|Part of the Third Thursday crowd stretched along La Chua Trail|
|Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland.|
Let me clarify something that I glossed over in my previous blog. My intent was NOT merely to plug in a mid-week birding experience here and there. Rather, I wanted to build something that would be both a birding AND a social experience. I really like the birders in Gainesville, and the retired birders in the area are such great people. Yet, unless I did a weekend field trip, I rarely saw them. And aside from one or two Audubon-sponsored social events, I never saw them in a non-birding context. I wanted to fix that.
|A bubbling spring feeding the Suwannee River at SRSP|
Some of it worked out better than others. I picked out more of the birding destinations than I wanted, but not all. Others in the group suggested restaurants, but I ended up making the call. I guess that was to be expected, and I'm fine with it. In fact, I think the whole experience was fantastic, and I'm eagerly looking forward to repeating it next year. Why? Judge for yourself. Here are some of those moments I mentioned above:
|Sweetwater Sheetflow Project|
|Looking pretty on the prairie|
•Minutes after I met Jim and Lil O'Donnell, I was chatting away with them like we were old friends. Were they really that nice and easy to get along with? Well, actually, yes. They're great people. But we also share another connection that came to light when we discovered our joint connection to northeastern Pennsylvania where I was born and raised. What a pleasure to talk about home with people who have been there.
•My birding life flashed before my eyes as I watched my Leica Televid scope topple over and smack into the gravel at Circle B Bar Reserve. Silently, I uttered one blistering cuss after another at myself. How could I be so careless? And then relief when I saw that the optics were just fine. A piece of the plastic was a bit out of alignment, but no serious damage done. Thank you, God!
|The Withlacoochee as it joins the Suwannee at SRSP|
•I laughed out loud as I listened to Lee Yoder and Bill Pennewell toss playful insults back and forth at each other during lunch at Peach Valley in Gainesville. They reminded me so much of my brothers, especially of my oldest brother who teased me unmercifully - but always in a way that let me know it was in fun and never hurtful. The same was true for Lee and Bill - all in good fun and no harm intended or done. They were just funny, and I soaked it up.
•I had no idea where to eat in Lakeland. I was completely at a loss. Up stepped Howard Adams with a link to TripAdvisor that forever changed my way of searching for somewhere to eat.
•The frustration leading up to the January trip was getting a little intense. The destination was still an active construction zone, and we were told that all participants had to wear safety vests. They had 10 we could use. We had 37 birders coming. Even my math skills were sufficient to suggest we might have a problem brewing. Then Debra Segal stepped up and got a bunch. Next Bubba Scales at Wild Birds Unlimited chipped in a few more. Soon other people wrote to me offering us the use of their extra vests, and others who weren't planning to attend sent me theirs just to help out. Birders are just good people! And then the night before the event the construction company backed off and said no vests were needed. I thought some bad words. The next morning as the group gathered in a Winn-Dixie parking lot, I was greeted by Charlene Leonard who had baked some orange muffins for me to say thanks. All was good again.
|Alachua Sink on Paynes Prairie|
•The first bird on the La Chua trip was a Barn Owl in her nest. So as not to disturb her, we backed off and used my scope to try to peak into the nest. We were rewarded with a clear view of a beautiful bird. Slowly, we got everyone a moment with my scope and all participants saw her. As the last person walked away, I decided to take one more look for myself. Suddenly I was calling to everyone. "Holy Lord above!! There's a baby in there! No ... there are two of 'em!! Get back here!!" People scrambled back and those who were closest got to see at least one of the cutest little owlets I've ever seen. Momma soon pushed them down and away from view, but I felt really blessed and sent a quick prayer skyward in thanks.
•And when my oldest brother passed away near the end of February, it was hitting the birding trail with this same group that helped me out. Talking with Rick Drummond and Santiago Salazar on the drive to Suwannee River State Park; getting teased by John Hintermister for my complete lack of knowledge about trees; hearing Mercedes Panqueva and Santiago talk about their homelands of Columbia and Ecuador; tearing into a terrific meal at All Decked Out in Live Oak and thinking, "Life is good" - all of these things helped me stop cursing the stars and start thanking God for the many wonderful things and people that fill my life.
So this has been an extraordinary experience. I think I took far more from it than I put into it. The April trip is coming up soon, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen.
|That's me on the left. My theory is to lead from behind.|
|"Are you lookin' at me? Are YOU looking at ME?"|
|"Hey dude, can ya do this?"|
|"Giddy up, horse! I ain't got all day!"|
|"I do love frog legs for dinner. Don't you?"|