Sunday, August 31, 2008
This weather here makes everyone wet and sticky.
I should be having a whale of a time. I'm in a birding paradise, in a small and easy-to-navigate town where people actually drive sanely, and fall migration is in full swing, with the promise of dozens more lifers just outside the door. But most of the time the very idea of going outside repulses me.
Why? It's sticky here.
Not just slightly humid, the way it was in central Orange County for most of the summer. Not just a bit hot. I'm talking 90-degrees with 90% humidity sticky. Walk-to-the-mailbox-and-return-90-seconds-later-drenched-in-sweat sticky. And I don't even want to talk about how I must look to my students after walking across campus from my office to the lecture hall.
I am miserable, and everyone else around here looks dry, well-groomed and happy. "Welcome to Florida," they say sweetly whenever I mention the weather. "Don't worry, by November, it'll be really nice out."
Compounding the misery are the mosquitos. Yup, they exist back in the OC. But not in the mind-blowing density that they do here. And I am cursed with a taste mosquitos crave.
Last week, I came back from Palm Point Park with five ping-pong-ball-sized welts on my left arm. So when I set out with my local birding mentor today, I made a point of slathering myself with bug repellant. This worked for about an hour, until we hit the Bolen Bluff trail at Paynes Prairie State Park, a usually reliable spot to find migrating warblers.
We only got two—an American Redstart (these are common here), and an Ovenbird (a lifer for me). But I did see swarms of mosquitoes in concentrations previously unimaginable to me. OC birders are familiar with the swarms of non-biting gnats lingering over the front ponds at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Imagine those swarms at about twice that density, then turn them into aggressively buzzing and biting mosquitoes. In 90 degrees of nearly liquefied air.
There probably were tons of birds out there, but I was too itchy and panicked to see or hear most of them. (Besides, it's hard to hear any birds over the constant drone of mosquitoes.) I did hear something that I swore sounded like a Bell's Vireo, but perhaps I was subconsciously homesick for some nice, dry, coastal sage scrub, and thus hallucinating.
The other factor making birding such a sticky proposition are the large number of spiders, many of which build huge webs across trails, just at face level:
This is a Golden Silk Spider, and is just as big as it looks—its body is over an inch long. It gets its name from the yellow web it weaves, which is strong enough to catch birds. I accidentally walked through one such web yesterday, and found myself ensnared in sticky yellow strands with a thickness and texture somewhere between dental floss and Silly String. Thankfully, these spiders are not venomous, and not aggressive towards people—but the moment I got home, I threw my clothes into the hamper and jumped into the shower.
Despite all this, I managed to get a few lifers this weekend: White Ibises, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Chickadees, and Eurasian Collared-Doves. I should be happy and grateful—and I am—but I'm also hot and itchy. And worried about contracting malaria. And sticky.
But some of the birders are going out again tomorrow morning to look for fall migrants, and have invited me along. And I'm going.