The Limpkin and the Alligator

photo of a Limpkin by Brian SmallI want to tell you a funny story. Way back in 1989, during my early years of nature sound recording, I visited the Alexander Springs Wilderness Area in Ocala National Forest, not far north of Orlando, Florida. The date was March 29 and it was unseasonably hot and humid. I canoed about a mile downstream into the heart of the wilderness. At one bend in the creek, I spied a Limpkin foraging along the shoreline. I had never recorded a Limpkin, so I got excited and followed him for nearly an hour. But to my dismay he never said a thing. The humidity began to drive me frikkin’ crazy. I fell into a negative state of mind and soon decided it was impossible to record the dad-blasted bird. So I canoed like a madman back upstream to my van. I threw everything inside and took off down the road, only to discover that my air conditioner was broken. In a fit of complete frustration, I decided to drive north to the Smoky Mountains (a full day’s drive), just so I could cool off a bit (I kid you not).

I was having an enormous battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted relief, and a loud voice was telling me to keep right on driving, that it would be an absolute waste of my time to go back and wait for that stupid Limpkin to sound off. But another loud voice argued the opposite, telling me that I had promised myself that I would camp where I’d seen the Limpkin, and that I owed it to myself to give it a try. “You never know,” that voice would say, “maybe you’ll snag a recording of the night-crier himself!” Then the other voice would snap back: “Bah, impossible, don’t turn around, keep heading north!”

For an hour the two voices wrestled. I mostly heeded the voice that said “keep driving north,” but in the end, the other voice won out. I pulled off the road and gave myself explicit orders: “You go back down there Lang, camp next to the daggoned creek, and just sweat it out. You’re right, you won’t get anything in the way of a recording, but you owe it to yourself to try.” So I clenched my teeth and drove back to the creek. I tossed my gear in the canoe, and headed downstream to the Limpkin spot, cursing the whole way: “Lang, you are an idiot— this will never work!” Hurriedly, I put up my tent, ripped off my clothes, and threw myself inside just as the sun was setting. In a pool of hot sweat, and with an inner voice repeating “idiot, idiot, idiot,” I eventually fell asleep.

photo of Alligator (from iStock Photo)At around 1 am, I was startled awake by loud calls from across the creek: kreeow, kreeow, kreeow, kreeow. Oh My Gawd, the Limpkin is calling! I was totally unprepared. I stumbled out of my tent without a stitch of clothes on. I couldn’t find my headlamp. I fumbled to locate my gear, tripped over my microphone cable, and fell to the ground. I struggled to locate my parabola, finally got it hooked up, and began creeping barefoot in pitch black darkness toward the creek, recording the Limpkin as I went. I was smiling, elated. Then I heard dripping water and realized I was right at the edge of the creek. I remember thinking: “You’d better not go a inch further or you’ll tumble headfirst into the water”.

What happened next startled the b-jeezus out of me. A huge roar suddenly erupted right in front of me. Oh My Gawd #2! An alligator is bellowing only ten feet away. My heart raced. I wasn’t afraid . . . I was excited . . . hyper-excited. I couldn’t believe my ears. An Alligator and a Limpkin, calling back-and-forth, a sound event “beyond my wildest dreams.” Kreeow, kreeow, kreeow the Limpkin called, and the Alligator answered with his resonant roar:

The moral of the story? If you promise yourself you’re going to do something, just do it. Don’t argue. Just do it!

End of story.

p.s. Another alligator sounds off at times much further off. Can you hear it?

p.p.s. The limpkin and alligator appear to be alternating, the gator calling when the limpkin is quiet and vice versa. Certainly not random, eh? Almost a “duet”!

p.p.p.s. At the time I made this recording, I had little or no fear of alligators because I thought they wouldn’t attack someone my size. In recent years I’ve read of alligators chewing the arms off of fellows far bigger than I, and fully clothed to boot. Perhaps I was a wee bit stupid way back then?

p.p.p.p.s. This is not a soundscape in the strict sense of the word. It is a monaural parabolic recording and it’s rather brief. But it’s pretty cool nonetheless, don’t you think?

p.p.p.p.p.s. Ahhhh . . . such a sweet memory. How exciting were those early years!

