Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paddling the Hillsborough River with Gators

A few years ago while on a trip to St. Petersburg, I had the fortune to spend some time canoeing in a local river with alligators.  Now that sounds pretty scary and the first one I saw - well, I actually thought it was an old tire that someone had tossed away, so okay the second one I saw was very frightening.  But after a while I was all like "Oh yeah, there's one over there too....let's get closer!"
Being dropped off

The canoe we used was rented from an excursion company.  They bused us, with a dozen other people, and a trailerload of canoes to a launching point in the State Park.  Everyone set off at their own speed and I was pleased to find that we were able to spend several hours on the river without seeing any of our cohorts.  Just us and the gators!
The Hillsborough River, not far from Tampa, is a winding river with an overhanging canopy of drooping trees, Spanish moss hanging down and a lot of other life besides the gators. Predominantly we saw birds, so many birds. Then we noticed the turtles out sunning themselves on the logs.  The river isn't wide and in some areas, it's not very deep either. 

The only drawback is that a lot of the time we could hear road traffic.  But the experience of being in the same area as wild alligators (is there any such thing as a tame alligator?) is one where you'd want to be close to the safety of civilization.  I would not camp in Algonquin Park if an alligator could possibly wander into my campsite!

The nice thing about our trip was that we meandered for several hours downriver and were picked up at the end, instead of having to retrace our route.

One of the rare birds that people come from all over the world to see here is the roseatte spoonbill.  We definitely saw some spoonbilled birds, but I don't remember them being pink.  Mostly we saw great egrets, ibis, herons, and storks.  

It was a very pleasant afternoon.  Being under the canopy meant that we weren't overly warm, the lazy flow of the river was very soothing and we just got used to seeing all the gators.  They didn't bother with us, I don't think they viewed us as a floating buffet going by.  They were just trying to regulate their body temperature lying in the sun like college girls on spring break.  

Most of the turtles were pretty chill with our presence, but the odd one would dive back into the river when we came upon him.

I'll leave the rest of this post to some of the pictures I took.  I can't remember which excursion company we used, but the Google or TripAdvisor might have some recommendations for you if you ever go.  Here is one link: http://www.canoeescape.com/hillsborough.htm

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