(This trip was made July 26, 2012.)
The air is heavy with humidity this morning but the stars are bright in the pre-dawn sky. Our late-summer weather pattern has made a shift to only very scattered thunderstorms in the late afternoon. If the past is any indication, the rains will soon begin earlier in the day and be gone before sunset. All the rain over the past few weeks has resulted in the shore of Lake Hancock bursting its banks with high water while streams and run-off from the marshes continue to flow with force into the lake. How blessed I am to witness the ongoing cycle of surface water, evaporation, rain, flooding, seeping, percolation, filtration…..and on this day, my own small contribution of what seemed like gallon buckets of perspiration.
Walking to the lake through low-lying fields reminded me why I need to hone my sense of fashion a bit more. Basic black shirt equals “skeeter magnet”. Big ones. The ones that take your hat right off your head, throw it on the ground and kick you when you bend over to pick it up. The laugh of the skeeter in the swamp is a truly chilling sound. Once I reached the lakeshore path, a breeze sprang up with the rising sun and the bullying bugs disappeared.
This particular path is built up a little in elevation and all along its length there were drag marks in the mud and the grass was pressed down where alligators moved during the night between the marsh and the lake. Trees here are larger. Cypress, oak, bay and a host of others unknown to me. Spanish moss provides hiding places for all manner of critters and its wispy soft gray character set the stage for a morning of adventure.
It’s almost August and a small flock of warblers is overhead cheeping noisily as they search for trees full of protein-laden insects. This will be an excellent place to search for migrating birds in the next couple of months. Deep-throated booms abound as the frog community announces a new day. When I’m able to track down one of these amphibians, I’m always amazed at how small they can be to make such a “large” noise! Overhead, the sky is beginning to resemble a commuter corridor as herons, egrets, spoonbills, ducks and storks transit to the marsh to stake out a feeding area.
In two hours, I saw four other humans. Three were the jogging kind and I gave them a wider berth than I did the alligators. Unpredictable species, joggers. The other human was walking to try and stay limber as the onslaught of age, arthritis and scalpels had taken a toll on his agility. We agreed it was a great morning to be … well, anywhere! I took a very deep breath as he continued down the path, with a sobering thought about my own mortality. No philosophy! There are birds in them there trees, weeds and water!
Fish for breakfast!! No wonder I love the Osprey! When the path revealed a view of the marsh, I counted at least half a dozen trees with two to six Ospreys in each tree. Most were munching “fish and grits”, without the grits. (Can you tell I didn’t have breakfast yet?) An Anhinga perched expectantly on a limb over a canal patiently hoping for a morning snack. His other name is Snake Bird, due to his method of swimming with his whole body submerged and only his thin neck and spear-like beak above the surface. No matter where you see her, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck always seems like she just visited the salon. Every feather in place, eye-liner perfectly applied and bill polished to perfection. Anyone who has taken an early morning walk in the woods during summertime in the Southeast has likely had a face full of spider web more than once. The usual suspect is a member of the Nephila genus. Their web can span two to four feet and is sticky so once you get it in your hair it seems like you can feel it all day. The Golden-silk spider is a beautiful representative of its family.
Some birds do not appear to be built to sit on a tree limb. The Great Blue Heron is one of these. Stately and aloof in the water or on the marsh, he appears ungainly in a tree. No matter where we encounter him, though, he’s an impressive creature. Woodpeckers are often heard but not always seen. I had already heard the brief, intermittent drumming of several Red-bellied woodpeckers and the precise-sounding longer drum of a Downy. The Pileated Woodpecker sounded more like an axe striking a limb with pauses between “thwacks”. When I saw her, I discovered the reason for the pauses. She had found a “vein” of bugs in the limb and as she tore off a bit of bark she was slurping them up as fast as she could. The large trees by the lake began to give way to the marsh and a sentinel stood guard at the top of a Cypress, staring at me as I passed. I’m pretty sure the Red-shouldered Hawk was gauging whether he could carry me all the way back to his nest. Thank goodness I wasn’t one of those lean, lanky jogging kind. Come to think of it, I never did see them again……….?
The path abruptly turned 90 degrees and I was between the marsh and the parking lot. The sun was hot. A swig of cold water was refreshing and I had a spring in my step as I approached the truck. Well, maybe it wasn’t the water that quickened my pace. My beautiful date for breakfast was patiently waiting in the passenger seat and our day was off to a really wonderful beginning.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.
Check out “Circle B Bar Reserve – July” in the Gallery for more images.