Comments

  1. Amazing! I can never get enough of this website! EVER! I visit this site every single day, even when on vacation!

  2. Yes I can hear the alligator way farther off, but only very faintly. I’ve always wanted to go to Florida, ever since I first became a birder when I was 11 years old.

  3. Ug Lang! My old stomping grounds… and in spring! lol. I lived down that way between 1989 and 1993! Course I can’t talk I was swimming and not standing around… the things we do when we think nothing can happen! lol!

  4. What a great story! The recording is certainly amazing. It is really interesting how they are avoiding singing over one another. Glad that you are still here to tell the tale.

    Good heavens – with headphones the alligator sounds like it is right at your feet Lang!

  5. Hi Lang– Stunning sounds- a true interspecies duet, without doubt!!
    I don’t know how many times I’ve had the same kind of mental battle about doing something, and have now come to rely on this as a sign that something unique is going to happen if I just get my head straight….

  6. So glad you posted this at this time, when I’ve just returned from the Loxahatchee area, having seen and heard many Limpkins and alligators, but not in a duet.

    Wrestling with our inner voices sometimes teaches us that patience usually pays off. I’m glad that you turned around and had that awesome experience that you could share.

    If you had not argued with yourself, the story you just told would have been different. So this was meant to be.

    Peace!

  7. PS Great story and so timely, too. No limpkins for us today, but I saw my first purple gallinules, ever, as well as gorgeous yellow-crowned night herons, and tri-colored herons, all in splendid breeding plumage.

  8. Hi Lang,

    Greetings from Florida from Joe and me. We spent today biking the loop through the Shark Valley trail in the Everglades. Probably saw 200 or more alligators over the 5 hour stretch, all of which were basking in the sun, and quite docile as they lay around and digested their food from the night before (except a group of about a dozen ~7 month-old yellow and black striped gator babies, swimming in a pool around their mom….adorable, but we gave mom a lot of space). Still, I agree with your cautionary words about alligators during the evening and night-time hours …It’s almost exactly 10 years since Joe’s dad was killed by an alligator in suburban Venice, FL, as Sam was finishing up a midnight stroll just a few blocks from his home.

    • OMG, it never occurred to me that someone might read my story who had a loved one killed by an alligator. Now I’ll be even more cautious next time I’m in the southern swamps. On many occasions, back in the 1990s, I waded into pools where alligators lurked and simply ignored the possibility of danger. I think I am lucky to be able to tell the tale.

  9. Not too many years ago I recorded a Limpkin, though I don’t remember why I didn’t log the species in my database. It was near Lake George and it was early in the AM I remember seeing him roosting and regretting I hadn’t stayed the previous night out there but it was one of those that I was freaking myself out a bit in the dark.

  10. That is awesome. I am so glad that you told us about your blog. I have followed your recordings for years because of their uniqueness, and this is another great recording and story. I always promised myself to never be boring.

    I’ve never been out to listen for limpkins at night, but have heard them in the daytime. As of two years ago, they seemed to be a lot less wary of humans than history dictates. We had a pair with 2 chicks along a wide drainage ditch in Sarasota (and at the same time were almost lit upon by a pair of spoonbills).

    I like both places, but I’m with you: when humidity strikes, further up and further in!

  11. There are always stories about alligators, but I can tell you as a native Floridian, for the most part they will leave you alone. Amazing recording! Amusing story, but definitely worth your effort to stay!

  12. Another moral of the story is that nature sound recording is sometimes an act of faith. It’s about as religious as I get. You really never know what you will happen. Nature often thwarts your expectations, only to deliver something you could not have imagined (like your duet). I cannot tell you how many times I have done just as you have described: deliberated feverishly whether or not to stick it out in an area. It really is the exception that I come up empty handed.

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