finally! my first florida panther sighting!
January 3, 2011 Photography
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.
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Thank you so much and enjoy my photos and story below…
_____________________________________________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.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 timeAs 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.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!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 50DCanon 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 5:12pmI’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.