finally! my first florida panther sighting!

January 3, 2011 Photography  39 comments

NOTE:  thank you for all of the wonderful comments here, on flickr and on facebook.  This was a dream come true to see panthers and photograph them.


Please excuse the added copyright message on the photos and the fact that you can’t right-click anything on this blog (only direct clicking works right now), I’m only protecting my copyrighted work by doing this as many people have already right-clicked and saved these images to their computer without permission and a release from me.  I’m happy to work with anyone who is involved in panther research and conservation.  If you’d like to use an image, you must contact me at cesstrelle@gmail.com  or you can contact me via this form HERE.


You may not save, copy, take a screen shot or download any of my photos without my express written permission…doing so will result in legal action.



Thank you so much and enjoy my photos and story below…


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I started off the day feeling lousy, not wanting to go anywhere or do anything.  Then I saw Greg Mathew’s photo on flickr HERE, It’s not of a panther, but it was taken on Jane’s Scenic Drive…and they spotted a panther around 12:45pm.  I’ve been wanting to SEE a panther for a long time now…I’ve been obsessed.  When I read that they saw one on Jane’s Scenic Drive in the afternoon, something told me I should go there.  Plus, it was the beginning of the year and we wanted the ORV pass for Big Cypress for our Jeep…and we wanted to get one right away so we’d have the full year to use it.  I figured we’d be going right by Fakahatchee so we’d stop there after we got the permit.



I’m not sure what time we started on Jane’s Scenic Drive, but about 4:45pm I spotted something far up in the middle of the road.  So I looked through my lens (binoculars will be the next purchase!) and thought I saw two vultures in the road…till one moved and I saw a long tail!  I told my husband there were two panthers up there.  So we drove a little closer and I got some shots of them through the front window, and then had a little bit of time to open the door and get a few shots that way.  I was so excited!  Not only did I finally see my first panther, I saw TWO!  At this point, I guess excited isn’t even a good enough word…I was just out of my mind!



We got as close as we could and then they just walked off the road into the woods.  If you’ve ever been on this road, you know that’s it’s water on either side and then thick, thick woods.  I figured they were gone and there weren’t any hopes of seeing them again.
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At this point, I didn’t care.  I saw panthers!  That was all that mattered.  And actually getting some crappy photos from far away was even better.  I was happy with what I got.  Now, in the back of my mind I knew they had been small.  I should have thought about it more, I should have realized there would be a MOM around.  I also should have been able to tap into all the panther info I’ve read over these last few years that I’ve got in my head…that you never see two adult panthers together. I should have realized right away these were babies. I should have stopped and waited.


Instead we drove on.  And not a minute later we had young Florida BEAR cross in front of us!  A bear!  A freakin’ bear!  Now, I was officially out of my mind happy.  I didn’t get photos of the bear because he was literally on the road for about a count of three seconds.  It was NOT what I expected to see, and at first it shocked me!  I see this black thing peer out from the edge of the road, my heart leaped and started to beat fast. I didn’t know what it was till it ran across the road. Even if I would have had the thought of grabbing the camera, he would have been off the road before I could even bring it up to my eye.  What I did see of him told me he was a young one too.  If I would have thought about it and waited the bear out…I would have missed seeing what I was about to see!


So we kept driving.  Now it was starting to get a little darker and I wanted to put the soft top back on the Jeep and start to head out (this was the first time we’d taken the soft top off of the jeep after installing it…and I wanted to make sure we put it back on in good light, lol), maybe we’d see the panthers again.
We get back to about the same area where we saw the first two……and there’s a panther on the road again!  I’m wondering if this is a totally different one, if this is one of the ones we saw before, I had no idea.  This time I figured he was so far away, and I’d already gotten my ‘faraway’ photos of panthers, that I’d try to inch up as close as I could in the jeep.  As I got closer he just walked off the road into the woods.  Those damn thick woods again!


This time, the voice of reason…aka my husband, Mike….said to me, why don’t we just stop the car, turn it off and wait.  Genius!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Oh yah, I was out of my mind excited about just seeing panthers, I couldn’t think straight.
So, I stopped the jeep, turned it off, opened the door, got my camera, and waited.  This time my wildlife photography instincts kicked in.  I used the door of the jeep as a blind and stood as still as I could…this is normally how I get my deer photos.  Move and park the car when they’re not looking, wait, get out when they’re not looking and then fire away with the camera.  Not a minute later out walked the panther.  And not only did he look at me, he started to walk…AND THEN TROT right twords me!  This was one of the young ones…I think he heard the shutter of my camera blasting away and was curious!  Now a thought hits me, how many images do I have left on this card?  Is it filling up?  I FORGOT how to tell how many photos were left on the card because I was so excited and freaked out, LOL!!!  I quickly just change out the card for another one, just in case.  I’m just lucky I didn’t forget how my camera worked when I saw the panthers for the first time ;-)


Panther Kitten  - another series of photos


As he’s coming twords me, out walks another panther and then ANOTHER panther, now’s there THREE on the road….and this time I could see the size differences.  One was mom and two were babies.  Mom licked one of their heads and calmly meandered around a bit and got bored and started to make her way off the road and her babies followed her.


