A First Look Dazzles

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A great egret walks in front of a white ibis.

Recently the Sarasota Audubon Society had a walk around the Perico Wildlife Preserve in Bradenton, FL. Initially not expecting much, two thirds of the way around the preserve’s 176-acre main walking trail my initial impressions had become overwhelming. I wanted this site to be a field trip for my birding class next winter.

A Rocky Start

From the parking lot, a red-shouldered hawk can be seen atop a tall, dead tree on the preserve’s perimeter. A great egret flies over as do a few white ibis. At a blind, there’s a beautiful black duck with a large white side. A woman says it’s a ring-necked duck, but you can’t see the ring. The group continues along a shell trail past tall trees with hanging Spanish moss. We get to a wooded area where a fallen tree lies across the path. It has a huge up-turned root system that looks like woven bamboo. Exotic. A red-bellied woodpecker is on one tall tree, a hairy woodpecker on another and numerous fleeting warblers give only second-long looks. There’s also several songbirds. While some in the group are seasoned birders and point out where the warblers are, I can’t see nor hear any discernible leaders. On a Japanese style footbridge, a pair of shovelers can be seen but go behind some reeds. An osprey perches in a dead tree.

Incubating An Idea

I’m bored with fleeting warblers and feel constrained in a leaderless group. The open trail with one woman and a man ahead by themselves beckoned. An oblong pond, partially hidden by vegetation, slowly reveals a large number of wading birds, great egrets, white ibis, snowy egrets, two tricolored herons and a yellowlegs. Sharing our collective knowledge, we decide that it’s a greater yellowlegs. I like these guys. The pool filled with white wading birds reminds me of Africa. On the path’s opposite side, the flat landscape baked by the Florida sun, is filled with grasses and plants. Also, so Africa. There’s a very large lake in the center of which is an island rookery for birds. In the water are some great egrets and white ibis. It’s like a stage setting for a film set in an African village.

The shell trail curves out to a walkout at a huge lake. Great egrets and feeding white ibis are near shore. The ibis’ slightly opened, thin curved bills hold medium sized crabs with wriggling legs. Most times one just sees these birds feeding on small shells. While the ibis were biting into crabs, this preserve is unconsciously biting into me. I photograph the curve of the walkway as if foreshadowing a trail on which I could take my birding class. Stopping to look at some small horseshoe crabs shells, I notice a killdeer. I’ve not seen any for years, yet right in front of me standing at the water’s edge are two killdeer, their magnificent black neck and breast rings gleaming in the morning sun. One hugs the shoreline while the other walks the wet dull grass, its colors breaking up its form and making it partially invisible. The eye of one however is a brilliant amber that shines like a small flashlight.

Wanting It Badly

Decades ago I read a book called The Parade’s Gone By…, a book about silent films by Kevin Brownlow, a British film historian, TV documentary-maker, filmmaker and author. In the introduction, he wrote words to the effect that the first look or glimpse of a genuine idea is so vivid, penetrating and wondrous that there was nothing like it. Memory tells me that I thought then, as I do now, that the next looks can never be the same as that first, unexpected magnificent glimpse. However, that first look is an image that remains in one’s mind’s eye like a dying star in a faraway galaxy.

By then I know that I badly want this preserve to be a birding walk for my class. It’s burning into my brain like the sun overhead. I’m thinking of problems, limitations including not yet knowing the trails and distances. Those warblers will be a pain in the butt. I can walk the trails a few more times before we go home and several times next winter before the walk. Continuing on, a metal sign says that six-acres of the preserve have been sectioned off for gopher tortoises to be released and dig their burrows. At that point you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Back at the footbridge, a tall man is looking at a duck which I first believe could be the ring-necked duck that we saw back at the blind. Wrong. Looking closely at it the bird seems to be a blue-winged teal. However, I’ve seen that bird only in one location, not this and am not sure. On an iPhone he brings up a photo of one. It’s a match. My wife’s daughter wants me to get one of those things, but I can’t quite see myself with one.

Back at the blind, I photograph common gallinules and muddled ducks among the lily pads. In the car going home I have a disc of Charlotte Church who’s singing “Oh Holy Night.” Literally in the driver’s seat, I’m flying and the music is driving me higher. With concentrated work I’m going to turn this first look into a reality next year.

I tell the director of the Longboat Key Education Center about the site and that I want it, describing it as “F—ing, great.” Smiling if not amused, she says that she never heard me use the “F” word before. What else could I say about the first glimpse of a genuine idea? She bought the idea. Now all I have to do is make it into a first-rate reality. It’s gonna be fun.

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Michael Givant, who writes our Bird’s Eye View column, resides in Woodbury and teaches a film course at Farmingdale State College in the Institute For Learning In Retirement and a foreign film class at The Longboat Key Education Center in Florida.

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