Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dolphins, Ospreys and Fighting Crabs

Walking the beach the other day there was commotion out from shore. Bottlenose dolphins were hunting fish.

Here weren't the playful antics applauded at marine parks. This was concentrated bullet- fast pursuit.

The dolphins weren't performing for treats or entertaining audiences in the stands. This was instinct. This was natural and living free.

Fish jumped and came down as the dolphins tore through the water. The fish could be clearly seen. They might have been in flight ahead of the predators or were the food at the end of the chase. We stood and watched and marveled.

The dolphins surfaced and dived. They barreled back and forth. The bathtub waters of the Gulf became aquatic theater. It was one of the recent interesting moments at the shore.

Bottlenose dolphins are the subject of a signboard at the next beach. Dolphins are in the Gulf of Mexico all year long but this isn't considered the season of best sightings. That's May, June and July.

Adult dolphins can eat up to thirty pounds of fish a day. The fish they commonly feed on are sea trout, mullet and snook. They find prey through echolocation, which might be described as sonar detection.

Later Al had a different kind of wildlife encounter. He was swung at by a blue crab on Sanibel Island.

The crab had been washed onto the beach. It was a live crab. Al, more curious about sea creatures that come with claws or fins than I happen to be, found this out.

It proved to be a pugilistic crab. This is maybe how crabs are and why we have the word crabby. It looked ready to deliver a quick undercut.

It struck a boxer's pose. It extended its claws. Its clamp would be hard. It glared at Al. It had no fear of this Goliath whose giant shadow was thrown across the sand.

A woman came along the beach. "That would make someone a good lunch," she said, which told us this was a crab you could eat.

Perhaps knowing you're always someone's possible dinner is enough to make even the mildest mannered crab cranky.

Florida at this time of year sees migrations of snowbirds in flip flops and wrinkled beach wear, as a letter to the editor in the local newspaper alluded to the annual influx.

While some look upon snowbirds as the ones to put the binoculars to the real interest should be the teeming bird life. Florida is a bird watcher's paradise.

We've not visited the places with the birds with bright plumage or had in our sight the familiar home birds who winter here.

We've seen plenty of white birds, many of which are new to us. We called them water birds but shore birds is a real classification into which many of the birds fit.

We recognize sandpipers, egrets, ibises and terns. There are others. They wade in ditches, at the edges of tidal marshes and along the seashore. They hop or pitch forward on long skinny legs.

Some have long sharp bills. Some speed through the beach shallows like skitterbugs. They make us laugh. They hurry to go nowhere - like many of us.

Ospreys are everywhere. We've become adept at spotting their nests. It's easy. Just look up. The nests are atop poles and high in trees. The nests, formed from sticks and other materials including seaweed, are built up over time. They get quite large. This is a sign the ospreys have been there awhile.

Al has his camera trained on a particular pair of ospreys. Their nest is near the pier. The father brings fish to the nest. At least once the mother has sent her mate and the fish away. In this instance he flew to the pier and made the fish his meal.

We have pictures of the pair together on their nest. They could be any hardworking couple with a few free moments to hang in each other's company on the front porch.

The most hilarious of the birds in appearance are the royal terns. We think we have their identity correct. Before we knew their name we called them the birds with the eyebrows in back. And such eyebrows. Groucho Marx comes to mind.

Perhaps it's the association with the bushy brows of the Hollywood funny guy that makes royal terns supremely comical to us.

Birds on the beach have made peace with the joggers, shell hunters, yoga classes on mats, bikers, dog walkers and sunbathers. They take human encroachment in stride.

They see the seashore as their sandy garden abloom with beach parasols. Beach picnickers are viewed as their pass to supper. Signs prohibit feeding wildlife but with birds, as with humans, where there's a will there is a way.

They brush off our presence as I did the biting insects which I now wish had been given a hearty swat. They caught me unaware at sunset where scrub and dune meets the beach.

tern brooded in a nest of its own making on another beach visited by us. It rested in the sun-warm sand where shells lay thick.

Its weight pressed lightly into the shell detritus.
It got up and moved before we reached the spot. A shallow contour, a slender imprint of its presence, remained in the sand where it had been.

Ro Giencke - January 22, 2012

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