Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Mysterious East

There are birds in there, somewhere.!

On my first morning in Gainesville, I was awakened by unfamiliar squawks and chirps outside my window. Despite fatigue, jet lag, and the overall stress and misery of moving across the country via multiple connecting flights (a pox on US Airways..), one word jumped into my travel-weary little brain...


I stumbled across the room, fished out my binoculars, and threw open the sliding door leading from my room to a spacious second-story balcony. (Some friends of my sister generously allowed me to crash at their house until my apartment was ready.) Outside was a thick canopy of moss-covered trees, all noisy with birds and buzzing insects--none of which I could locate.

And I couldn't even guess at half the birds I heard. There was something that sounded like a chattering monkey (maybe some kind of oriole?); something that, honest to God, sounded like a tree-dwelling American Wigeon; a weird squeal that I later discovered was a Blue Jay (Florida Lifer #1), and the familiar song of a Northern Cardinal (Florida Lifer #2--since my Talbert Nature Reserve Cardinal was an escapee, he didn't count--but knowing his song definitely helped!)

I knew things would be different out here. The birds are only half of it.

A few random observations, and a few factoids shared by my hosts:

—It is surprisingly easy to find good bread and cheese in Gainesville.
—One is legally required to register one's car in Florida within ten days of moving here. However, the soonest appointment I could get with the DMV to do this is 11 days from now. WTF??
—There is a conspicuous preponderance of okra in all the supermarkets.
—Florida is a major grower and exporter of eggplant.
—Gainesville, according to my hairdresser back in Costa Mesa, is a major center for punk rock.
—It is also has a huge hippie subculture, thus lots of natural food stores with nice vegetables.
—However, the areas outside city limits are distinctly poor and rural, with a heavy Klan presence.
—Therefore, smart-ass "foreign" girls from the university, such as yours truly, are advised not to wander around the back roads outside city limits alone.
—Guess where all the good birding spots are around here?

This is pissing me off because there are tons of birds out here. Fall migration is in full swing here, and even as I write this, the woods on the edges of town are swarming with warblers and other goodies. I e-mailed the local Audubon society and told them I was new to town and looking for birding buddies (who might offer me a degree of protection as well as help with East Coast bird ID). I haven't heard back yet--maybe they don't like us fancy-pants outsiders either?

Oh, and just in time for my arrival in Florida comes the first tropical storm to hit Gainesville in four years. Fay is supposed to hit Gainesville tonight. I've been told (1) not to worry, and (2) to stock up on bottled water and matches. Oh goody.

Florida summer refreshment!

So my move here will not be, as I predicted, a trial by fire, but by wind and water.


Rasta Redneck said...

A heavy Klan presence? Someone's been watching too many movies! (Does the Klan even exist anymore?) Interracial couples are fairly common here and no one thinks much of it. The county outside the city limits has some poor areas, but more middle-class and rich ones. And it's no more dangerous off the beaten path than California is. It's always entertaining to hear someone from out of state expatiating on what face-painting savages and toothless cousin-marrying degenerates we Floridians are. We're pretty much like Californians, except we're in Florida. I hope you like it here, and I think you will, once you get past your preconceptions. To get you started, here's a blog by someone who lives out in that poor, rural area, down one of those dangerous back roads:

Felicia said...

Hey, thanks for the message--you've made me very happy! (And no, it wasn't me that envisioned the Klan presence, but my hosts for my first few days here, who'd been here for about a dozen years...let's hope their knowledge is out of date. I hope you're right, and I think I will like it here, from what I've seen so far. Just lose the ghastly humidity..

And we Californians don't really think of Floridians as face-painting savages. Trust me, our image of you guys is more like Don Johnson in "Miami Vice." Not that this makes you feel any better...

Corey said...

How completely foreign it is to think of a seasoned birder struggling to ID a Blue Jay by its call! I hope you get 25 lifers in your first week . . and that one of them is a Glossy!