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?

Anticipation.

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.

Anticipation.

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.

Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Dunlin, Sanderling
Ruddy Turnstone

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.

Great Egret, Gulls, Terns
Great Egret, Gulls, Terns
Black Skimmer, Ring-billed Gull
Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Caspian Tern, Black-bellied Plover
Caspian Tern, Ring-billed Gull, Laughing Gull

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.

Anticipation, anticipation
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!

26 Comments on “These Are The Good Old Days

  1. I am relieved I was not around to witness your blobber disappearing Wally. I hope the experience wasn’t too painful and that you recovered sufficiently to enjoy your big day.

    Meanwhile you will not be surprised to hear that my messages to the civil servants whose wages I pay have yielded nothing in the way of progress to our Linnet project. And we are now in the throes of two Atlantic weather systems, Dudley followed by Eunice, sent our way via the east coast of the US. But, be assured, I do not hold you personally responsible.

    Clearly your own birding has been more successful as portrayed by the Great Egret; and the gulls that make a nice change from our ubiquitous Herring and Black-headed Gulls. I pity those poor folk who spent the day with Mickey Mouse when they could have had a day out with Wally and Gini with coffee and sticky buns thrown in.

    Nice post my friend.

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    • I should probably be more dedicated in using language which is clearly understood by a diverse audience. However, I was raised in a family environment and taught in an education system which implanted “American” throughout my tiny brain. Although the growth of my brain remained stunted, the peculiar traits which identify me as “American” flourished. I feel certain something similar has happened to most, resulting in a general feeling of pride of origin. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell those in charge of planetary amalgamation.)

      “Bobber: a floating object used in fishing to hold the hook at the right depth.” Synonyms: Float; Cork (American vernacular)

      Although it is heartening to learn that our incantations and sacrificial rituals were successful in repelling foul weather, we did not intend to inflict such meteorological machinations upon the unsuspecting United Kingdom. We apologize.

      Fortunately, we define a “successful” birding day as any day including a trip outdoors (or even a glance through the windows) which involves a glimpse of a bird of any description. All that travel and gawking at sunrises and such is just us flaunting our ostentatiousness.

      Pity for tourists may be wasted energy. Even though we have been identified as such ourselves, all those who fall into that category do so voluntarily. Besides, what with all the absolutely essential optical and survival gear we haul around in our little vehicle, we have no room for passengers.

      Sharing buns and coffee? Your name may be Phil, but, Shirley – you jest!

      Be advised, we have just performed more voodoo in an attempt to send calm breezes and sunshine across the pond. Whether it arrives at Lancashire, well, even WE are fallible.

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  2. Thanks for taking us along for this great ride! I’m adding Merritt Island to my “future destinations” list. Loved the morning light on the bridge, and awed at your sequence of the osprey hunting.

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  3. The day had been spectacular…that says it all! And you really did see so many amazing sights. The golden light gave some of your photos a special glow and the sheer numbers of the shore birds is exciting. It’s always fun to look at the photos when you get home and find the odd bird among the flocks. LOVE the Spoonbill. I’ve always said it’s my favorite FL bird…..if I had to pick a fav. This is a place I’ve never been. I should look at the map and see what backroads I can find to go there one day. Enjoy your day! Diane

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    • Good Morning, Diane!

      Thank you for the kind words. It really is a bit like the kid in the candy store at times at Merritt Island! Don’t know where to look next, there is so much to see.

      If you’re able, my recommendation would be to travel a day ahead of time and spend the night so you can be out there early. I suspect it’s close to a three hour drive from where you are which would make for a long day.

      There’s always something to see there, but October-April may be peak times for migrating birds.

      We’re definitely enjoying our day!

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  4. You’re certainly right that some of our memories stick with us. Your photo of sunrise at the launch complex reminded me of the first launch I saw. I was sitting with friends on the deck of a DeFever trawler anchored off Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas when the rocket went up. It was a night launch, and a most extraordinary sight: a different sort of ‘bird,’ but equally impressive.

    The sunlit birds are especially lovely. A friend in Ecuador recently reported a sighting there of a Green Heron: a vagrant, and not at all common in that country. I’d love to find some spots with the numbers of birds that you see. I’ve never headed east into Chambers County, where there are some ‘hot spots’ like the Bolivar flats and the Anahuac refuge. The only way to get there is via interminable waits at the ferry or the horror of I-10 East. I know, I know: stop whining and start driving! We’ll see.

