Here’s Looking at You, Kid

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge
(Click image for greater detail)

When winter temperatures rise, so do American alligators: up and out of the muddy warmth that helps to keep them comfortable during the winter, and onto the bayou banks for a little mid-day sunshine. Still somewhat sluggish and still covered with a coating of sandy mud, this mostly-submerged gator rose into view so stealthily he failed to break his own reflection.

It’s hard to read an alligator’s expression, but I fancy he was as surprised to find me standing on the bank as I was to see him in the shallow water. We pondered one another briefly before he sank beneath the water’s surface: out of sight, but certainly not out of mind.


Comments always are welcome..

65 thoughts on “Here’s Looking at You, Kid

  1. I love the patterns in the water. It would make a great fabric. I found that February on a sunny day is a good time for alligator viewing as they like to get out of the water and sun on the shore. The Brazos Bend rangers said the gators don’t feed in February.

    1. I was thinking today about which fabric this most resembles. I finally remembered one that used to be very popular: moiré. I’m not sure it ever was produced in multiple colors: silk might be a more likely candidate. But it would be beautiful, for sure.

      There are some trails at Brazoria I won’t walk except in winter, since they aren’t boardwalked; they’re just trails along the water. When the gators are sunning in the grasses, it’s not always possible to see them; the “sploosh!” is the first clue they were there. That’s one reason I’ve been hoping for some colder weather — I’m all for sluggish reptiles. Besides, I’m not sure the gators have calendars.

  2. Amazing creatures linking us to the distant, distant past – best viewed from a distance I might add!

    1. That’s my preference, too, David. As I’ve learned, telephoto lenses are useful in a variety of circumstances, and making portraits of alligators certainly qualifies.

  3. Beautiful, Linda. It would be hard to find a more attractive blending of color. There is something about that eye slit that speaks of danger and raises primitive fears, however. –Curt

    1. One of the things I like best about this photo is the clarity of the water and the colorful reflections. It’s rare (at least in my experience) to find these critters in water that isn’t muddy, and being able to see the underwater portion of this one’s jaw was special. And, of course, there’s that eye. When these guys are lazing about, they often are heavy-lidded, and it’s hard to get a good look at their eyes. There wasn’t any problem with that here.

      1. Have you ever noticed bullfrogs resting in water with only their heads and big yellow eyes showing, Linda. Similar in a way. Although not threatening, unless you are a bug, of course.

        1. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen photos like that. I’ve got alligator sightings galore, but I’m really short on bullfrogs. I’ve never seen one, that I know. I occasionally hear a ker-plunk, but that’s it.

          1. Wow. Maybe the Alligators eat them all. I grew up with large bullfrogs. In fact one lived in the ditch out front of our house. I used to go to sleep when I slept outside in the summer (every night) listening to its deep chug-a-rum.

  4. I agree with Curt – – the vertical eye slit reinforces the alien look of this creature.
    Although, come to think of it, the alligators were here a long time before us, so I guess we’re the weird-looking terrestrial bipeds, holding strange little boxes with circular lenses.
    The reflections in the water are beautiful.

    1. I don’t remember seeing that eye slit so clearly in the past; that’s one of the things that really caught my attention when I was looking at the image on the computer. I suppose just the right angle of light played a role, but it certainly made the image seem more dramatic, and the gator more — uh — worthy of consideration.

      And, the clarity of the water was pure gift. These guys usually are in muddier waters, or in clear water away from the banks. Both contexts mean no reflections, and those colorful reflections really add to the overall effect.

    1. As well they should, Jeanie. People who aren’t made uneasy by them sometimes come to unfortunate ends, like the fellow a couple of years ago in deep east Texas. He went swimming in a local bayou despite recent sightings of an eleven-footer, and signs saying “NO Swimming! Alligators!” He should have known better, but it may be that alcohol had made him a bit less cautious than usual.

  5. We heard your title line two days ago when watching “Casablanca” for the umpteenth time on Turner Classic Movies. Probably most people would prefer Ingrid Bergman to your alligator. Jumping to the last line of the film, I could say I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.

