Crocodile Lake NWR
Est. 1980

National Key Deer Refuge
Est. 1957

Key West NWR
Est. 1908

Great White Heron NWR
Est. 1938


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Blue Hole
Croc Lake NWR
Key Deer NWR
GW Heron NWR
Key West NWR

Did you know that the Blue Hole is the most visited spot on Big Pine?  Both locals and tourists flock to the water's edge to spy a turtle, alligator or green heron.  

The Blue Hole is an abandoned limestone quarry.  The rock material removed was used to build many of the original roads on Big Pine Key.  Since there is no inlet or outlet to the Blue Hole, its existence is dependent on rainfall and from salt water which flows through the surrounding limestone. 

Fish, turtles, alligators and the occasional wading bird can be found in the Blue Hole.  Alligators can often be seen hugging the shoreline, lazily sunning themselves. 




 The Big Sit was a great success

The Big Sit was a great success, held on Sunday, October 9, 2011, at The Blue Hole on Big Pine Key!  It was only the second year for our refuge to participate, but we had about 150 people come to the observation deck, and some of those stayed for quite a while, helping to count birds, or learning how to identify the different species! The total count this year was 451 birds, as compared to 344 last year! One of the highlights of this year's event was 130+ Broadwing Hawks in one kettle, with a few Swainson's Hawks mixed in!


 This included 27 species of birds! Pretty well all the raptors which migrate or live here were seen: Bald Eagle, Osprey, Short-Tailed Hawk (both light phase and dark phase), Red-Shouldered Hawk, Broadwing Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and the American Kestrel!  Other cool species counted were the Ovenbird, Anhingas, Belted Kingfisher, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, Magnificent Frigatebirds, White Eyed Vireos, Palm Warblers, plus a lot of our normal resident birds, such as Mourning and Collared Doves, Redwing Blackbirds, Cardinals, Great Egrets, Green Herons, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, and, of course, we wouldn't be anywhere without our Turkey Vultures.  We counted 211 of these guys, and it easily could have been double that count!


Here are some great photos taken by one of our volunteers, Jan Loveland





 BLUE HOLE SIGHTINGS (Updated Sept. 2, 2011)

1.     Alligators - Our resident female gator is approx. 5.5’ long and has been here for about 4 years.  A male, approx. 7’ long, showed up in early March 2010, as it was the beginning of mating season.  They had been seen and heard doing their courtship displays, which include bellowing, swimming together, body rubs, and blowing bubbles.  It was reported that they were seen mating in late April, 2010, but did not produce eggs last season.  Another larger (9’ plus) gator was relocated here by FWC in May of this year, and the female was courting both males, but evidently it was not successful again this year.  More alligators could show up anytime, as we do have a population in the lower Keys...they come and go as they please.  (We do have American Crocodiles in the Keys, but they mainly inhabit brackish or saltwater and are pretty rare.  However, there was one 8’ American Crocodile that stayed in the Blue Hole for one week several years ago!)

2.     Green Herons - These small herons are seen here year round, but especially in the spring, as they begin to build their nests at the Blue Hole.  During non-breeding season, their legs are yellow, but in breeding season, the legs turn bright orange.  They make great parents, as they build the nest together, then take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding their young.

3.     Key deer - There are approx. 500 Key deer on Big Pine and approx. 100 on No Name Key.  The best time to see them is at first light in the morning, or an hour or so before the sun sets.  You could see them at the Blue Hole, but please don’t entice them or feed them.

4.     Freshwater Fish - Blue Gills (some people call them Brim or Perch), Gambusia (small mosquito fish which eat the mosquito larvae), Sailfin Mollies, Killifish, Sheepshead Minnow (a subspecies of Killifish), and possibly some exotic fish illegally released (Pacu and Oscar have been seen recently).

