleston on our Magnolia Gardens Photo Contest Photography Pass.  The very nicely-priced passes allowed us unlimited visits during the Spring and covered our entry fee into the photo contest if we chose to enter photos from the Spring 2012 photo contest period.  Certainly the challenge of a photo contest will motivate us to hone our creative skills to try to produce an award winner in this wonderful context!  However, I must say that it is always the ever-changing animal and plant life as well as the fabulous scenery that are the true draws for us to return repeatedly in the Spring.  In the Part One post, we visited on March 18, 2012.  Our next visit, recounted here in Part Two, occurred 2 weeks later on April 1, 2012.  I hinted at the end of Part One that this was the visit in which the Waders and Gators would steal the show.  Now you can see why!

           Our first destination in the Spring is generally the Audubon Swamp where the egret and heron rookery is found.  Many of the Great Egrets were now on eggs!  You can see a few eggs in the nest in the photo below.

Great Egret on nest with eggs!  -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Same photo -- zoomed in to emphasize the lovely plumes of this Great Egret -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012
             The Black-Crowned Night Herons' nests are rather difficult to perceive as they nest in very dense foliage, unlike the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons.  Nonetheless, I had several opportunities to observe these birds this Spring as they gathered nesting material or once their chicks fledged.  On this visit, the birds were concentrating on nest building.

Black-Crowned Night Heron -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Black-Crowned Night Heron -- gathering nesting material -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Black-Crowned Night Heron returning to nesting site with more material -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

                  Many Tricolored Herons were sporting the blue bill and lores of their breeding plumage....

Tricolored Heron -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

.... but not all.

Tricolored Heron -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

             The last wader that I photographed this day was this lovely Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Little Blues are also very reclusive, deep-in-the-foliage in their nest building.  I have on occasion been successful in photographing a young chick on the nest.  The Little Blue Herons begin egg-laying after the Great Egrets so I did not find any Little Blue Herons actually on nests during this particular visit.  Later in the Spring, I did and will share those photos in subsequent posts.

             That concludes the Waders portion of this post and before I begin the Gators portion, I will show you some of the other Spring Beauties seen on this first day of April, beginning with the blooms!  Since we had purchased the photography pass to perchance take and enter photos in the photo contest, we did try to frame some artsy shots.  I rarely can figure out though what will appeal to a professional photographer-judge.  But I try sometimes, nonetheless.

Louisiana Iris -- petal and water-drop closeup -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Louisiana Iris -- same flower as above -- different shot with more depth of field -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Louisiana Iris -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Mahonia -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012
                I loved the way the light filtered down through the trees to highlight the berries on this Mahonia.  Likewise, I loved the angular thorniness of this plant (below) with it's delicate bloom.  I have no idea what this species may be, so perhaps someone with a horticultural background will read this and tell us! 

A beauty with beastly thorns!  -- ID help needed -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

             Due to our warm winter, many of the azaleas were already past peak bloom but many were quite lovely still!

Azalea -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Palamedes Swallowtail on Azalea -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

             During our warm winter this year, we seemed to have had a few butterflies here and there.  And certainly Spring brought back a wonderful influx of more butterflies and dragonflies to the area.    Feeling up for the challenge of attempting to successfully photograph a dragonfly in flight, I took advantage of this dragonfly's hovering in this one general area.  It was indeed a difficult, but fun endeavor.  They are tricky fellows whose moves are quite hard to anticipate. 

Dragonfly -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

                I was happy to capture in a photo this whistling Wood Duck as he crossed a lagoon area.  Perhaps he was calling to his mate.

Wood Duck -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

           Magnolia Gardens provided me with my first Prothonotary Warbler of the year as Carl and I progressed down a new trail in the swamp.

Prothonotary Warbler -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Prothonotary Warbler -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

         This immature Anhinga posed nicely for us, when he was not busy with personal grooming, that is!

Immature Anhinga -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

            During the time in which Carl and I split off to shoot separately, I found some cool photogenic critters such as this smiling Yellow-Bellied Slider....

Yellow-Bellied Slider -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

..... and this Eastern Gray Squirrel with backlit tail ....

Eastern Gray Squirrel -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

..... and this Banded Water Snake!

Banded Water Snake -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

            Now, we come to the Gator part of the story!  Many American Alligators make their home in Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.   As long as we human visitors are smart and mind the rules, the gators will continue to be able to live peaceably in areas like this.  The number one rule, of course, is "Do NOT feed the gators!"  A sign that I saw recently in another park said, "A fed gator is a dead gator."  Once you feed a gator, he associates you with food and then he approaches you for food.  Gators which lose their fear of humans are killed because that is when they are dangerous.  If you do not feed the gators, they will keep their distance as they are truly fearful of you.   Another important rule is also to keep a respectful distance and not to stand between a gator and the water because that is where it wants to be.  The water represents a safety zone for the gator.  More interesting information on alligators can be found in the highly recommended link above! 

