Community Columns

A fond farewell to the fauna of Florida

Daffodils do very well in our woods; most can get along with little sunshine and, because they bloom early, they come out before the trees sprout their leaves.

Barbara and I awoke to the squawking of fish crows and laughing gulls, each trying to outdo one another. Our world was awake and ready to start a new day. The mockingbird that had sung through the night is now singing its full repertoire of songs to start the day. The loud machine-gun sound of the red-bellied woodpecker knocking on the metal gutter finally put an end to our dream world.

We often watch the pelicans drift by on their early morning search for prey below. Once a target is located, the birds, with wings pressed to their sides, drop into the water in a great splash in hopes of capturing a morning meal. Then, as the pelicans bob up to enjoy their catch, they are harassed by laughing gulls landing on their backs trying to rob them of their catch.

The least tern, the smallest of all our terns, has just arrived from its winter quarters in and around the Caribbean. We never tire of watching it as it hunts for food in a similar fashion to that of the osprey: it hovers over its prey and, when all conditions are just right, plummets into the water.

We heard these small terns even before we saw them. Their high-pitched plaintive cry is unmistakable. This delightful little tern nests on beaches and is having a difficult time finding suitable safe nesting sites, as many of the beaches have been taken over by humans. In some places nesting sites have completely disappeared, making the birds seek alternate places to lay their eggs, such as the tops of buildings, where they are now successfully raising their young.

It seems hard to believe our six months’ stay in Florida has come to a close. This last day found us adding a new bird to our list: a green heron. This is the first time we have seen this short-legged heron, but there it was. It brought back memories from back home, where for years a pair of green herons nested a short way from our house. They made daily trips to feed their young on the goldfish from our pond. This shy little heron can usually be found stalking under our dock at home. It flies up and scolds us for intruding when we go to the boat to go fishing.

My son and I were able to get out for one last fishing trip here before heading home. Fishing was good for a change and we got a dozen sheeps¬­head, a fish similar to our porgies in shape and fight. Barbara caught the most but, believe it or not, I caught the biggest!

We’ve enjoyed the birds, fish and flowers here regardless of the cold, which was unusual for everyone everywhere. We always find something new to make our day complete, whether it’s watching someone on a nearby dock reel in a bonnet head, a most unusual shark that has an eye on each side of its large spade-shaped head, or exploring a new island or beach or preserve on some windy day with rain in the forecast.

That bonnet head shark I spoke of is one we had not seen before. It is also called shovelhead because of the shape of its head. They grow to be about 3 1/2 feet long. The one we saw was only about two feet long, about the size of a sand shark you might catch when fishing in Peconic Bay. While they do range to New England, they are rare there. They feed on blue crabs, shrimp, mollusks and small fish.

With one eye on each side of its head, the shark moves its head back and forth like a metal detector as it swims along the bottom, then turns quickly to bite into any sign of disturbance made by something trying to get away.

We took time recently to visit Lido Beach, where huge darning needles milled around us out of the wind. While standing and watching them, we spotted what we thought was an osprey. As it got closer we could see it was carrying a huge, fat fish and it was then we realized what we were seeing was not an osprey but an eagle. The fish was so big and heavy the bird just skimmed the treetops as it headed for its nest to feed. What a sight!

When we arrive back home we will be greeted by a path of daffodils linking our house to our daughter’s and another long line of them planted last fall up our driveway. We’re anxious to see the great-grandkids, including the newest one arriving any day. Now the third generation of our family is beginning to explore the woods around our place, the chickens, the cows and the gardens, and when they get bigger they’ll take a walk down to the pond to see or hear the spring peepers or frogs or see the turtles lined up on the logs sunning themselves. One day they will swing out over the pond as their parents and grandparents before them have done and some of them, more adventurous, will drop into the water just for fun.

Life is good no matter where you are, north or south, east or west. Wherever you are, life is there and it’s what you make of it that counts.