    All that said, I heard a Laughing Gull sound off today for the first time this year. Here comes spring!

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    • That night launch must have been a special sight! Merritt Island is adjacent to Cape Canaveral National Seashore and it would be easy to spend a week there in any season and be a very happy camper/naturalist/photographer!

      “The horror of I-10 East” would be enough for me to be very satisfied with Brazoria or San Bernard or just about anything to avoid that combat zone!

      Our day was filled with Gull music! A wonderful balm for the soul.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great sequence with the Osprey, Wally. I have seen it happen many times but it never becomes any less dramatic. It reminds that in a little over a month the first spring arrivals here will start to claim their nesting sites. There’s always a little repair to be done before settling in.

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  6. A marvelous experience, bringing up memories of my only visit to Merritt Island many years ago. Your photos document a much more intense experience, as ours was more of a family visit with two toddler granddaughters.

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    • Ken, to have memories of experiencing a lovely setting such as this with your granddaughters is what life should be all about!

      Going places and exploring is great. Sharing those things with who you love – magical.

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  7. Dear Wally,
    Life without anticipation would be much less titillating and you beautifully describe the anticipation associated with some of your major life events.
    I, too, wouldn’t mind getting up in the middle of the night and getting caught in quitting traffic in order to explore this incredible wildlife refuge. I would have had at least 5 life birds on the day of your visit! 😊
    Thank you for heightening my anticipation of a possible trip to Florida once again.
    Longingly,
    Tanja

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  8. You did have a spectacular day, Wally – and you came home with a wonderful crop of photos. Your observation, ID, photography, and writing skills are spectacular too and keep me coming back to see what’s next at one of your natural places.

    And thanks so much for the shout out – I really appreciate it!
    Ed

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    • Your consistently superb photographs, especially around MINWR, are truly motivating, Ed. Not only for the views and interesting subject matter, but for the education on technical aspects of better photography.

      So, thank YOU!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I caught wind of your level of anticipation on this trip to the east coast, before this blog post, Wally, and now I fully understand why. I knew, seeing those two opening shots, that this was going to be an amazing post, and I was proven to be correct! The wonderful birds (the ‘gator too) and great light, coupled with your excellent photographic skills have resulted in fabulous images, and the whole post, as always, is enhanced by your entertaining wordsmithery.

    Sadly, I shall have to depart now, as I must attend to our evening meal – I’m cooking semur daging and it’s been smelling pretty good all day!

    Best wishes to you both. Take good care – – – Richard

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    • As usual, you are way too kind, Richard. But I really appreciate the comments!

      We had a great day and can’t wait to return.

      Smells like a really aromatic beef stew around here all of a sudden.

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  10. Excellent post Wally and beautiful photographs. Love the sunrise and bridge shots.
    Anticipation over the birth of a child? My memories are of being awake all night at the hospital because the expected arrival (my gorgeous Lemming) had decided to take a nap! Then Mrs H banning me from the birth, wanting only her Mum present. So I spent hours in the waiting room, sick to the stomach, not knowing what was happening as no one came to give me updates! The relief at the arrival could never be measured.
    Anticipation over fishing trips? Remember that too. Yes I still get that excitement for my butterfly/dragonfly/birding adventures!

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    • Thanks, Brian!

      Your birth experience was the reverse of “anticipation” known as “relief”! 🙂

      Hmm, we get butterflies in our stomach over going hunting for – butterflies! How about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Like Dan has penned above you are have a wonderful turn of phase and you have been very fortunately in having Gini by your side all these years with many happy memories. Well what a trip and well worth getting p early for. I am at present in Tenerife on holiday with one of my daughters and it is lovely to have heat and sunshine on our bodies especially now because at home the weather has been awful. Anyway I love seeing all the photographs of birds and even the Alligator in this post, Thanks for sharing and please send my regards to Gini and thanks for popping into my posts and commenting.

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    • Thank you, Margaret, for always being so gracious with your comments. We appreciate it.

      Enjoy your time in the Canary Islands and soak up as much of that sun as possible!

      Gini sends her love.

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  12. OK Wally, I know that you are a great photographer but you are also a great writer and I always enjoy your posts. Wonderful and memorable comments of your wife and family. For those of us who fished with our fathers your comments are palpable as I always remember that degree of anticipation. Please keep the posts coming. Hope that I bump into your out there some day

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