            Myself, I find gators, from a respectful distance, fascinating and thrilling!  Their prehistoric appearance and behaviors intrigue me.  One of my favorite camera shots includes the reflection of these beasts in still water.  I am always trying to improve on a previous attempt.

Gator reflection -- Maagnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012
                  Carl was not with me when I had my most interesting encounters with gators this day.  He truly missed out!  Some other visitors told me that down the path they had seen a large gator at water's edge with a large furry prey in it's jaws.  When I first arrived and cautiously looked around in the area they indicated, I did not see this gator.   It had submerged apparently.   A little while later, I returned again to find his head resting on the bank with the furry critter, as reported, in it's jaws.  Seeing him so close made me jump, and step back quite a bit.

First view of gator with prey -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012
After photographing it from a safe, respectable distance, I turned to photograph something else.  When I turned back around.  It was gone.  It had submerged again.   Thus, I continued my nature watching and was drawn back down the path by some smaller birds flitting about in the branches.  Curiosity however, propelled me to look back to the area where the gator had been.  When I looked, I found him mostly out of the water and at the edge of the paved path.   The paved path, located on a dike between 2 impoundments in the swamp, is approximately 7 feet wide with a 1-2 foot shoulder on either side.

Gator has begun to creep out of the water with his prey -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012
The gator had evidently stopped when he saw me.  Apparently, this gator had a destination in mind.  He wanted to cross from one impoundment to the other.  My being there gave him pause.  I was not approaching any closer but my camera lens did allow more zoom.  With a better view of his prey now, I ascertained that it was likely an Opossum.  

Gator with prey wanting to cross to the other side -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- April 1, 2012

We stared at each other while I snapped a few shots.  After that, it was time to give him some space.   I moved back several yards before turning my back to walk away.  As soon as I turned my back though, he was up and moving across the road to his destination.   Unfortunately, the camera, not on the most appropriate setting for this kind of shot, was slow to focus.  So I apologize for the poor quality of these otherwise interesting photos. 

Confirmation that they prey was an opossum -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

Gator crossing the road -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012

I estimate that this gator was perhaps 8 feet, maybe more.  He certainly seemed longer than the trail was wide!  Here the shots of his prey do confirm that it was a rather large opossum.   After the gator was safely settled in the water, I got one more shot of him hanging on to his possum.

Gator back in the water with his lunch -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012
             Wow!  What an exciting encounter!  I figured that even though most of the photos were backlit it was going to be hard to top that in terms of wildlife events for the day.  Carl and I soon regrouped after that and he was decidedly ready to leave.  So we began to head towards the exit, which meant continuing along a boardwalk over the swamp towards the Audubon Swamp parking lot.  Carl, having already covered the area himself, stepped up his pace, whereas I slowed down again to talk to some acquaintances and to check out the Red-Shouldered Hawk nest high in a tree over the boardwalk.  It was hard to determine if anything was in the nest this time.  Carl continued ahead.  Then I heard it -- a low, guttural growl of a male gator -- the mating call!  There were several 4 to 5 foot gators in the swamp water below.  But we quickly identified the young 5 foot male who was making the call.  Suddenly, he began to move and he chased another similar sized gator straight towards us!  Thank goodness we were on the boardwalk above the potential fray!  These gators moved quickly! 

Female gator (?) fleeing her pursuer -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012
Female (?) gator fleeing her pursuer -- Magnolia Gardens -- April 1, 2012
             Wow!  I was not quite expecting another exciting gator encounter like that!  I was sorry that Carl missed it!  I finally was able to catch up to Carl and now I was quite ready to leave.  I definitely had some photos that I was ready to upload and edit.  Knowing that Magnolia Gardens would use the winning photos in promotional materials, I was fairly sure that the gator photos would not be the kind to win the contest.  I however was thrilled to have them just for the memory of the experience!  The whole day, from Waders to Gators, filled the bill for a fabulous day of wildlife adventure!

              I must say that I am never sorry with a visit to Magnolia Gardens!  Carl and I did return again in the Spring using our photo passes.  In fact, Carl returned a couple of times without me.  So there is certainly more material to share in another post!  Stay tuned for Part 3!


  1. Bravo Cathy, c'est magnifique .... Phil says that technically and artistically speaking those two posts are your best ... We are in awe... Please continue.

    Gros bisous
    Pat & Phil

  2. The posts & pictures are getting better each time. The bar keeps getting higher. I'm glad I get to read the posts and enjoy the photos. Great job Cindy.

  3. Ouaips, les images du gator sont impressionnantes! Super! Guillaume

  4. Very nice photos. The flower with the big thorns is a "bitter orange" Poncirus trifoliata.

    1. Thank you to all for your wonderful comments!

      Thank you to Anonymous above for the species name for the flower with the big thorns! For those of you who are interested in more information, this Wikipedia link ( seemed to have the best summary.