IMG_8975
IMG_9000
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As mom decided to get back to hunting for their dinner and walking away from me and off the road, the babies followed and started to play with eachother!  It was absolutely amazing to see them interact!
Florida Panther Kittens Playing copyright Heather Green
Florida Panther Kittens Playing copyright Heather Green
Florida Panther Kittens Playing copyright Heather Green
Florida Panther Kittens copyright Heather Green
Florida Panther Hat Trick


They were not scared, they were not nervous, they could have cared less about me.  I do believe if I would have moved quickly or walked out from behind the door of my jeep they would have left in a hurry.  I just think she left because there just wasn’t any food on the road and she was hungry and had a job to do…feed the kids.


Canon 50D
Canon 100-400mm f4/5.6 USM IS L


***NOTE***
These are cropped, we were about 50 yards away from them, they are a bit blurry and noisy but it was late in the day and that road gets very shadowed (I was upping my iso as I was shooting, only taking the camera away from my face for a second to check the exposure).


Exif data says 6.12pm EST, but I don’t think I changed the time on it, so I do believe this was 5:12pm


I’ve geotagged the image of the three panthers together (last one posted above, just click it to go to it’s flickr page), but it’s not exact….but I’m pretty sure that this is the section of Jane’s Scenic drive after the second big turn….I’m just not sure the exact location on that section of road.  But, if you know panthers…they have a huge roaming radius, so they don’t always show up in the same place twice.


Now, I’m no expert…but these are my tips if you do go to Jane’s Scenic Drive.
Be prepared to NOT see anything. I’ve been out looking for panthers for several years now. I got lucky. This is an area KNOWN for panthers, so you’ve probably got your best chance of seeing them there…but it’s still basically a crap shoot.
Bring binoculars! We didn’t have any with us and they would have helped. I had to stop and look through my camera/zoom lens to scope out the road ahead of us as we drove through.
Stop and look at everything ahead of you on the road. Even if it looks like a shadow, or birds or a stick. Stop and look through your binoculars and/or lens. It helps to know if they’re up ahead so you can drive slowly closer to get a better view/photo. You don’t want to be rolling through there at 15 miles an hour and scare them off the road. The first time I saw the two babies, it looked like two vultures sitting on the road (as I looked through my camera), until one moved and I saw a long tail!
If you see a panther….I don’t care how far away you are, I don’t care if you have to shoot through the windshield of your vehicle…TAKE A PHOTO. This might be the only time you see them. You might not be able to creep closer, park and wait them out like we did.
That’s about it :)

Since I’ve been obsessed with seeing a panther for so long, I had made a set on flickr of other photographer’s panther photos…if you’d like to see them you can go HERE.

39 comments to finally! my first florida panther sighting!

  • Misti UNITED STATES  says:

    Great shots there Heather! Janes is the way to go for panther sightings IMO. And the bear–lucky! Someone else we know had a panther/bear sighting on Janes, too.

  • Chris Little UNITED STATES  says:

    Heather, WAHOO, congrats!!!! Florida panthers are amazing animals. I will never forget each one I have seen in the wild and I am super excited that you got to see THREE!!!

  • Stacey UNITED STATES  says:

    Heather, These are just amazing! Not only did you have a sighting, you had a whole experience!! What an awesome thing to be part of. Thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts here so that we can be part of the amazing event!

  • Don Browne UNITED STATES  says:

    Nice going Heather! That’s amazing you got so many great photos! Great article as well!

  • Isabella UNITED STATES  says:

    OMGosh! What great shots! They take my breath away… You should be very proud and feel blessed to have witnessed such a rare event. A mama and her young! Such beauty, thanks for allowing us to share your special moment. Keep up the good work.

  • Barbara Bowen UNITED STATES  says:

    Great shots Heather! That is great they were so comfortable with you all sitting there. A Memory for a Lifetime for sure!

  • Julie UNITED STATES  says:

    Grabbed this off of Clyde’s site–what a cool experience and a beautiful job you did catching it. My favorite shot, though, is the three butts! Cheers!

