Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Florida Memories

I'm a native Californian and have the typical loyalty most people have that love where they were born and raised. Except for going to college in Eugene, Oregon I've lived in California all my life. That is, until l994 when we moved to northeast Florida because of work commitments. I'll have to admit that I encountered pretty extreme climate (and culture) shock, so I was having a bit of a hard time adjusting. It all worked out though and one of the main reasons was falling in love with Florida's natural world.

It was on my first visit to find a place to live that I realized how abundant the birds were. I can remember crossing a little bridge as I drove around Ponte Vedra Beach, the town we were moving to. It's a good thing there weren't any cars behind me since I stopped right in the middle of the bridge mesmerzied at the scene below. I guess it was the thunderstorm that drove all the birds to the large pond. There were every kind of large and small water bird you could dream of. It was the most amazing scene ... and I truly couldn't believe it. I sat there for a minute in awe. It was at that moment that I knew I would be fine living in Florida. And I was.

It was a 6-year stay and although I'm back in California, to my surprise I really miss Florida. No, of course, I don't miss the humidity and heat in the summer. It is a real bad combination. But you get somewhat used to it. It is Florida's wildlife that I really miss. Fortunately, northern Florida still is relatively untouched as compared to the urbanization of south Florida. In northern Florida you still have to watch out for box turtles as well as other types of turtles as they carelessly wander across roads. I've saved quite a few. In fact, we had our "own" box turtle, which we named Barney. We didn't keep him, but watched him routinely wander across our driveway as he trekked along his territorial route. Evidently having cement poured over his path wasn't enough of a deterrent to decide another route would be better. It was great fun. And I've mentioned the Belted Kingfisher in my "Kookaburra Close Encounter" weblog entry. He was a repeat visitor to our dock.

We lived on the Intracoastal Waterway and had a huge nature preserve across the river and small parcels of undeveloped land on each side of our home. So it was a very natural environment in which the wildlife was comfortable. I remember walking out my front door one evening and looking up into the loquat tree about 3 feet away. There were a couple of little black eyes peeping out. It was a very young opossum. And boy, was he cute. He wasn't afraid and stayed right where he was. I ran for my camera and got several good pictures of him. He was still there watching me as I left the house on my errand.

Another time I was walking past a window on the second story of my house and looked out to find a flock of Cedar Waxwings in that same loquat tree. The loquat fruit attracted them and they were busy devouring all of it. It was the most amazing experience to see these birds from just a few feet away. Because of the window they couldn't see me so I was able to stand there (absolutely transfixed) until they had enough to eat and flew off. I really couldn't get a good count because they were so active flying from one fruit to the next ... but suffice it to say, there were a very large number of them. And the funny thing is they all seemed to have enough to eat at the same time because the flock took off all at once. Or else maybe their leader had enough and was ready to go. I wondered if something had startled them, but found nothing. When they left ... they left for good. And they left me with a memory that will last forever. They are such beautiful birds.

Then there were raccoon families we watched grow up. And I even saw a few snakes crossing our driveway on their way elsewhere. Sometimes they lingered on the warmth of the driveway.. I was always fascinated so would cautiously approach to identify them with reptile book in hand. The only snakes that ever gave me a little fright were the racers. They are harmless, but move very fast ... thus the name. It was the fast movement that caused the momentary instinctual fear. But I got over that, too. Actually, I wish I had kept a diary of all my animal encounters and other wildlife experiences. I'm sorry I didn't, as I know there is a lot I won't recall.

Another memory remains vivid. It is B.E.A.K.S. (Bird Emergency Aid & Kare Sanctuary) in northeast Florida. Open for the public to visit periodically, we took advantage of seeing the great work they do up close and personal. It was on one visit that we were told about Radar. Forgive me for fogetting what species of owl he was. But he was unique, indeed. You see Radar ended up at B.E.A.K.S. because he was born without eyes. And what made him especially unique? He learned to fly to his caretaker from the sound of her voice. Due to the care and love he received in this rehabilitation sanctuary Radar had a decent quality of life. Otherwise, he would certainly have been doomed to death in infancy.

It was at a B.E.A.K.S. fund raiser that we fortunate to win a bid to visit White Oak Plantation. White Oak is a privately owned and operated nature and conservation center in northeast Florida. Six hundred acres of the plantation are dedicated to White Oak Conservation Center where 60 threatened animal species are preserved. Many of these exotic species are associated with the Species Survival Plans coordinated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Using the knowledge gained by studies on these animals, Species Survival Plans are formulated and refined to aid in the preservation of these unusual species. There is another 6500+ acres of pine forest, wetlands and riparian habitat that comprise the balance of White Oak Plantation. What a special privilege it was to visit this incredible, and I might add, very beautiful plantation. There is much to know about White Oak ... perhaps for a future weblog entry.

I met some great people in Florida, too. Some remain friends. One such lady was involved in sea turtle rescue. I witnessed the rescuing of sea turtle eggs, from their beach nests, to save them from being washed away by tropical storms. When the eggs hatched we released them to the sea ... watching the babies scurry into the welcoming ocean waves. Another experience not to be had in southern California, for sure.

And then there were my friends at the bird hospital. They are some of the most special people I've ever known. One of these special ladies has taken in the broken and discarded parrots that people no longer wanted or could care for. If not for people like her ... many of these creatures would have been doomed. But instead are living quality lives with someone who loves them.

My only regret is that I had not discovered
backyard bird feeding while I was in Florida. It's strange that such a bird lover wouldn't have taken advantage of the hobby with such abundant bird life around. But I guess I was just too immersed in my pet birds. Actually, I did become interested just before moving back to California, but there wasn't the time to get started before making the move back to California. But it didn't take me long to begin upon getting re-settled.

Perhaps on another day more memories of Florida's animal world will come flooding back so I can write about them again. I love recalling them and really wouldn't mind returning to Florida if I could continue the up close and personal experiences with it's wildlife again. Hmmm! Who knows what the future might bring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

im from los angeles and moved to miami a year and a half ago. culture shock indeed. i may move back when our lease is up. half the time its paradise, half the time its hell. the place is wonderful but the people are terrible. im on lj and write about it