These Are The Good Old Days
Header Image: Atlantic Coast Sunrise
Sleepless nights were common for me about a week before Gini and I were married. Tossing and turning. Worry. Will I really be able to support us? Will she be able to put up with me all day, all night, forever?
The night before the BIG DAY, was also devoid of sleep. But this was different. All I could think of was – HER. Eyes open, eyes shut – SHE was there. Those brown eyes, that smile. Longing to be with – HER. This was hopeful anticipation that I have never experienced, before or since, with such intensity.
Looking forward to something pleasant, can be exhilarating. Other than my wedding day, the most outstanding example of anticipation for me was the birth of our two children. There is nothing, NOTHING, like seeing the ultimate expression of love manifested in physical form.
On a somewhat less dramatic scale of expectation, my most vivid memories of anticipating a new day are fishing trips with my Dad. He would come home early on a Friday and start walking around the boat, hauling out cushions, oars, cooler and tackle from the storage room. I could hardly contain myself from blurting out the obvious: “Are we going fishing?”
Sleepless nights. Hurry up, alarm clock! I would close my eyes and envision the damp fog as the boat slid off its trailer into the cypress-stained water. The outboard motor exploded in the pre-dawn silence. We glided across lily pads dotting the big lake. My bobber disappeared beneath the surface and headed toward a log — “Wake up, time to go!” No problem, as I was never asleep.
Last Thursday night. Another sleepless night. In the morning, we would start out at 4:30 a.m. in order to arrive at one of our favorite adventure destinations, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Over 140,000 acres of coastal marsh to explore. Hoping to arrive in time to capture an east coast sunrise, we motored through the Orlando area in relatively light traffic.
We managed a few images. (Not sorry for posting so many. Just scroll fast and it won’t take too long.)
From past visits, I planned to view the sunrise from Gator Creek Road. The rising sun and its reflection could be imagined a rocket launching from NASA’s Space Center. The main launch complex is in line with the sun from this vantage point.
A view back to the west reveals a pre-dawn image of the A. Max Brewer bridge which leads from Titusville to Merritt Island NWR. On a recent post, Ed Rosack (https://edrosack.com/2022/02/06/my-favorite-bridge/) opined this is his favorite bridge: “Not for how it looks (it does look nice!) but because it leads to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.” We couldn’t agree more, Ed!
Early morning movement of birds of all description was extremely active. Here, a Mottled Duck hurried to join the several dozen we had just seen fly overhead.
The post-dawn glow really shows off the plumage of a Northern Flicker. It’s easy to see why this handsome bird was formerly known as the “Yellow-shafted Flicker”.
“If you build it, he will come.” Not a famous baseball player, but this Green Heron is a darned good fisherman. Throughout the refuge, if you find a culvert, look carefully or wait awhile and you are very likely to spot a heron or egret peering at the outflow for a snack to appear.
The most numerous species of duck we saw during this visit was the Blue-winged Teal. This series serves to remind us that Nature continues its cycle of renewal despite the affairs of humans. Also, if you are in a cold climate today, be like the final image of our female teal as she celebrates the imminent arrival of Spring! (Okay, she was just finishing a bath and wing flap after, you know, but it looks like a happy thing to me!)
We counted well over 20 Tricolored Heron in the refuge today and this one shows off the subtle hues of plumage that prompted the “experts” to change its name from Louisiana Heron.
Sweeping a large unusually-shaped bill back and forth through the shallows by this large wading bird helps identify it as a Roseate Spoonbill. Well, that and the fact that its somewhat pinkish plumage is a big hint.
The bottom line is that this line of bottoms belongs to Northern Shovelers. A drake provides a “Ta-Daa” wing flap moment in case there was any question.
Great Egrets were plentiful as they begin to stake out nesting sites among the mangroves and cypresses of the marsh. Preening is vital to ensure all those large feathers remain as clean as possible. Delicate feather patterns underscore why these large birds were hunted nearly to extinction for – hat decorations. It’s also easy to understand why this species became the iconic symbol for The National Audubon Society.
Tricolored Heron portrait. Just because.
Obligatory American Alligator.
We enjoyed lunch at Parrish Park back at the A. Max Brewer Bridge. The Indian River flows under the bridge and there are very nice pavilions, boat ramps and restrooms here. And birds. Boat docks in the warm sun make very nice napping spots for Sanderlings, Dunlins, Ruddy Turnstones and Gulls.
Not trying to rub it in for those in chillier climes, but our day saw only a few fluffy clouds and at noon the temperature had reached 84 F/29 C. Salt flats can be pretty bright places. Thank goodness there was shade.
One of the premier destinations for birders and photographers visiting the refuge is Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven mile one-way auto tour through the marsh. Several pull-off spots offer great views and there are trails if you prefer a more up-close and personal experience. One scene we came across was a large gathering of mostly gulls and terns. A few other species enjoyed the company of the white-feathered gang. Safety in numbers, perhaps. Good thing, too, as (in the last image) everybody suddenly took to the air. We scanned for a raptor but didn’t see one.
A Marbled Godwit looked a bit lonesome, but I suspect she preferred it that way. More crabs for her!
During the day we saw thousands of American Coot, hundreds of Blue-winged Teal, nearly a hundred Northern Shoveler, several Northern Pintail, Gadwall and American Wigeon. Most were at such a distance that photographs were not feasible. A pair of Redheads allowed us a couple of clicks before scooting back in among the coot crowd.
Watching an Osprey hunt never gets old for us. This one made a few unsuccessful attempts before finally scoring lunch.
Finally (the crowd goes wild!), we leave you with one more symbol of Nature’s cycle of renewal. A very young American Alligator soaking in the rays of the sun. The beautiful pattern on her tail will fade as she ages to become the apex predator surviving each day at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Our return westward across the Florida peninsula included an extra bit of time as we inched through the dense commuter and tourist traffic of Orlando/Disney World. We didn’t mind. The day had been spectacular. We hope you have such a special place nearby where you can explore Nature’s treasures or simply sit and quietly observe the pleasures life presents.
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting
These are the good old days.
(Carly Simon, 1971)
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!