Monday, November 15, 2010

Failure To Launch

A late breakfast at the Viera Wetlands.

Florida both sucks and rocks. On the sucky side are sticky 100-degree summers, man-eating mosquitos, and a political climate that would make most Third World banana republics look like Switzerland. Honest to God, the stuff in Carl Hiasaen's novels is not exaggeration.

On the upside, there's an ecosystem like none other in the US -- third-magnitude springs seemingly behind every bush, a dizzying inventory of dragonflies and butterflies, and of course, tons of birds, including several species not found anywhere else in the US. And a couple weekends ago, Glenn and I spent an excellent weekend looking at them.

It started with what used to be a routine event: the scheduled launch of the Space Shuttle, another wonderful and purely Floridian thing. Once upon a time, I had been a technical writer on the Space Shuttle program (it's not nearly as exciting as it sounds) and always felt a bit of pride whenever one of those things went up. Over time, I stopped looking for announcements of upcoming launches. But now the program was coming to an end, and this would be the second-to-last scheduled flight. Glenn thought it would be fun to photograph a space launch, we were only a two-hour drive from Cape Canaveral -- so off we went.

We knew, too, that the launch was likely to be delayed or cancelled--it almost always has been as of late. But even if this happened, there were still birds to see in the area. Lots of birds.

The launch two Fridays ago (a re-try from failed attempts on Wednesday and Thursday) was scheduled for 3:00. So we left Gainesville before sunrise and planned to spend the morning at the Viera Wetlands, about half an hour south of our planned launch viewing site in Titusville. At Viera, two potential life birds for both of us -- a Snail Kite and a Great Cormorant --had been reported, and even better, both had been making regular appearances over the past week or so.

We got to the Viera Wetlands at 9:00 and I immediately felt an alien sensation: cold. It was REALLY cold. Back in Gainesville, temperatures had been in the mid-eighties until a few days earlier, and it did not occur to me to bring a jacket. For that matter, I had totally forgotten that I even owned such an object, and after about half an hour, I found myself digging through my overnight bag (we were spending the night with Glenn's photographer friend Harry) and putting the second shirt that I had bought over the one I was wearing. Never mind that they weren't in even remotely harmonious colors and one of them had stripes and one of them a print. I was COLD.

This was one of those times I was glad I don't have kids: they would have been humiliated.

But thankfully, the wetlands were nearly free of other people, except for a few retiree birders, who generally have no business lecturing others about their fashion choices. And there were a lot of birds: within fifteen minutes of our arrival, we got great looks at two birds that almost never appear in our area, only a two-hour drive away: a pair of Caracaras and a noisy exhibitionist Limpkin.

And after about two hours of searching, we found the Snail Kite!

This bird was either an adult female or a juvenile. Still, it was distinctive and cool, and a new bird for both of us. Glenn called Harry to let him knew we'd arrived and found the Kite, and he told us the shuttle launch had been (unsurprisingly) scrubbed because of technical issues. But we no longer cared: this gave us more time to look for birds.

After a pleasant lunch chez Harry, he drove with us back to the wetlands to look for the Great Cormorant--who was exactly where Harry had said it would be:

After getting our Great Cormorant, we took another spin through the wetlands to get more looks at the Snail Kite. Then we headed back to Harry's place, where he showed off his cooking skills and his new barbecue by grilling up a raft of enormous steaks.

And it no longer mattered that the Space Shuttle launch had been scotched once again. We got two life birds, a splendid dinner, and a long evening with good friends. What more can one want?


Hilke Breder said...

I enjoyed reading your post, Felicia. Congrats on getting two life birds. By the way mixing stripes and prints, and whatever, is very much "in" among the cognoscenti :-)

Felicia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen said...

Great story-telling as always! That Snail Kite photo is wonderful- I've never see one. Fashion be damned!

Anonymous said...

We almost went to the non-event shuttle launch! We tossed the idea around and ultimately ended up not going, so I was thrilled to read your report of much the same trip.

Where in Titusville were you intending to view the launch? We were afraid we'd get stuck for hours afterwards, sitting in traffic, having seen nothing but a streak in the sky.

Felicia said...

Jen--Thanks! The Snail Kite was worth the trip, and he/she didn't seem to care what I was wearing!

G365--We really didn't have a specific strategy in mind for seeing the launch--we were thinking of this little park off the main road through Titusville, which is nearly directly across the water from the launch pad. I learned afterwards that this area is quite a zoo on launch days--probably just as well we didn't go. Maybe next time!

Felicia said...

Hilke--Correcting a typo in my original comment: I'm glad to finally be on the leading edge of the fashion curve--ha, ha!

dAwN said...

Hee hee..funny post! Great birds to boot! Would love to see those two birds..hope they stick around till we get there in January:)

dAwN said...

Howdee..sent you an email via your blog..let me know if it got thru..thanks..dawn

Felicia said...

Hi Dawn--Yes, I got your e-mail (thanks!) and thanks again for dropping by. Let me know when you'll be in north-central Florida again--maybe the Groove-billed Ani will still be here (he was still around as of last Sunday).

Harold Stiver said...

Its never a bad day when you get a lifer or two. Well done!!

Felicia said...

Harold--Yes, it was an excellent day!