  • Michelle UNITED STATES  says:

    Fantastic photos! Great job Heather. Thank you for sharing.

  • Steven Scott UNITED STATES  says:

    Great shots!

  • Barbara Provis UNITED KINGDOM  says:

    What a scoop Heather! Thank you for sharing these moments of pure joy with everyone. We have been searching for panther & bear sightings in Jane’s Drive for the last 20 years – you’ve given us great hope for our trip this Spring.

  • Angie Chestnut UNITED STATES  says:

    OMG that’s great!! You got some fantastic shots!
    Thanks for sharing the story that we all dream of.

  • louis cappiello UNITED STATES  says:

    incredible–just incredible—–the panthers knew you were comeing and deserving of this gift! thank you for sharing!

  • Dave (flhiker) 99.61.46.107 not found  says:

    Congratulation! They are awesome. I’ve been hiking and visiting the Florida Everglades and the Fakahatchee Strand for years but have only seen prints. Thanks for sharing your photos and hope to experience it my self.

  • Mike Cullinan UNITED STATES  says:

    Many congratulations Heather – your photos of the three panthers are brilliant. I also saw them in the same general area between 1013 and 1050 on Sunday 2 January but they were about 200 yards away and my photos were really crappy/fuzzy etc. I have the same lens as you and a Canon EOS 7D but I am a total amateur.

    I totally agree with all you said about sightings at Jane’s. These three panthers were my third sighting of panthers on JSD. I saw two together last July and got better pictures (but nothing like as good as yours) and another single one in October which was a long way away and the photos were only good enough to identify it as a panther.

    Decent binoculars are a huge help on JSD because anything stands out well on the white track. So many times however they cross too quickly. I have also seen two bobcats recently but no bears yet.

    The only thing I would add to your excellent notes is not to worry if there are other cars around. The panthers didn’t seem to worry that there were vehicles coming from the other direction, and in one of my photos there were two guys standing on the track outside camp K2 about 200 yards further down the trail.

  • lydia UNITED STATES  says:

    Those are some beautiful pictures. They are some of the best I’ve seen on the web. Hope I get the same experience some day.

  • Linda M Orlando 173.65.182.34 not found  says:

    Those are awesome shots!I fell of my bike when I finally saw a bobcat this year, I don’t know what would of happen if I saw panthers! Wow, thanks for sharing!

  • Missy UNITED STATES  says:

    I absolutely love the pictures. They are beautiful and so well taken. You must have been beside your self with joy. I am happy someone is doing what they really enjoy and getting the rewards from patience. Great pictures. I don’t know much about panthers but theses pictures make me want to. I’ve been obsessed with wolvles for as long as I can remember,I may need to add panthers to the mix of things I enjoy. Thank you for posting.

  • Missy UNITED STATES  says:

    BTW – I can spell wolves correctly, I must not have been with myself momentarily. haha

  • Dena Clark 173.168.234.80 not found  says:

    Breathtaking! I am sooooo jealous!

  • Cynthia Cook UNITED STATES  says:

    Those are awesome pics.I think you are lucky to get those.With all the developemrnt ,Florida panthers are close to being extinct.

  • greg urbano UNITED STATES  says:

    congrats on capturing such a rare sight!
    i truly hope you are able to monetize your photographs and possibly help raise awareness for this endangered animal
    the more people who realize that there are still “big cats” in the south may help preserve more of their territory
    anyway, great job on the photos!
    greg

  • Dukkaqueen UNITED STATES  says:

    Heather, you go, girl! What a rarity! and your description made me relive all over again my out of my mind thrill when i happened to spot two mountain lions, and i had my video camera, AND i had a tripod with me almost by accident. i got thirteen minutes of calm mutual observation before one of them decided it was time to meander on. i was high for weeks. how lucky for you to have this thrill, and with FLORIDA PANTHERS! not just your average mountain lion. i’m sure nonprofits will be clamoring for your work. There’s an adventure going on right now you just might like to follow, at http://www.wildlandsnetwork.org. John Davis just hiked and biked up through the state seeking panther sign, and seeking to awaken more support for panther-friendly practices like safe highway crossings. I’m sending them your link, i think they’d be thrilled to see these photos. way to go!

  • connie willett UNITED STATES  says:

    Hi I am a friend of Rita Clagett. She told me about your photos last night at book club. If I had seen these I could die today and be so very happy. How truly lucky you were.

