ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Thomas noticed the alligator and grabbed his binoculars.
"I just saw him swimming across Coffee Pot, not too far from my dock. I just watched him and he swam to the other shoreline and then I didn't see him until the next day,'' he said.
That's when Thomas and his wife, Trish, saw the reptile approach the seawall two houses away.
"It looked like he was just watching the yard.''
Others saw the critter, too, and now there's a gator alert in his Snell Isle community. Although alligators are common in freshwater, residents were surprised to see one cruising in the saltwater bayou.
"We have had three sightings of a large alligator swimming in the areas off Coffee Pot (Monterey Point area and Coffee Pot Riviera area),'' an email blast from the Snell Isle Property Owners Association said.
"Please be very careful when you go in your back yards. Do not swim in the area right now. Do not let pets or children go near the water line.''
Sensible words, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"We have over 1 million adult alligators in the state,'' he said. "Obviously, people need to be cautious, no matter where they go. We don't have many serious incidences, but there are a significant number of nuisance occurrences due to the sheer number of people and alligators in close proximity.''
Morse doesn't rule out the possibility of the sightings actually being that of the crocodile that made its way a few weeks ago into a yard in Caya Costa, bordered by Riviera Bay. Unlike alligators, crocodiles tolerate saltwater very well, he said.
It's rare to find one in this area, Morse said. On the other hand, alligators in Coffee Pot Bayou are not unusual, he said.
"Alligators in the St. Pete area regularly use the bay to travel from one freshwater body to another throughout Tampa Bay.
Thomas is unperturbed by the fuss.
"I'm 76. I've seen so many alligators,'' he said. "It's just an alligator.''
Paul Edgar, who has lived on Coffee Pot Bayou for almost four decades, also is amused. Over the years, he has seen 10 to 12 alligators in the bayou.
"This is not new. I have certainly seen much larger than this most recent. The one I saw might have been 5 feet and now I understand that we're up to 10 or 12 feet,'' he said, laughing.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at (727) 892-2283 or [email protected]