Loch Tallee Monster?
Our kids grew up with the Tallahassee Museum nearly in their backyard... and they spent many joyful hours there. Any of you who knows this amazing place, also knows how lucky we were. So when Mike Jones and Suzie Buzzo called me a year ago to see if I'd be willing to donate some of my photos to use in creating a new (renovated) Snake Center, I was honored and said, "Of course!" But - of course - it wasn't that simple. The new habitats required images 108 inches wide by 20 inches high, meaning EXTREMELY WIDE panoramas. Nothing in my portfolio could be adapted. Plus, the photos needed to be of specific natural habitats for six species of snakes. So, I took it on as a challenging and fun year-long project: learning the right ecosystems, finding them nearby (with the help of my knowledgeable photo pal, Bob Thompson, a retired park ranger), composing attractive landscapes representing them and then making very w-i-d-e panoramas, typically 180 degrees or more, each composited from about 12 photos that I stitched together.
Spoiler alert: There ARE photos of snakes below toward the end... (I have had enough feedback over the years to know that snake pictures creep out some people.) But I've included other photos of the Tallahassee Museum to give you a broader sense of this cool place. And, for the snake lovers, I've included some extra snake photos from the Florida wilds.
Crystal having fun on the Zipline.
The Museum backs up to a gorgeous cypress wetland, Bradford Brook, and includes a nature trail that winds among fenced habitats housing local native wildlife. Plus there is an authentic (semi-functioning) old Florida cracker farm (which my kids LOVED). And more recently, a tree-to-tree zipline and adventures course. There is an art gallery and open air sculpture venue, a hands-on Science Center, a beloved playground and cafe, and other historic buildings, and more. If you haven't been here and get a chance to visit, it is a Must-See-Do.
Bradford Brook wetland
The "zoo" part is not remotely your typical zoo. The fenced areas are large enough that, from the boardwalks and trails, you sometimes can't see any animals in the woodsy habitats. When you do, it might be after a careful search... like finding a camouflaged sleepy fox way up in a live oak tree... Or finding a Florida Panther lying regally beside a tupelo tree down by the creek.
Here are some more sights you might see along the nature trail and Museum grounds.
Red Wolf (Pups born here are used in a re-population effort in North Carolina. N. FL was historically part of their territory too.)
Hawk (Many of the animals were found injured, rehabilitated, but are unable to be returned to the wild.)
The Farm House
Kid's Eye View of Turkey Face at the Farm (There are sheep, a cow, a pig, a mule, and other fowl.)
Sugar Cane Press... still used!
(Tiny) Screech Owl
Marley participating in Science Center activities
And now, on to the newly renovated Chapin Snake Center. Note that this is much more than just "caged animals". These snakes are used both actively and passively to educate thousands of children and adults about the value and importance of snakes in our ecosystems, as well as a chance to see their beauty up-close, even to touch and hold these mostly gentle creatures... perhaps reducing that reflex fear and repulsion among the snake-phobics referred to in my "spoiler alert" above. Too many people will reflexly get the garden hoe if they see a snake in their yard. This Snake Center may diminish some of that reflex.
Mike Jones and Suzie Buzzo, Animal Curators
While these snakes may also live along the Nature Trail, they tend to stay out of view of the visitors - a good thing I suppose. But at the Center, visitors can safely get a closeup view of six (or more) local snakes.
Six of the photos below -- those showing the wood-framed face of each cage -- were photographed after-hours-after-dusk (when reflected glare on the front glass was absent) by one of the Animal Keepers and generously offered for my use here -- thank you, Laura Augustine!
Let's start at the Diamondback Rattlesnake in a (simulated) upland meadow...
In this fisheye-like distortion, I attempt to show you how my "backdrop" photo wraps the back and both sides of the cage. (No, the snake is not there... it has access to a small side cage where it can go, especially when keepers need to tidy up the main cage.)
Here's what it takes to wrap the whole cage - the full upland meadow panorama is 108" x 20" - a composite of 12 stitched together photos.
Eastern Diamondback in the wild (Despite its amazing camouflage, s/he was spotted by Bob Thompson on a hike together.)
Suspend your fear and see the beauty. The snake never moved or reacted despite our close proximity.
Next we'll visit the Cottonmouth aka Water Moccasin at the edge of a spring...
Here's my spring/wetland habitat panorama for the Cottonmouth (that wraps the above cage).
Florida Cottonmouth in the wild (This one literally fell into my lap while kayaking. I made the photo a few minutes later.)
And the Banded Watersnake habitat... very similar to that of the Cottonmouth.
My spring/wetland scene for the Banded Watersnake exhibit
Banded Watersnake in the wild
Slithering House - Watersnake convention at Wakulla Springs State Park
Two species of rat snakes share the next cage...
For this one, Mike and Suzie wanted a man-made structure, like a shed, included (our woodshed?) - popular Rat Snake digs!
Yes... we have lots of (especially Gray) Rat Snakes around our yard...
Expert climbers, even without hands or feet.
Red Rat Snake aka Corn Snake, in the wild
Backdoor view of the Rat Snake habitat. Me, looking in from the front window.
Next, the Eastern Indigo...
My panorama of Scrubby Flatwoods for the Eastern Indigo Snake habitat
Eastern Indigo Snake at the Museum
Scary? Nah. Harmless (and beneficial) Indigo Snake
Finally, we needed a scene of sandy flatwoods for the Pine Snake...
My panorama of sandy flatwoods - Pine Snake habitat
Sides are 30" wide and back is 48" - so for each, the wrapped image measured 108 inches wide by 20 inches high!
I've never seen pine snakes in the wild, much less photographed them. But I'm taking this photo op to throw in one of my favorite snakes from our yard - the Scarlet Kingsnake. (No, it is not a "red-on-yellow" Coral Snake.) This is a sweet secretive and beautiful creature.
Nose-to-nose. This one oughta make you smile!
There you have it... the Tallahassee Museum and it's new Chapin Snake Center. It is a wonderful (and super-kid-friendly) way to visit nature. Enjoy!
Thanks for visiting my photoblog. May you be inspired to find a way to get out into nature to play, view, hike, paddle, or simply sit and be. I promise it will be soul-restorative. Please share the link to this blog with friends and family who might enjoy it. And I always love your comments below.