Land lobsters and Jays


One of the decided benefits of living on one of the largest peninsulas in North America is the easy access to the beach.  I also happen to live a short drive from a jewel in the national wildlife refuge system, and find myself there often. 

We are still in the dry season here in Florida, our excuse for winter, and the tidal mangrove areas that lead out from the lagoon towards the Atlantic ocean are down to bare sand.  The alligators are restless, and there are mud slides everywhere from their wanderings.  Fish jump nervously in the remaining pools, hoping for rain.

Its no wonder most of the fishing birds nest during this season.  Small pools with many fish make the hunting easier.  I spotted a flock of roseate spoonbills, wood storks, cattle egrets, an osprey pair and a great blue heron on my drive towards the beach.  This is as far north as most of these species nest in the U.S., and I feel privileged to see many of them.  The spoonbills and wood storks in particular give me a sense of pride.  It wasnt so long ago that these birds were down to the hundreds – leveled by hunting for their feathers and the effects of pesticides in their environments. 

In fact, its the spoonbill feathers that make for such irony.  Spoonbills are a beautiful shade of pink – not too gaudy, not too drab.  They’re the only endemic pink birds in Florida, those flamingoes belong elsewhere.  And yet, when you trim the feathers from the birds, the coloration doesnt stay. 

Its actually derived from their diet.  Pull the feather from the bird, no diet = no color.  Its that simple.  So when they hunted the birds for their feathers, it became a neverending circle in the quest to keep ladies in fashion.  Fans and band feathers had to be replaced every few months.  Thankfully, fashion has moved on. 

The beach is something to see at this time of year.  Without the freshwater rain clouding the coast, you can see down to your toes even when you’re head high in the surf.  The water is a beautiful brilliant sea green and blue, the plankton are blooming. 

Florida, of course, has many tourists at this time of year, just past the easter holidays and during the traditional spring break season.  And there were many land lobsters passing by as I read Fahrenheit 451 and lay out on the sand.  I prefer paranoia and slather myself in spf 55.  These people want to gild themselves before they reboard their planes.  Well, they’ll certainly glow – like Rudolph’s nose – when they finally get back home. 

Back off the beach, I witnessed something amazing.  The refuge is home to one of Florida’s endemic – found nowhere else – birds, the scrub jay.  These are fiesty critters, and they work in teams.  Basically, adult siblings help parents raise more siblings, so its a family effort to raise baby jays.  I’m not sure if its nesting season now or not, but I certainly saw them show their capacity to defend a territory.

As I drove back towards home, out the left window I saw small blue-ish wings dive bombing a very large red tailed hawk.  Four, then five, then six jays were railing on this raptor.  She would lash out with beak and talons, and they would twist just out of reach.  It was impressive, to say the least.  In less than two minutes they had harassed her into acrobatics and pecked at her wings until she finally gave up her original flightplan through their territory. 

Brazen.  Remind me not to stumble through jay territory during nesting season.  I doubt they treat humans any differently.