Monday, February 07, 2011

Living on the Edge

The day began innocently enough. It's raining again, but that's not enough to stop two intrepid naturalists and birders like Dick and Kathy. We knew it would rain, and brought appropriate rain gear, having been almost drowned on previous birding expeditions. My raincoat is even big enough to protect a camera and binoculars from the downpour and my boots are waterproof. Semper Paratus! Always Prepared- that's our motto. Expecting a nature walk at Clam Creek, we head for the north end of the island. A phone call to the Nature Center verifies our suspicion that the walks are not offered in February after all. So what? Rain and no guide aren't enough to slow us down. The fishing pier is host to a variety of gulls perched on the roof and fence rails. Look at those with the black heads! Once again, our winter limitations may mislead us, so we examine the field guide closely. Laughing Gulls have black heads, but not in the winter, and we can't see the feet on this one. Bonaparte Gulls also have black heads, and the map shows them wintering in this area. That would be a life bird too! Let's keep looking though.
I think some of them may be molting into summer plummage. The legs on these birds are black - which Laughing Gulls have. Can they get breeding plummage this early in the year? But look at the shape of the black cap above. It doesn't come down the back of the head as much as a Laughing Gull. But the bill on the Bonapart is more pointy, right? I keep going back and forth. Any gull experts out there? What do you think? Is this a mixture of both birds standing together on the roof?
Gulls perch companionably along the fence railing at the pier, not caring what species they stand next to. As we walk slowly along, you could almost hear them say, "Move over there, these people keep coming closer, but they are slow, so we don't actually have to fly away yet. Just keep moving down, and maybe they will go away." From the bridge overlooking a creek, we scan the marshes. A small brown bird flies in then paces the mudflats, bobbing its tail. That's a familiar behavior- a Spotted Sandpiper! Of course, in February, they don't have spots, so the behavior is essential.
A Black Crowned Night Heron competes in the "How Long Can You Stand Without Moving" contest. The other entrants must be hidden in the rushes. Surely Rails and Bitterns live in these tall reeds too, but they are better at disguising themselves.
(Dramatic music begins.) A path leads into the forest as spanish moss drapes off every branch- live oak, holly, palmetto. Anything not moving is covered in long beards of spanish moss and lichens that look like they might glow in the dark.
The path isn't marked, but I remember seeing a trail on the map that loops around. We'll follow it for a while, and it will lead us back to the parking lot. At 10:30, it begins to rain in earnest, increasing from a gentle pitter-pat to a steady drumming. The drops slide to the end of long pine needles, hanging for a while until large enough to fall to the ground. Drat- my camera battery is dead. Replace it with the spare, and then it too flashes red. Oh well, it's raining too hard for pictures anyway by now. My raincoat is doing a good job, but Dick starts to look pretty bedraggled. His hands are cold, and eventually, he puts his glasses in a pocket since he can't see through them anyway.
At last, a break in the trees goes towards the beach again, where we see the first Ruddy Turnstones of our visit! Unfortunately, our way to the beach is barred by a creek winding its way out of the marshes and into the ocean. Not to worry, the trail goes on, and this should begin the loop back to the beginning. Or does it?? The trail narrows in spots, and we watch the ground for tracks of deer and wild boar. I can deal with deer, but hope we don't find any boar. Push through the palmettos when they block the way, but keep going. If we turn around now, we'll find we were almost back anyway. Vines grab at our boots, tripping us as we try to climb over. We begin to wonder if we are really lost after all. How would we get help? Even if we called someone on the cell phone, we don't know where to tell them to look for us.
We have been walking in the rain for over an hour now. Is that a clear area around the next bend? Maybe it's the parking lot. Well, it's a clear area, but one that leads to the beach. On Driftwood Beach at last! We can just walk around on the sand to get back to the car. Markers line the dunes periodically, starting with Number 4, warning us not to walk on the dunes. Marker 3 then Marker 2 are left behind as we continue, and finally Marker 1, but no fishing pier. At last, we turn one more corner, and view the pier. Hooray! Aren't you glad we aren't pioneers who have to do this all the time? Oh no--I know where we are! It's the spot where we saw the Turnstones, and couldn't get over the creek. We still have to cross the creek to get back to the pier. Walk upstream a bit and look for a shallow spot. None of them look very shallow, so we just take a deep breath and wade into water up to our knees to reach the other side. We must have walked entirely around the marsh that feeds this creek. Now my boots and socks go squish with each step. Plodding steadily along, we finally reach the safety of our car and return to the hotel for a hot shower, dry clothes and warm soup in the restaurant. "What shall we do the rest of the afternoon?" Dick asks. "Stay right here where it's dry and warm!" I reply!

1 comment:

Jen said...

Great post- I love the story... And the birds are beautiful too. Afraid I can't help much with the gulls... Hope you figure them out!