‘Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house…oops, sorry wrong story.
It was indeed the day before Christmas and yes, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but if you went all through the house, you would quickly discover no one was home. That is because my wife Ann and I have a long-standing tradition of spending that special day on Sanibel Island. It began way back in the early seventies when we lived in Sarasota and we have managed to keep it alive through the years with the exception of a period when my company had transferred me to Texas and then Virginia.
When the tradition began, we would rise early and spend over two hours in the car driving from Sarasota to Sanibel Island. Once we arrived, we would enjoy a full day of sightseeing, have dinner, and then head home at dusk. That was a special time and seeing all the Christmas lights aglow on the trip home was the perfect end to a perfect day.
It would be nice if we could pick and choose our “Groundhog Days” where things would remain the same forever, but unfortunately, that only happens in the movies. Things change with time and circumstances and our tradition was no exception to that rule. When we returned to Florida, we settled farther south so what used to be a two hour trek to get to Sanibel is now a half hour jaunt. Because of that, we now spend a great deal of time on the Island and the uniqueness of those early trips has given way to our jaunts just becoming another everyday occurrence. Now add the fact that we’ve both retired from the work force and are not the early risers that we used to be, and you can see how that would tend to somewhat alter our little tradition.
This year was going to be different. I had decided we would revert to the original tradition and spend the whole day on Sanibel Island…yeah, right. We both came down with colds just before the holidays, so when the special day arrived there was no real enthusiasm to rise with the chickens. Long about one o’clock in the afternoon we finally headed for Sanibel. On the way to the Island, between the sneezes and coughs, it was decided that we would make one pass through the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and then head back home.
As is our custom, we spent some time chatting with the person at the Refuge entry. They are always interesting to talk with and can usually tell you if there is anything unique to see that day. We wished her a Merry Christmas and headed into the Refuge. Although it is the season of giving, we were hoping we did not give her our colds.
The first thing we noticed was the tide was approaching the high mark. The best time to view “critters” is at low tide so we did not anticipate seeing a large variety of birds. As we neared the first large open area, I noticed a grouping of white pelicans. Although brown pelicans are year-round residents, the white species only appear during the winter months. White pelicans are considerably larger than their brown cousins are, but it is my opinion that brown pelicans are more interesting to watch. White’s tend to spend the vast majority of their time swimming around scooping up fish, preening, and sleeping…well, there is also the issue of getting rid of the fish they ate but we will not go there. Brown’s seem to be more active and there’s also that neat Kamikaze dive they make to catch a fish not to mention they’re more creative in getting rid of the fish they ate…they can make a dead center hit on a tourists head from a hundred feet in the air.
As I walked to the other side of the drive to see if there was anything interesting, I met a man who was there with his wife and kids. He was asking me questions about the Refuge and some of the birds we were seeing, which I was doing a decent job of answering. Suddenly he pointed to a bird and gave me the old “What’s that?” Even though I know the names of many species, there are also a lot that I have no idea what they are called. The one he was pointing to fell into the latter category. Trying to maintain my dignity, I said “Why that’s a duck”, hey it had a wide bill and reminded me of Donald so what the heck. His next question was “What kind of duck?”…ugh, did you ever feel like you just cannot win? Needless to say, I had to fess up and tell him I did not know the species. I snapped a picture and would do some research to find its name when I got home. Therefore, Adam, if you are reading this I was right, it was a “duck”, just not Donald Duck, more like a mottled duck.
As we continued our conversation, I was surprised to find out that Adam was a Vet…no, no, not that kind of Vet, he was a Veterinarian. Not only that, but he lives a short distance from where I was born and raised. Since I have already hit you with “Donald Duck”, I guess it is appropriate to say, “It’s a small world after all”. Hah, I hear you singing that song. You know you are going to be singing it all day long.
As we were chatting, we watched a tricolored heron land on the rocks near the spillway. It hardly had a chance to settle in and along came a snowy egret, which in a rather noisy manner chased the heron away. During the remainder of our conversation, we watched the interaction between the squatter heron and the de facto landowner repeat itself over and over. They were still at it when I left to continue up the road.
“The Squatter” – Tricolored Heron
“The De Facto Land Owner” – Snowy Egret
Just up the road, we came upon an immature little blue heron. Many people mistakenly write this bird off as another one of those snowy egrets, but they are not even close. Well, yeah, they are both white, I will give you that much. What is interesting about the little blue heron is that it starts out its life as a white bird and in about a year morphs to its normal blue color…how cool is that?
As we continued on, I heard the all too familiar “Stop, back up!” This time it was accompanied by “There’s something small and furry in the bushes”. Knowing that Ann, “old eagle eyes”, does a good job of finding neat things I hit the brakes and shifted into reverse. I had to struggle to see it and when I did, I really was not sure what I was seeing. It was a ball of fur, maybe a foot or so in length. Now, I have been around wild “critters” a lot and I am a devout coward about getting too close. After all, they are indeed wild animals and you never know what they are going to do when you invade their territory. I was about three feet away when this little head popped up…it was a raccoon, a very young raccoon. Raccoons on Sanibel Island have evolved away from being nocturnal creatures. It is quite common to see them out during daylight hours feeding on Strangler Figs or out on the tidal flats feeding on crustaceans. Since we were now moving toward high tide, I have to assume someone had a belly full of “good things to eat” and was now “sawing zzzz’s”. I do not believe it was sick although it did have some wetness around its eyes.
My final shots were of a reddish egret. Ann always refers to them as, “those Italian birds”, I guess because of their “slicked-back hairdo”…er, a…I guess that should be “slicked-back featherdo”. I am still trying to figure that one out.
After a pleasant time in Sanibel, we headed home to get ready for the fat guy’s visit. Based on past experiences, I knew I would need a large shovel to clean the reindeer poop off the roof and the cordless hand vacuum to pick up the slobs cookie crumbs. Then there is the issue of the sooty footprints and spilled milk stains on the carpet. I guess I will have to rent a carpet cleaner to make those disappear. This summer I am definitely going to brick over the fireplace. The fat guy can do what everyone else does…use FedEx for his deliveries.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about everything you asked Santa for, showing up under the tree on Christmas morning. That might just be a step up from this story.
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, when you’re up on the roof taking the Christmas lights down, be careful you don’t slip on the reindeer poop.
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