Voices for Biodiversity

Beach Mornings

Here on my sliver of Covid-cleared beach, among the tracks of crabs and the prints of plovers and scattered scraps of human carelessness, a larger story of wonder and waste is opening. It’s one we live with every day and too often ignore, because it is mostly too big or too small to see or too slow to come or too sudden to make a pattern.

Waiting for a safe moment to go home to the NYC area, I am temporarily living on the west coast of Florida near Sarasota, three blocks from an open stretch of beach, closed to non-residents, that is being visited by sea turtle mothers, large, huge and beginner, who build nests, real and decoy. To get there, I pass the edge of a barely used golf course that is often a grazing ground for birds — ibis, egrets, herons, spoonbills, ducks, swans and the ubiquitous gulls and crows. The pelicans stick to the beaches and docks.

Yesterday was thrilling! Had my first sighting ever of a wood stork grazing along the edge of a water hazard while a golfer at a tee nearby kept topping the ball again and again. Then, 15 feet off the beach, a manatee! Rarely seen so close to shore in this part of the Gulf, temporarily freed by COVID-19 from the curse of reckless speedboaters. A big blob in the almost clear water and gentle surf, the manatee swam deliberately and quickly, for a manatee, in a straight line toward the narrow pass connecting the Gulf with Sarasota Bay, where these days they gather in the warm waters to graze natural vegetation and leafy garbage.

Off shore, six dolphins slipped between and around a small group of fishing boats. Which group attracted the other to that spot, I do not know, but there was certainly plenty of fish for the taking — at least for a half hour or so. Then the boats and the dolphins moved on as a swarm of gull scouts was madly diving a few hundred yards further on toward the horizon.

Around 8:30, I saw the most amazing sight of all — four frigate birds, pirates of the sky, creating glorious calligraphy, soaring high above the sea before sailing down for a closer look. I have not seen them in many years, since visiting the Galapagos. Their enormous wings, their forked tail feathers, their perfect shape, their red pouch. You just have to watch until they are too high or too far to see. Where did they come from? Where do they go?

Alas, my little camera isn’t good enough to photograph even one of the surprises mentioned above.

I walk to the beach before 8 AM and the wet heat of the day. I observe the ordinary happenings of nature: changes in the tide, the depositing of shells on the beach, the breeze (when there is one), the occasional fog rolling in and out, the visiting birds and the erosion of the hugely-expensive-to-replenish sand. My usual morning excitement is seeing new divots in the sand made by female sea turtle flippers. Their tracks lead from the sea to new nests on the edge of the dunes and there are now dozens of nests on this beach. The babies are beginning to hatch and race for the sea in the dark of night.

Mostly, I enjoy the experience of walking. The wandering mind, the strengthening legs, and the discovery of small things, natural and alien. The everyday ordinary, sitting in plain sight, is alive with natural art and animal grace. I carry my fixed lens mirrorless camera and shoot whatever speaks to me.

I am drawn to the endless calligraphy of sea grass and the ripples left in the sand from high tides. The prancing shorebirds and the skittering crabs trying to escape them. The occasional decaying bird or fish. And the junk, mostly plastic, decidedly human. Not bags and cans, cigarette butts or leftover food. They are too well behaved around here to leave garbage. But they, like most of us, can be unconsciously careless. The junk tends to be small and often colorful, more a metaphor than a desecration.

I look up from the dunes and the birds at the vastness of the sky and see the world whole. Not the big blue marble, but a living and dying organism. A cacophony of natural and human-made forces. I imagine these trinket-size bits of human castoffs on a world scale. Billions of them. The least of our offenses.

Walking on the sand back to the path home, a rainbow! And where it brushed the sea? A fishing boat.

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