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Photos of the week: An encounter with a gopher tortoise
gopher tortoise closeup
A prehistoric face at Seacrest Scrub Natural Area.

BOYNTON BEACH — Animals usually do one of two things when confronted with perceived danger: fight (or at least put up a good front) or flight.

A gopher tortoise we encountered while walking a trail one evening at Seacrest Scrub Natural Area chose a third option: do nothing. When we’ve had similar encounters with gopher tortoises before, they’ve generally scooted into the nearest brush as fast as possible. And forget about any preconceived notions you might about these creatures and their ponderous looks. They can move.

The path was too narrow for us to go around him; going back wasn’t an option either, given that sunset was approaching rapidly. We stood our ground and shot a few frames. He made a kind of hissing sound as he withdrew briefly into his shell, but apparently came to the conclusion that we weren’t much of a threat. He just sat, looking straight ahead, not quite at us.

After a minute or two of waiting, it became obvious he wasn’t going anywhere, so we decided to take advantage of the situation by getting down to his level and capturing this portrait of its face using our 300 mm zoom at its max to get in close but without frightening him.

He’s tough, stoic-looking, befitting a creature built to thrive in Florida’s toughest habitat — scrub. Reminds us of a character from a 1940s-50s boxing movie or a Roman soldier, with his (or her) chiseled looks. Maybe Ernest Borgnine without the smile. Or maybe not.

It’s a face that’s wandered the earth for millions of years (and hopefully, millions more). Ancient. Prehistoric. A survivor. And something to be respected and appreciated.

You can see his teeth, perfect for chomping on vegetation of some sort, as this one was obviously doing just before we met.

We came across a gopher tortoise doing just that near the parking lot earlier in the evening. He would stretch his neck out, chomp and pull on the blades of sedges and grasses and chomp some more.

We saw a third tortoise at the rim of his burrow late in the evening. He went inside as we approached.

Gopher tortoises are federally listed as an endangered species, mainly because their prime habitat, scrub, makes for prime sites for shopping centers and housing developments. There’s not a whole lot of scrub left in Florida, except in parks and preserves, like Seacrest.

Despite their dwindling numbers, the odds of spotting this living link to earth's distant past are pretty good if you go to a scrubby preserve like Seacrest.

Dinner time for this gopher tortoise at Seacrest Scrub.


gopher apple
And speaking of gopher tortoises and dinner, we noticed a patch of gopher apples with ripe fruit.

Also from the week:

— We spotted the green heron in the photo at left one evening while walking at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach. They're pretty common birds, and can be seen year round. This one looks like he's poised to catch a fish or some other aquatic creature.

Typically they'll sit like that on a branch or leaf a few inches above the water, their long neck in tight like a coil ready to shoot out whenever dinner comes into range. This one was about four feet high, however, causing my wife to ask, "how long does he think his neck is?"

green heron
Green heron at Green Cay.

Pied-billed grebes are another common bird at Green Cay, especially in the cooler months. Summer not so much. We found this solitary guy swimming near the boardwalk.


pied-billed grebe
A solitary pied-billed grebe at Green Cay.


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