by Kurt Zuelsdorf
The Red-shouldered hawk pretended not to notice me standing below slash pine on the north knoll at Clam Bayou. From his perch he could see the entire park and across the slick-calm waters of Boca Ciega Bay. We scanned the sky together and watched the black vultures of the bayou glide the up drafting winds. Thanks to them, last month's fish-kill caused from cold weather is no longer evident. Oh to be fat-n-happy & flying high on a fantastic Florida morn!
The "Red" fluffed and ruffed his feathers in the morning breeze, then casually shifted his weight onto one leg and drew the other toward his chest. He didn't even mind the other hawk that cruised the mangroves looking for a fresh meal. "What could they be looking for to eat out here?" I asked myself trying to see through the underbrush. "Last year's marsh rabbit babes are too big to be taken now and the mice are too hard to see!" We both noticed the white wings soaring high above the bayou...circling, dropping, searching. Two white pelicans pasted against the blue sky were dropping in from high altitude. It took nearly thirty minutes for them to drop below 1000 ft then set sail South toward Ft Desoto where the flats provide deep pockets of mullet to dive for. The tell-tale screech of the wild parakeets raised his alertness to high attention. "Could this be what he's been waiting for, could this be what's for dinner?" Thirteen hooded parakeets zipped over and headed for the hallowed out palms for a game of hide-and seek. Our launch from the piney perch dropped us swiftly across the mangroves and over the lagoon! The whoosh of wings. The darting & dodging through the braches & the scattering of prey! A thump. A puff of bright green feathers. Dinner is served! My attention shifted to a attentive Blue heron standing in the shallows along the south pass. He protected his prized fishing spot from the 12 reddish egrets that worked the flat on an outgoing tide. Eight white ibis poked and probed their way through the muck for the more "icky" delicacies that the bayou provides. And there too, swimming in the distance, a lone pie-billed grebe worked the lagoon for snacks. Their appearance here in the bayou is short, but so sweet for the birders.
Twenty-two yellow-crowned night herons rested in the mangroves on this day. Last year's hatch is all grown up now, but not adorned with full-color plumage yet. A bumper crop of fiddler crabs have emerged on Fiddler's Island. This small island host's a spring mating ritual that rivals any migration seen on the Discovery Channel! Last year's bunch is coming along nicely and the pinchers are being "tuned up" for the springtime mating concert that all must attend! I soared high above the bayou heading toward the upper creeks. Drifting past the moss covered oaks and under the branch of the Australian pine to soft landing on the gator's dormant mud flat. Soon he'll immerge from the grassy swamp to this spot where he'll bellow out mating calls that will be heard for miles if you care to hear. The slam of my client's car door interrupted my trance-like state and I found myself still standing with the hawk in the slash pine... now staring right at me, unflustered, comfortable and safe. I stayed for just one more look... to see through the eyes of a stranger.