  • Janet UNITED STATES  says:

    Your pics are wonderful; congrats on see not just 1 panther but 3. Wow! I just came to here from the Panther Update e-zine. I am not familar with the area where you got the shots; I live on the east coast where we consider a bobcat, a lucky find.

  • Andrew Parker UNITED STATES  says:

    God bless you, I have traveled down there on many occasions even with the best field biologist’s from the Everglade’s and your pictures give me hope.Maybe someday I’ll win the lotto too! Very nice pictures….

  • cheryl eason UNITED STATES  says:

    Beautiful images.. I hope I’m lucky enough to come a across one or better yet a mom with kittens.

  • Peggy UNITED STATES  says:

    I found your link on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge website. What a blessing to see these beautiful creatures. I live in the Fort Myers area, and it has been one of my dreams also to see a panther in the wild when I visit Big Cypress or the other panther areas. I’m going to spend more time as a novice photographer down there and on Janes’s Drive.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  • scott helfrich UNITED STATES  says:

    Allways Great to see these Heather,Fantastic Series,Way to go…
    I can look at these everyday….

  • james chitty UNITED STATES  says:

    nise pitcures i know how you feel i pretty sure i seen aflorida panther the other night. it stepped onto the road in front of me and darted back into the woods. glad i did not hit them. i also seen my first wild black bear a week ago while rideing my motorcycle i spooked him and he ran. they are fast and he was mad i could tell. it sure would be nise if they can make a comeback.

  • Laurie 173.162.8.157 not found  says:

    Gorgeous shots of the panthers! We have recently been seeing them in our YARD and driveway if you can believe that! I believe there is a mother and her young one and since we have not been seeing the deer that were frequenting our land, quite possibly this is the reason. The one picture I actually took was in a shady spot in my driveway and is not very good since it was with my cell phone. LOL Congratulations and your pictures are beautiful.

  • Hugues Joffre UNITED KINGDOM  says:

    Thank you…I had seen your photos and decided to take the WJ Janes drive on the off chance. This was my first visit to Florida and though principally there for the the birds, my dream was to see and capture on film the Panther…
    AND I DID !!! at what appears to be exactly the same spot with a small indentation of the road. It must be a crossing point.
    A memorable moment, 4 minutes with a single panther about 100-150 yards away, but the shots are good. Thank you again. Without your blog, I would have never taken theat road, and missed it.

  • Keith 180.181.84.135 not found  says:

    Dear Heather,
    We are in Australia and we have traveled Florida and we are amazed these beautiful cats excist.
    We wonder how big or tall are these panthers?
    Wonderful pictures thank you for sharing them.

  • Kris Farquhar UNITED STATES  says:

    The most natural, (and for that reason) best photographs I’ve seen of the Florida Panther (Puma). To me there are no coincidences. When that mother looks at you from down the road – she trusts you. What an honor……… Kudos! Ever want to make a music/sound film on Florida Panthers (Pumas) with your photos, give me a shout! Environmental Music Films http://www.youtube.com/user/4EMF

  • Jeff Weber UNITED STATES  says:

    Great shots, Heather. Another good spot for panther sightings is Research Road in ENP. We filmed a panther there at night, and have also found eastern diamondbacks and bear sign there.

  • Mel UNITED STATES  says:

    At what time of the year was this? Summer?

    • admin UNITED STATES  says:

      It should say in the blog post, but it was on January 2nd that I saw these three.

  • Cheryll Ann 108.206.106.39 not found  says:

    Wow, your photos are wonderful. I am in Southeast Florida and am so inspired by the wonderful photos you’ve taken. These panthers are amazing and you’ve captured some real tender moments. Thanks for sharing and for the inspiration to plan and take photography trips.

  • Jan Young UNITED STATES  says:

    My husband & I got to see two panthers on Jane’s Scenic Dive thanks to you! We’re from Tennessee and came to the Everglades to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We wanted to see a panther, of course, but thought, what are the odds?! We were winging down Hwy.29 when I googled panther sightings in the Everglades. As I was reading your story out loud to my husband he said, “look, honey! There’s the road she’s talking about!” We decided to give it a chance

  • Jan Young UNITED STATES  says:

    (cont.) About half way down the road we saw the first panther. We were so excited! It was brief but we didn’t care…we’d seen a Fla. Panther! Then, on our back, in about the same area there was another panther crossing the road. This one stopped for about 5 seconds to look @ us then darted into the woods. We could not believe we’d been so blessed. Thank you so very much. You are the reason we got to see another thing on our Everglades’ bucket list. I had wanted to see a Flamingo and my husband wanted to see a Manatee…we both wanted to see a panther. We saw them all! God bless your future travels. Jan Young

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