Each spring, one of the first pleasant chores at the Would-Be Farm is a nice mix of high tech and low mud: we retrieve the game cameras and make our observations of the winter action.
Some old friends appear year after year.
And a few surprises.
Even with thousands of images captured on the tiny photo cards, some creatures are still camera shy.
While a couple are hiding in plain sight:
We'll camp in the Everglades National Park. It's not our first venture into this wilderness. It's a place less full of shady Spanish moss and swampy mud than one might expect.
It's pretty darned pleasant, actually: we pitch a tent on the sandy beach, maybe catch a few fishes, play with driftwood.
In general, the hazards that are most worrying on this venture off the map are, oh, I dunno –– mosquitoes, sunburn, getting stranded and having to be rescued.
THIS is not what I expected:
Mormon Key is our favored camping spot. George was almost 10 feet long last time they checked, and weighed in at 700 pounds. Good lawsey day.
More Everglades Challenge?
Okay, here's a story about the adventure race by the late great Meade Goudgeon. We'll miss seeing him on the beach this year.
The Challenge starts on March 3 off Fort DeSoto Beach.
One of the many pleasures of returning to the Would-Be Farm is the ritual of checking the game cameras.
As we have gotten to know the various gamey crossroads, we've added to the numbers of these nifty little devices. In fact, this time we forgot where we'd put that one for several days...
*Sidebar factoid: the term "paparazzi" comes from the name of a character in the 1960 Fellini film La Dolce Vita. That name (Paparazzo) also harks back to a kind of large Italian mosquito.
A few highlights from October 2017 at the Farm.
It's less about watching birds than simply noticing them.
Couldn't ask for a more obvious identification of this attractive fellow: the Red-Shouldered Hawk.
You can tell what kind because of his long yellow legs. <exits, snortling.>
These little birds show up at every bird-feeder I've ever loaded, north and south. And they've baffled me, I should be ashamed to admit, more than once.
Flipping through the book, muttering: scarlet-headed seed-snatcher, rosy-knobbed chirper, raspberry-flavored song sparrow...Then, there it is, again, House Finch.
House Finch. Huh. Pretty pink houses, maybe.
But okay, House Finch.
Thanks to my sister, it's impossible for me to see a junco like this handsome fellow on the right without saying "There's a rumble in the junco." Aloud. Every. Single. Time.
The show-boating Boat-Tailed Grackle. Quiscalus major ("Biggie Quail", more or less) eats pretty much everything, including snails, fast-food leftovers, frogs, seeds, lizards, fruits. They are noisy and gregarious, and their song sounds like a metallic cross between some determined chirping frogs and a toy buzz-saw.
The iridescent males do a lot of squawking while they try to defend their harems. And according to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, the "harem defense polygyny" is only about 25% effective for the males who think they are ruling the roost. Ironic, but not surprising.
Look, It's Frightful!
Well, okay, it's a Peregrine Falcon, but for those of us who really loved My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, it could be Frightful, the bird trained by the hero of the story (a runaway boy named Sam living in the Catskill Mountains) in the 4000-year-old traditions of falconry.
The fastest of birds (take THAT, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you goopy creature), Peregrines dive at speeds up to 200 miles and catch urban pigeons with a most astonishing puff of feathers.
The Peregrine can snatch a bat in mid-air. They can eat in mid-air. They typically hunt waterbirds, like wild ducks and coots and so on. They've been documented cruising along with airboats in the Everglades, using the boat like a bird-dog to flush prey. Which is kind of ironic, given our 4000 years of taming them.
I could go on. Peregrine as a word implies "wanderer," but the birds mate for life and often return to the same area season after season. Their mating rituals include a courtly bowing dance phase (oh, don't they all) and the female decides where and when to fertilize her eggs.
Like most raptors, the species almost died out in North America the 1970's due to DDT pollution, but have made a wonderful recovery once we stopped poisoning stuff.
They can be found on every continent on the globe except Antartica. Even in suburban coastal Florida on a random January morning.
A few references
Writing teacher Terra Pressler used to assign the task of finding visual miracles. The idea being that stuff is happening all around, if only we'd pay attention.
This one was perched in the tree above the house the other afternoon, hoo-hoo-hooing until the sun set.
Story 1: Low Owl
How? How? How had he managed to be shunned by every member of that most reclusive and singular of all the avian clans who fly by night?
Oh, he'd tried to fit in, he'd tried the best he knew how, but to no avail. He shook his head in dismay and preened his feathers. How hard he had tried.
And in a nutshell, there it was: the heartbreak of dyslexia.
Story 2: Learning to Fly
Kurt Vonnegut: "We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."
Humans always had to be doing that, she thought. Always laying claim to stuff they weren't able to handle. Witness land ownership. Witness the use of pesticides and artificial sweeteners which seeped into the water and flavored plants and insects. She'd taken a juicy rodent just the other evening and detected the flat metallic ping of fluoxetine even in its innocent duadenum.
It was depressing, frankly.
Sure, they traveled through the air, noisily as only humans could make a process. But growing their own wings? As if.
Like any bird, she'd thought about what it would be to trade alulars and primaries for additional phalanges –– with one in opposition. She'd be able to thread an needle or practice calligraphy, but feathers? Feathers win hands down.
Ask Icarus which he'd choose –– the paternal hands that wrought the wings or the fierce effortful moments near the Aegean sun before the pinions melted and fluttered into the sea.
Story 3: Exodus 33:20
Marquis was more of a doer, really, than a thinker. Even in a family that twitched and hustled from dawn to dusk, he was the kind of youngster who tended to nap through sermons.
He remembered the words from the sermon, however, even at the moment that they proved themselves. He had a moment to reflect, as he was carried unnaturally up and across the evening sky, that indeed –– no one could look upon that face and live.
Okay, belay the antelope. There are no antelope at Paynes Prairie.
But there IS an actual prairie near Gainesville, Florida. Go figure. Where the buffalo roam even.
We made it home for a couple of days before New Year's.
Paynes Prairie was the state's first state park. It's also the subject of one of the great early narratives about nature in the New World.
In 1773, William Bartram traveled south from Philadelphia, sketching and making extensive notes that became Bartram's Travels, first published in 1791 by James and Johnson in Philadelphia.
Exerpt from page 128
THE alligator when full grown is a very large and terrible creature, and of prodigous strength, activity and swiftness in the water.
I have seen them twenty feet in length, and some are supposed to be twenty-two or twenty-three feet; their body is as large as that of a horse; their shape exactly resembles that of a lizard, except their tail, which is flat or cuniform, being compressed on each side, and gradually diminishing from the abdomen to the extremity, which, with the whole body is covered with horny plates or squammae, impenetrable when on the body of the live animal, even to a rifle ball, except about their head and just behind their fore-legs or arms, where it is said they are only vulnerable.
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