Thursday, February 2, 2006

True Adventures in Birding #1

Thursday, February 2, 2006
On a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, I was birding along the causeway where all the fisherpeople hang out, white styrofoam bait buckets baking in the hot sun. There were terns and gulls galore flickering in the rather lively breeze and herons and egrets standing around like loitering teenagers. A beautiful gulf coast afternoon and I was 50+ species into a great day of birding.

As I scanned the scrubby habitat on the road's shoulder, just 20 feet from the edge of the inlet, a dark shadow passed overhead, momentarily blotting out the sun. Glancing upward, I saw one, then three, then ten large, prehistoric-looking birds fly low over me and the clot of nearby fisherpeople.

"Hey! Frigatebirds!" I shouted spontaneously to no one in particular. I exclaimed this news in that high, excited voice we birders use when we spot something really great. It sounds equal parts Michael Jackson and someone who just opened their door and saw Ed McMahon holding a large check. (To be fair, I was excited, this was my second-ever frigatebird sighting).

The elderly couple nearest me glanced up from their rods and reels, cigarettes dangling out of two faces covered with five day's growth (yes, his and hers beards). The man, who looked like, if he was here on vacation, it was gonna be a long one, shouted over the wind, "Whadidja say?"

I pointed up, smiling and said "Frigatebirds!"

He replied, "Yeah, I KNOW! I HATE them friggin' birds. They're eatin' up all the feesh!"

His wife, staring wide-eyed at me, nodded slowly but emphatically in agreement. Her giant black, blot-out-all-light sunglasses twinkled in the sun. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on this statement, she flicked her cigarette butt into the water. It landed right next to her bobber.

For a moment I thought to correct him/them, thinking it was my duty as a bird watcher, as a fellow nature appreciator, and as an American. These were magnificent frigatebirds! Man-o-war birds! The acrobatic flying pirates of the sea! These folks deserved to know this incredible species.

Instead, I slunk off to my rental car. I opened the driver's door, sat down, and beat my head against the steering wheel.


On February 3, 2006 at 1:38 PM robin andrea said...

Fantastic bird. I've never seen such a thing. I can't believe someone could see this sight and not be utterly moved by their beauty.
Great photograph.

On February 5, 2006 at 4:14 PM caroline b said...

We are headed to Sanibel in April, hope we are so lucky! Even my husband, the fisherman, will stop and admire.

On April 21, 2007 at 1:20 PM Alton said...

I work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and Frigates are very amazing birds. They spiral amongst each other plummeting to the surface of the water just to pull up in the nick of time. They are very graceful. Great photos! It is rare to see more than 3 or 4 out here at once.