FROM THE ESTUARY: Wild Things Doing Wild Things
How we look at the world affects how we value the world. Our “From the Estuary” series provides a fresh perspective on wildlife and wild places.
Last month, Reggie Pare captured extraordinary photographs of two raccoons catching a crab on the marsh flats out at North Florida’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Pare, a retired woodworker and housebuilder, tries to visit the refuge “at least once a week,” but this was a new sight.
“Just before sunrise, I was driving past Stony Bayou Pool,” Pare told SSBG, “when I noticed two shadowy figures tracking through the mud into the shallow water. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until one of them looked directly at my camera lens. The masked face was obviously a raccoon."
The refuge recently drained Stony Bayou Pond to give wading birds more areas to forage in shallow waters. This has also opened up the area to raccoons.
“I was about 300 feet away and they seemed totally unconcerned by my presence,” Pare said. “Raccoons are always up to some kind of mischief, so I made sure I didn’t lose focus.”
As Pare noted, raccoons have very sensitive nerves in the fingers of their front paws. “It was interesting to watch them feeling and groping in the muddy waters, and the dexterity and reflexes that enabled them to grab the crabs once they had felt them.”
What can’t a photo capture? The “growling and snarling when they battled for possession of the crabs, or the loud crunching of the shells when devouring them.”
Pare watched until the raccoons, a nocturnal animal, disappeared into the tall grasses and reeds as the sun rose.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge has a wide range of biodiversity and Pare has had many fascinating encounters there—and not just with the resident wayward flamingo, Pinky, “preening at close range.”
Pare once saw a merlin devouring a dunlin shorebird and a “three-foot cottonmouth trying to swallow a 30-inch green snake,” as well as a bottlenose dolphin “flipping mullet into the air with their flukes” and black skimmers snapping up baitfish “at 30 miles per hour.”
“I’ve always been drawn to wild biodiverse habitats,” Pare said. “I also support any conservation effort to protect and preserve our wild places. Consider that approximately 80 percent of the decline of global biological diversity is caused by habitat destruction.”
Some estimates put the rate of destruction as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres per day. Wetlands, in particular, are often thought of as having little value despite serving a myriad of filtration, flood control, and resiliency functions of value to humans.
Pare has traveled all over the world, but now settled down in Panacea, Florida, adjacent to the refuge where he took the raccoon photos.
All photographs copyright @ 2023, Reggie Pare, used by permission. Photos originally appeared on the St. Marks refuge photography group Facebook page.