Marshall Reynolds likes the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge so much that, for about 35 years, he’s driven through it almost every day, especially when the days are long in the summer.
“It’s peaceful,” he said. “You always see something different when you go through.”
You’d think he’d seen it all over the years, right? But last Saturday morning about 7:30 a.m., he experienced something “awesome” and new.
At least 53 alligators were gathered together in a small pond “almost shoulder to shoulder,” he said.
Reynolds, who lives in Port Wentworth but grew up in Bluffton, said he had gone to the refuge to photograph the sunrise, his favorite time of day.
The 56-year-old Hargray employee said he’s accustomed to seeing many animals there — coyotes, bobcats, owls and alligators, too.
“Over the years, I’ve seen so many gators, they don’t usually catch my attention,” Reynolds said.
But when he stopped along the main trail — Wildlife Drive — at the 1-mile marker on Saturday, what he saw stopped him in his tracks. He said dozens of alligators were gathered, and birds were swooping between them to try and catch fish.
“It was a very small area,” he said. “It was quite a show to watch.”
Reynolds, who goes by the pseudonym Maceio Brasil on Facebook, posted the video online hoping to share with others what he calls “pure serenity.”
Seeing that many alligators gathered together is a rare sight, said Andrew Grosse, herpetologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
He said, in general, there are two reasons alligators will congregate in such a large number: For breeding or if there’s a plentiful food source.
Because breeding season is in the spring, all signs point to food as the cause in this situation.
Alligators aren’t social animals, but under the right conditions, “they tolerate each other and eat and hang out,” Grosse said.
Monica Harris, a ranger at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, agreed that seeing that many alligators together is unusual.
“The likelihood is that it was a high concentration of fish,” Harris said.
The refuge doesn’t keep track of how many alligators are on the property at any particular time. The animals have freedom to come and go from the surrounding area.
“It’s one of those things that you have to be out there at the right time and right moment,” Harris said.
She said it’s important for visitors to remember, whether they are seeing one alligator or a large number, that it’s illegal and dangerous to feed them or throw anything at them to try to get them to move.
Reynolds, too, recommended enjoying the gators from a distance.
“Roll the windows down and enjoy,” he said.