    1. I do love the film, and may have watched it umpteen times myself. That’s probably why some of the lines are embedded deeply enough to be useful for blog titles. As for preferences, Ingrid Bergman would be the obvious choice for coffee and conversation, but alligators certainly add their own sort of drama to life.

      And, yes: I didn’t realize how much I enjoy Brazoria until I didn’t get there for a couple of months.

    1. Thanks, Pit. To be honest, it came out better than I had hoped. I didn’t see how pronounced the slitty eye was until I was back home; I only knew it was open, and looking at me.

    1. They used to scare me to death. Now, after years of living with them, the terror has mostly transformed into a combination of respect and caution. During mating and nesting seasons, I’m especially careful, though, because there are two things you don’t want to cross: a male gator with love on his mind, and a mother with babies to protect!

    1. The water that day was so clear that the reflections were especially nice. And, if you look closely, you can see the rest of the alligator’s jaws underwater. But that eye and its reflection really are something. When an alligator is looking you over, it’s impossible not to hope he’s already had breakfast.

    1. I’m glad, too, Lavinia. You’re right about the jewel-like quality of the eye. My mother had a faux dark golden topaz necklace, and the resemblance is striking. Amber came to mind, too, especially since the shades of that can vary so widely.

  6. back when I was doing the river guide thing I paddled on Buffalo Bayou often. sometimes we would sneak up on the alligators that had taken up residence on the banks behind a restaurant that was near Buffalo Bend and next to high rise apartments towards the take out at Shepherd. the kitchen staff would throw the left over meat in the bayou for the alligators and the residents of the apartments thought it was so cool to have the alligators in their ‘backyard’. of course, they didn’t stay small and the last time I saw them they were probably 6 – 8 feet long. that restaurant moved and I think another opened in that place. I don’t know whether or not they tossed their leftover meat or not but I imagine that when pets started disappearing perhaps the apt dwellers changed their mind about how cool it was to have alligators.

    1. That’s a good example of “alligators smart, people stupid.” Alligators that have been fed by humans come to associate humans with food, and in their reptilian brain, human + food can turn out badly for the humans involved — not to mention their pets. There are signs near the ponds at Brazoria making it very clear feeding the alligators is prohibited. I’ve only come across people doing it one time, so maybe the message is getting across. And there’s a reason for the advice to always keep pets on a leash, too. There are stories about unleashed dogs making a dash into the growth along the banks, never to return.

  7. I think I’m part alligator! I, too, love to soak up the sunshine (which, unfortunately, we’ve had FAR too little of this winter!). I wish he’d have opened his big mouth for you, but at least you got a clear shot of his eye — and his expression seems to promise more poses when you go back!

    1. I’ve got a few photos of those toothy grins, but for the most part, I’m happiest when they keep their mouths shut. A few teeth showing is fine, but a big,open mouth suggests Sir Gator is disturbed, distressed, or hungry, and I’d prefer not to be around for any of that. Lazing on the river bank? Sure. There’s nothing nicer than feeling sunshine in the midst of winter, as you well know.

      The good news here is that the cardinal I spotted in the bushes is up at the top of a tree, singing his little heart out. The wrens are singing, too. We are almost to February — the traditional time for pruning roses here. Spring’s on the way, for sure.

    1. They’re interesting creatures. I’m just as glad we only have alligators and not crocodiles; from what I’ve read, the crocodiles are even more dangerous. But to find these lazing away the days on a bank, or gliding along, just checking out the scene? It’s really great.

  8. Wouldn’t want to come across that one while swimming laps. Still, he rather fits there, doesn’t he? Great shot, Linda. I love the movement and reflections of the water paired with Mr. A’s gnarly skin.

    1. I saw more alligators at the refuge this year than ever before: especially, a lot of young ones, only three or four feet long. Most of the time, only their eyes and the tip of their snout was visible. Maybe they were the ones still being cautious about the big, wide world they found themselves in.

