A Bright Little Friend

Gray Catbird (Dumetella Carolinensis)

We had strolled around the Botanical Garden, walking out to the birding tower where wading birds were having breakfast in the shallow waters of the natural landscape. It was a good morning, and Jim had been very good-natured as I had taken lots of photos. Exercising this patience must have built up quite a hunger because he stated he was heading for the cafe for his coffee, scone and newspaper. More precisely, a chocolate chip scone. It has been eaten with no photographic evidence so you will just have to image picking up a slightly warm scone and biting into a tender biscuit with lots and lots of slightly soft rich dark chocolate. I’ll give you a minute to savor this moment.

We were savoring every bite, every crumb that we could retrieve from our shirt fronts, when we were joined by this little fellow who took a seat just to my left. It was a new bird to me but he seemed to know us or didn’t care who we were – he just wanted to let us know what he was expecting as our guest. Someone must have used the table before us because he very quickly swooped in, grabbed a crumb and flew away. But he returned and continued to communicate to us.

Jim is a very kind-hearted person and also loves feeding birds. Even though I reminded him that we aren’t suppose to feed wildlife in the garden, he put out an ever so tiny crumb of his half of the scone. This time the bird hopped onto the table, took a nibble and sat and looked at us. Could he be thinking that here were a couple of real suckers?

My Smithsonian Birds of Florida book says that this bird, “Often cocks tail upward and flicks from side to side.” Could we speculate what this behavior was communicating in this circumstance? In any case I’m thinking he is a “bright” little bird.

Linked to Becky’s Bright/Square challenge of the month.

We Have Friends Coming for Dinner

There was a lot of activity at the bird feeders on Sunday, as the snow fell gently all day. It was a beautiful day and each of us spent some time at the dining room table watching our guests squabble, flutter, and sometimes partake of the seeds provided for them. It was a buffet with sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed, and suet cake available for their feasting delight. But still they squabbled and fluttered their wings to keep others at a distance. Normally we have guest who are better behaved when at the table.

Indoor dining at our home for this year’s U.S. Thanksgiving celebration will be much smaller and hopefully with less territorial fighting. I jest because I am confident we will find joy in being together around our table, the three of us – Jim, our daughter who is living with us during the pandemic, and me. The three of us agreed not to have guests this year as the virus cases and deaths are increasing rapidly across our country and here in Michigan. In our brains and guts we felt that even a small risk of having another safety-conscious couple for dinner was too big a risk. It seems we have opted for safety over the joy of sharing the indoor space of our home and table with people we love and care about. Everyone is making this risk/benefit analysis.

My quiet moments of contemplation recently have centered around the question of whether I am being too cautious, letting the experts on TV increase my fear to an unnecessary level. I have always been a big-picture thinker, able to take multiple viewpoints and analyze them down to the bottom-line truth (at least for me). This has been a hard topic for me because it pits taking care of our household members against hurting family and friends by refusing their invitations or our traditional gatherings. The end thought of my contemplations was that each one of the more than 12.5 million people in the U.S. that have been confirmed to have the virus plus the possible millions who developed symptoms without getting tested happened because of contact with another human being. That is how this virus spreads. The best way to avoid being a part of that statistic is to not have unnecessary contact with people.

We are all feeling the impact of this pandemic year (stacked on top of political, environmental, racial, and economic stresses) as we grapple with isolation fatigue. However, when we think of the totality of a lifetime, all the gatherings we have experienced in the past and all the gatherings we can look forward to in the future (if we keep ourselves safe and alive) I think we can find the strength and courage to do what we need to do for the next few months.

I find I am drawing my strength from remembering those times when we were missing family members because of travel or illness. It was sad but we made the best of it. I am drawing my courage from remembering those wonderful gatherings, big gatherings, where there was laughter and joy, children giggling and running around (and parents yelling “slow down”) and people speaking different languages. I can hear the echoes of those gatherings within my home as I prepare for our small gathering that will be full of joy and thankfulness that no one in our family has died from the virus. I will also be holding all of you who have lost a loved one in my heart, knowing that my heartbeat can carry comfort to others.

A Tree Topper

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A month ago our son left for a walk but returned to say there were a pair of Bald Eagles in a Norfolk Pine. We had seen him on top of another Norfolk Pine a couple of weeks prior to this sighting. Norfolk Pines are the tallest perches in our neighborhood in southwest Florida and this majestic bird seems to think they are for him alone. Seems like a very special Christmas tree topper.

I’m participating in Becky’s April Squares.

 

Steller Jay

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We pulled into the parking lot of the Visitors’ Center at the Summit of Roger’s Pass in the Glacier National Park where I encountered an unfamiliar bird. A Steller Jay up close and personal – on my rear view mirror.

There were two, flitting around but with no weariness of me and my camera. The one above seems to be an adult and the other was maybe her little one and they were practicing independence.

The young one still had down that she had all fluffed up at one point and her coloring was gorgeous.

Exploring Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

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We had visitors from Michigan over the week-end and they enjoy seeing critters of all sorts so we took them into the Florida Everglades. On a previous visit we went on a dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve called the Loop Road. This time I wanted to explore some of the dirt roads in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, a large area to the west of Big Cypress. It was just my kind of day.

Our first stop was the Big Cypress Bend 3,200 foot boardwalk that I read about in O’Keefe’s excellent book The Photographer’s Guide to the Everglades. Even though we went right where he told us to go we didn’t find it. Instead we found an abandoned portion of road that was originally the Tamiami Trail (US 41 from Tampa to Miami). The alligator above resides in the canal along this walk. The next three photos were also taken from that walk.

I would still like to find the boardwalk and there is a number to call in the guidebook.

What we did find was the Janes Scenic Drive off Florida 29 going north. It is an eleven mile dirt road that goes to nowhere and back through the different ecosystems of the Everglades.

_DSC0049Travel was slow so we only went about half way before we turned around. Returning was even slower because I was driving and I know the spots where I had wanted to stop but couldn’t tell they were good until Jim had passed. A section of this scenic drive runs east/west and the raised parts are culverts that allows for this very slow flow of the very wide 6 inch deep river from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Much of this water flow is through saw grass plains that are seen in the photos above. Driving down the Tamiami Trail through these plains, we seen large wading birds congregating at small ponds and nesting in far off stands of pines and bald cypress.

My favorite experiences are traveling through the cypress swamps to find birds fishing in the shallow water and seeing alligators sunning themselves. You should know that I enjoy being somewhat close to the alligators in the winter months when they are in semi-hibernation; not that hungry nor eager to attack. In any case, I understand that Alligators have the power to cause damage to my body.

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We saw several birds but this one was one I wasn’t familiar with and was in the process of communicating sweet nothings with a potential mate a ways away. When I processed the photos I realized that we saw two different birds. I think it is a Least Bitten heron, and maybe the one on the left is an adolescent.

Here is the one on the right with the mating plumage down.

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We also saw the green heron on the left and many black vultures (right).

As we were nearing the end of the Janes Scenic Drive, we could see storm clouds building on the horizon and it started to sprinkle a little.

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