5.     Saltwater Fish - Tarpon, Barracuda, Mangrove Snapper, Mojarra  (Normally the Blue Hole has only freshwater fish, but Hurricane Wilma’s storm surge on October 24, 2005, brought saltwater fish in, and now they are landlocked and mostly surviving.  Tarpon are one of those fish which can survive in both saltwater and freshwater, but some of the other fish have amazed us that they are still surviving.)

6.     Freshwater Turtles - Red-bellied, Peninsula Cooter, Red-eared Sliders, Yellow-bellied, and Florida Soft-shell turtles.

7.     Aquatic Snakes - Mangrove Water snake, Ribbon snake

8.     Land Snakes - Black snake, Corn snake, Rosy Rat snake, Ringneck snake (we do have Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes in the Keys, but have not encountered one at the Blue Hole - yet)

9.     Turkey Vultures - During the winter months, there are literally thousands of these in the Keys.  Watch for them circling and not flapping their wings.  They have weak chest muscles for gaining altitude, so Mother Nature has given them the instinct to be able to find the updrafts, or thermals.  Watch for Bald Eagles and different kinds of hawks flying with them in these “kettles”.

10.   Frogs - Leopard frog and Cuban Tree frog

11.   Lizards - Green anole, Cuban Brown anole, Bark anole, Green iguana

12.   Bats - Free-tailed bats can be seen in the summer right at sunset, eating those pesky mosquitoes!



American Coot


Antillean Nighthawk

Bald Eagle

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black Vulture (very rare in the Keys)

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-whiskered Vireo

Blue-winged Teal

Broad-winged Hawk

Brown Pelicans

Cape May Warbler



Cattle Egret

Common Grackle

Common Merganser

Common Moorhen

Common Nighthawk

Common Yellowthroat

Cooper’s Hawk

Eastern Kingbird

Gray Kingbird

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Great White Heron



Lesser Scaup

Magnificent Frigatebird (Watch them swoop down and get a drink while flying)



Peregrine Falcon

Pied-Billed Grebe

Purple Gallinule

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-winged Blackbird

Ring-necked Duck

Roseate Spoonbill

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

Sora Rail

Spotted Sandpiper (seen 4/10/11 and several times after)

Swainson’s Hawk

Swallow-tailed Kite

Tree Swallow


White Crowned Pigeon

White Pelicans

White-eyed Vireo

Wood Stork

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron



Two pix from Jim Schaefer
April 27, 2011


Young Iguana                                                                      Brown Anole

Blue Hole Observations by Carlene Edwards

On Saturday, May 14, a new alligator moved into the Blue Hole! He is at least 9' long...looks as big as Bacardi, if not bigger! I'm not sure if the 7 1/2' male is still in there, but if it is, this bigger male will probably chase him out...the smaller male was seen about two weeks ago, but hasn't been seen since (of course, we're down to just two volunteers, so not as many "eyes" watching out for him).

The 5 1/2' female is already "courting" this guy! On Sunday, I watched her swim over to him, touch noses, swim a circle around him, and then lifted her head and rubbed it across the top of his head...she then swam away, and he never moved the whole time! Boy, she's fast!

I wish I could have gotten it on video, but they were too far away.

The green herons are nesting all over the place. One close nest to the observation deck has three chicks that look to be about 10 days old. One nest right next to the deck had two eggs on Saturday, and one egg and one chick on Sunday! Another close nest has 3 eggs. I will try to get pictures or video once the chicks start moving, as the nests are very well hidden...great parents!

Here is a video of Alligators beginning courtship, taken March 4, 2011, by Carlene Edwards.


Here are some pictures taken November 2010, by Blue Hole visitor Jessica Nuncio, who said:
"I Think everyone should visit this beautiful place!!  Thank you to all the volunteers!!"


  Alligator and two Pacu fish

Young Tarpon
(Delivered by Hurricane Wilma, October 2005

Alligator and an Oscar fish

 Red-Eared Slider Turtle (?)

Last modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013

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