Monday, April 11, 2011

Royals Line the Beach

Was lucky enough recently to be in the sun and warmth of the Gulf of Mexico, near Clearwater, Florida, and to share the beach with groups of marine birds.

One isolated part of the beach was crowded with Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls, and Royal Terns. 

Royal Terns seem aptly named standing there facing the breeze, their black crest of feathers fluttering on their heads, stoic and oblivious to the overfed humans.

Caspian Terns flew high overhead squawking loudly but I am a neophyte at bird identification. Same reason I cannot be sure I saw an Artic Tern. Probably was not an Artic, as they usually hang far offshore.  I may have only wished it was an Artic, anyway, always impressed by their champion migratory prowess. 

The Brown Pelicans are unmistakable in their formations like B-52 bombers cruising and arching in the sky. It is thrilling to watch them drop in hard and fly fast over the water, their bills inches from the turquoise surface.

There were also the tiny Least Sandpipers feeding in the soft sand at the water’s edge before running frantically away from the next incoming wave. Small groups of Stilt Sandpipers, goofy and awkward like teenagers, clambered about nearby. 

Inland, just beyond the dunes and among the beach homes, I heard the who who of owls at night and the soft, melancholy ooh ooh of a large flock of doves in the morning. I saw gangs of White Ibis, and one Red Bellied Woodpecker with its light brushstroke of crimson on its belly.

And then there’s Fred, the neighborhood Great Snowy Egret who perches on the porch eyeing me with one glassy monocle while I try to eat my corn flakes. 

I do not know if these bird populations are healthy -- if they are finding enough food, if they are finding enough space for their nests on the only small area of the beach where natural dunes have not been crowded out by people and their homes, if the water is too warm for them or their prey, if their eggs and babies are unhealthy from their food tainted with mercury, if the juveniles are starving, if the chemical runoff from the manicured lawns and weedless driveways is making them ill, if Deepwater Horizon oil lingers in their bellies, and what it means good or bad for egrets and ibis to be wandering around a suburban neighborhood.  

I only know that they are all a gift. 

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