Monday, October 24, 2011

AIRIE Residency: Update #3

Mahagony Hammock; Everglades National Park; October 2011

This update is associated with my 2-week-long Artists In Residence In the Everglades (AIRIE) writing and art residency.

Notes from Days 6, 7, & 8:
- Before this residency, I knew that the Everglades is a birder's paradise. I didn't really know this until I found myself excitedly fumbling with my binoculars as I threw the car into reverse, craned my neck out the window, and attempted to drive-by identify a fast-moving raptor...only to realize that there were also two curious-looking warblers in the pineland understory to my immediate right (and what IS that bizarre call I'm hearing)?!

To stay sane, you learn to focus on one bird (or flock) at a time. That means, of course, that you have to let many birds go unidentified, but the primary pleasure is watching, not cataloging.

Wood Storks; Pa-Hay-Ohee Overlook; Everglades National Park; October 2011

Still, every bird watching enthusiast suffers from some degree of census pathology. I've inherited my father's disdain for "ticket punchers," birders who prioritize a day- or lifelist over observation and the experience itself. By no means, however, am I immune to the compulsion. I scold myself when I catch myself frantically estimating numbers in a faraway flock -- "Is it 52 or 53? Damn it! I can't &@^$% tell for sure!" -- or fretting over the unidentified animal that may have been a notable rarity. (On a related note, I haven't seen "The Big Year" yet, but I'm looking forward to it.)

Since my last update, some of the avian highlights include 3 snail kites, wood storks aplenty, a solitary sandpiper, 2 groups of American avocets, and a great white heron (a bird that is cause of much ornithological debate: is it a species, subspecies, or simple color morph?).

Cottonmouth; Main Road; Everglades National Park; October 2011

- And my herpetophilia -- I use this term in a decidedly non-sexual sense! -- has been sated, too. At the western edge of the park's pinelands, I came upon a handsome cottonmouth basking on the warmth of the main road.

The Agkistrodon genus is among my favorites and, in my excitement, I took disappointing photos of the snake's shockingly white mouth lining, its namesake, which the species displays as a defensive threat. Not all of the photos were unusable, however; above, you can see the cottonmouth moments after it flashed me a warning. I enjoy handling snakes, but I harbor no impulse to pick up cottonmouths; their hemotoxic venom attacks tissue and can lead to necrosis at the bite site.

Eastern Racer; Ecopond; Everglades National Park; October 2011

An Eastern racer, on the other hand, I'll want to catch, sex (i.e., determine its gender), and inspect for parasites. I found a racer hunting anoles in the vegetation surrounding the Flamingo Eco Pond, but moments after I crouched and pushed my way into the bushes, I was forced to abort my mission by a mosquito assault the likes of which I haven't before contended with.

- The below photo, taken at the Flamingo Ranger Station, explains why I was so impressed by the mosquitoes. Hysterical, indeed! The ranger stationed there told me to avoid a number of the trails I'd intended to explore. She suggested I instead cruise the campground roads in my rental car.

Mosquito Meter; Flamingo Ranger Station; Everglades National Park; October 2011

- Perhaps all that driving was partly responsible for the tire blow-out on Day 8? I was driving west on Tamiami Trail, heading to Naples to visit a high school classmate and go on a hike in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, when the tire gave out. A female red-bellied woodpecker tapped out some consolation as I changed the tire.

A pleasant highway patrol officer pulled over to check on me. I'm grateful that he did. The spare I'd put on was one of the mini tires that you don't want to limp along on for more than a few hours, and the policeman told me where the closest two tire shops open on a Sunday were located. I appreciated his advice to go to the farther of the two (in the suburbs of Miami) because it would be considerably cheaper, but his word choice -- "Don't go to the shop on the Indian reservation. They'll rape you." -- was, at best, poor.

Green Heron; Anhinga Trail; Everglades National Park; October 2011

Photo credits: all photos, Hungry Hyaena (Christopher Reiger), 2011

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