You never know what you will see when you are out in South Florida taking nature and landscape photos. Last week I was very lucky to get to see and photograph an endangered Florida Panther.
According to both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are probably no more than 240 Florida Panthers in the wild.
Their breeding range is from Everglades National Park in the south to Lake Okeechobee in the north, though some young males have been sighted as far north as South Georgia.
My “once in a lifetime” opportunity came during a Summer Sky’s and Lightning Workshop led by local Nature and Fine Art Photographer Robert L. Chaplin.
I and two other participants spent five days with Robert chasing storms and improving our photography skills.
We were driving along Wagon Wheel Road in the
Big Cypress National Preserve trying to get ahead of a developing thunderstorm when we saw two vehicles parked and a photographer
standing on a short stepladder at the side of the road. Robert quickly pulled over and spotted the Panther moving through the tall grass about 100 yards off the road.
We all grabbed our longest lens and piled out of the pickup. We watched and photo-graphed the Panther for around 10 minutes before he (based on size)
disappeared into the thicker bush.
If you look closely at the photos it appears that the big cat is wearing a tracking collar.
Tracking of individual animals is part of the research effort to support the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 Florida Panther Recovery Plan. The FWC, the National Park Service, and other stakeholders are working to preserve panther habitat and to increase the numbers of this magnificent species.
While our Panther sighting was the highlight of the workshop, we also safely got photos of lightning both during the day and at night . There were great sunset and sunrise opportunities as well as alligators, crocodiles, birds, orchids, landscapes, and not too many mosquitoes.
Thanks to R. L. Chaplin Photography for a great workshop.