      I only wish another set of photos I took of this one had turned out. The alligator had moved much closer to the reeds that were causing the reflection when a red dragonfly landed on its head. By that time, it was beyond the reach of my telephoto lens, and the dragonfly was just to blurry to share. But it made me laugh. What looks like a threat to us may have looked like an island of safety to the dragonfly.

    1. It was a great experience. I had started out trying to capture the reflections, when he started to surface. They can move up and down so silently it’s quite amazing. Take your eyes off one, and he’ll be gone. Or, stop watching, and you may find one’s come up to the surface too close for comfort.

  9. Beautiful colours and patterns. I think moiré is an apt description. I am also reminded of part of a silly childhood rhyme which seems to fit this scene well; It got so lonely down below
    It just popped up to say hello.

    1. Your little verse is fun, and it evoked a number of images, including some that would be appropriate for Halloween, and some that could have been drawn by Edward Gorey. The moiré? That only evokes a 1968 wedding, when all of us bridesmaids wore it in purple. It was just a bit over the top, but it surely was pretty.

    1. If there’s anything I like better than the alligator’s eye, it’s the reflection of that eye. It brings to mind the occasional advice people give one another: “You ought to take a look at yourself!” The alligator, of course, is looking only at me, with a curiosity that kept him focused while allowing me to focus my camera.

    1. Now that you mention it, I do remember that you’re not fond of this part of Mother Nature’s menagerie. That’s fine — we’ll move right along to more pleasant things! And I’m plenty cautious when I’m out and about. In truth, I’m more likely to encounter a snake than a gator, but I try to avoid them both.

        1. That made me curious; just how many people do alligators eat? Not so many, it turns out. In the past decade, eight people suffered death by alligator. Two were swimming (despite warning signs), three were walking dogs, one had been burglarizing homes and may have stumbled into a pond by accident, and the other two — well, nobody knows.

          I did have to laugh at the report that two Texas fishermen were attacked but not killed last year. I presume they were wade fishermen, because they stepped on the alligators. In a case like that, you hardly can blame the gator!

          No, I’m not going to be wade fishing or kayaking, and I don’t have a dog that an alligator could mistake for an appetizer, so I think I’m good to go.

  10. This is really sharp and has really nice reflections, Linda. I feel they are largely misunderstood, just as snakes have always been. Many reptiles are.

    1. I agree completely, about the alligators’ undeserved bad reputation. Of course they can be dangerous, but they tend to be opportunistic feeders, and if we don’t wander too close to them, or threaten them, there’s not going to be a problem. If I were a wade fisherman with a stringer of fish, I’d be a little cautious.

  11. Nice reflections. Alligators, crocodiles, caimans, they’re all both scary and cool looking; and you can almost hear them thinking, “we were here long before you, and we’ll be here long after.”

    1. They’re probably right, too. As for that scary & cool combination, I’m not sure there’s a better example in nature for evoking the approach/avoidance response.

    1. What a great name for them. It is wonderful fun to watch them rise up and down in the water. I’ve seen them go down so slowly you hardly can see the movement, and they’ll submerge just to the point where only their eyes (and perhaps a tip of the snout) is showing. There have been a few times I’ve thought I was looking at a bullfrog, until they showed me otherwise.

    1. They’ll do that, too. It happens here occasionally — although they tend to prefer swimming pools. Every now and then one will decide to visit a new bayou, and make the really bad decision to cross a highway in the process. There’s nothing like getting a traffic alert to avoid a high-traffic freeway until they get the gator out of the way!

    1. I just love that slitty eye. Anyone who thinks there’s nothing going on in that reptilian brain only needs to gaze deep into one of those eyes to realize that there’s some evaluation going on!

    1. They fascinate me, although I’m not keen to have a truly up-close-and-personal encounter with one. On the other hand, I found a mama and babies last weekend, and I was able to get within feet of the crew. I was sorry, photographically speaking, that there was a fence between us, but on the other hand, I wasn’t about to get too creative about finding a way around it.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. I appreciate it.

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