It all started with two birds way the hell across the lake…
Even using a 400mm lens, the viewfinder showed me nothing but two dark specs perched atop half-submerged branches. I might as well have been looking at a bit of spilled pepper on a blue tablecloth.
Still, I snapped a few images because I already knew I was looking at less conventional fare. Only when I viewed the photos full-size the next day was I able to see the birds more clearly, and only then did these black terns (Chlidonias niger) finally have a name.
It’s a shame I didn’t have a 1200mm lens with me. For that matter, it’s a shame I don’t have a 1200mm lens period. Oh to be rich…
Even as I stood hoping beyond hope that I might get a decent picture of the terns, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) flitted up beside me to enjoy a nectar breakfast. A leaf-footed bug joined it momentarily but proved too fleeting for an image.
For that matter, the small butterfly sipped its liquid nourishment for only a handful of seconds before darting off into the bright morning sky. I suppose the two insects quickly escaped in response to me hopping about and fussing vehemently after discovering I was standing in a pile of coyote droppings.
Needless to say, I dragged my feet for some distance trying to dislodge the smelly hitchhiker attached to the bottom of my shoe.
While checking the progress of my cleaning effort, I spied something of interest lurking about near shore yet distant from the trail that carried so many joggers and cyclists. I tried to ignore the pungent cloud that encompassed me so I could sneak up on this latest discovery.
Little more than a stone’s throw separated me from this green heron (Butorides virescens). The verdant hues of its plumage melded with the southern watergrass (Hydrochloa caroliniensis) surrounding it.
And I wondered if it could smell me, smell the horrid guest still clinging to the bottom of my shoe. I certainly could…
Something about the mysterious nature of green herons intrigues me, beguiles me, captivates me. Secretive they are, stealthy yet evident, boisterous whilst disinterested in attention. Only when a second green heron flew in to cause trouble did this one flee the scene.
I was so close…
With horrid stench in tow, I moved on.
Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) remain ubiquitous here. Painted and softshell and snapper turtles join them, along with a host of other tortoises, but this one proudly grabbing some rays on a log epitomized the pedestrian nature of these reptiles: They’re everywhere!
I knelt in the wet grass to watch it. That unfortunately put me in a position to smell the full weight of the reek stalking me from beneath my sneaker.
How can one man walk such a distance without losing the coyote sign he stepped in long ago? Such questions vex me.
When a lumbering giant dragged his fatigued dog too close, the slider lived up to its namesake and vanished with nary a gesture. I scarcely heard the timid splash before realizing my eyes rested on an empty log. Amazing how they do that.
Sick of my own smell, I moved on—scraping my foot all the way.
It didn’t take long before I stood near one of the many jumbles of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) growing along the lake’s edge. The bulbous flowers smell of treats for children, and wafting on the air to taste of this splendor are many insects.
Sonoran bumble bees (Bombus sonorus [sometimes Bombus pensylvanicus sonorus]), like all their kith and kin, dart about with drunken abandon, flitting from bloom to bloom sans concern for the world of men. All they care for is filling their pollen sacs so they can return to the nest as providers, unsung heroes in the world of insects.
Even as I watched them, I came to realize I didn’t stink. Well, at least not as much. In fact, one could have said at the time that my pungent aroma was distant, aloof perhaps.
Not that this syrphid fly (Palpada vinetorum) cared either way. Right next to the ravenous bumbling leviathans, this fly-looking-like-not-a-fly hunkered down and played quiet. Known to me by sight yet not by name…
At some point during my walk I realized my attention was nothing short of lacking. Several hours walking and several hours of seeing little.
So I turned and headed toward home.
Along bamboo-encompassed walkways I strolled. People came and went, faces melded with sun and shadow, voices danced silently on the wind.
Then I noticed it behind a woman pushing a stroller. She never even knew it was there.
Its breathing writ in the language of sleep, this fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) opened its eyes only when I stopped nearby, its gaze focused on me and me alone.
How long had it rested unseen so near the walkway? One needed but to turn toward the bamboo to be a single breath from it. Atop earth that matched its plumage and before shadow that hid its life, this babe had gone the entire morning without being seen by the legion of people wandering by.
I could have reached out and touched it. I could count the reflections in its eyes. I could see the intricacies of its feathers as molting gave way from a child’s garment to that of an adult.
Not wishing to disrupt it more than I already had, I took a picture or two before moving on. My attention would draw that of others, others who would not share my appreciation and respect, others who would feel indifference at endangerment.
Besides, I felt joy at the lack of smell. Suddenly I felt less putrid. Amazing what a bunch of wet grass can do.