Images That Won’t Shake Loose

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BirdColumn_012315ABecause I bird every day in winter, I see some avian scenes that aren’t easy to forget. Here are some including the places in which came across them.

Shinbone Alley

This isn’t the first time that I’ve walked down the narrow white gravel path called Shinbone Alley. I’m hoping to get a picture of a small falcon on the top branch of a tall tree in the middle of a huge field. The falcon, a kestrel, has a panoramic view and can’t possibly miss this lone human. Walking slowly and purposefully, I don’t want to spook this bird so I won’t look at it until necessary. I ready my camera. Unable to use a tree and a sign as cover at the edge of the field because my view is blocked, my only option is approaching it from the rear.

I count off five paces, then another five and peek. My guy’s still there. Walking closer there’s a high-pitched noise. Then another. I look up to see that on the far side of the field is a small canal with tall trees from which an osprey is flying. It had been eating a fish, which is now being held in a claw. I never saw it. My kestrel is still here and I take several shots. Its fanned tail blows in the stiff breeze. It sways back and forth on the spindly branch. It flies. Goodbye? No, it’s soon back. There are male red-bellied woodpeckers on another branch. I struggle to keep a full image of the kestrel in the viewer. My fear that the kestrel will fly is unfounded but the conditions are lousy and so are my images. I delete all but one in which the bird is still and the tail shakes. It’s interesting, artsy. After editing it there’s no way I’m shaking it loose.

Neal Preserve

In a scene out of a spare Georgia O’Keefe landscape, an osprey perches on the branch of one of a few gnarled trees at the entrance to Neal Preserve. I’ve been told the new preserve in Bradenton, FL. is small, new and doesn’t yet have much wildlife. Interestingly, it has indigenous people’s reconstructed burial mounds.

From a wooden boardwalk my wife and I see a great egret fly to some mangroves where there’s a pond. There’s a reddish egret in the shallow water putting on a clinic in canopy hunting. It sprints, or runs a few steps stabbing the water with it’s two toned black and pink bill while at the same time raising its wings partially like a canopy shading the water. Its bill and wings appear to be on the same switch.

BirdColumn_012315BThe reddish, whose breast and belly are a washed out rust and whose back and sides are gray, starts to walk. It’s takes a while to “see” that on shore are dull colored reeds and grasses which aren’t very distinguishable from the reddish rust. The bird’s gray doesn’t is muted, which also helps make the reddish less visible. I’d never given a thought to the bird’s colors as camouflage, as I’ve always seen it in a bay or ocean setting. However, its colors are excellent camouflage in a marsh or wetlands against a backdrop of dull vegetation. Could this bird have originally been a bird of marshlands before it was nearly shot to extinction by plume hunters in the early 20th century? The reddish flies leaving me to historical speculation. In my mind’s eye I can see this bird walking in wetlands like this. I can’t cut this loose.

A Seawall

This winter has been a banner one for small shorebirds sometimes called “peeps,” an all purpose term for these hard to distinguish brown shorebirds. At lowest tide there’s a long line of dull brown sandpipers, willets and dunlin feeding. A willet has what seems to be a dead seahorse but cannot seem to swallow it as it runs from spot to spot. Finally it throws the creature into shallow water as its pursued by another. Both come up empty. Some gulls perfunctorily pick at the remains of fish carcasses bereft of flesh. Further up the beach the mass of gulls and terns which is here every day is exceeded by a mass of 300 red knots. Another cloudy rainy morning there’s a line primarily of knots so long that I can only guesstimate that it’s a lengthy city block and half long These knots have a 9,000 plus mile trip from their Arctic breeding grounds to the southern tip of South America. One, banded in Argentina in 1995, has been dubbed “Moonbird” as it has flown in 21 or more migrations, one trip to the moon and at least halfway back.

At a seawall is a crowd. In the shallow green water by the wall a fisherman has hooked onto a several foot-long fish whose gray fins and smooth gray body are showing. The sight is chilling. A shark? Nah, probably my imagination. Someone on shore with his arms up is signaling, “reel it in.” This won’t be quick. Whoa, I’m wrong. The fish moves sidewards and the fishing line is no longer attached to it. The fisherman holds up his arms as if in surrender. Somewhere out there is a large fish with a hook in its mouth.

An hour later near the seawall I ask a guy who yesterday hooked a small reef shark, about a foot-long, yesterday. He tells me someone hooked a shark about six-feet as he spreads his arms wide. The fisherman cut the line and the shark swam away. It wasn’t my imagination. Is that the same shark or another one? Whatever, the shark’s gone but  who would have thought that in a spot where people catch dinner table sized fish, a shark would be reeled in? The fisherman cut it loose but I can’t.

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