Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I've now turned north, and am vaguely heading back to the NorthWoods, except that I'm visiting friends along the way.

I have to say, all the friends I've visited so far are WAY better cooks than I am. New Years special Black-eyed Peas and Cabbage, yum! I'm a fan of regional foods anyway, and have been enjoying grits and cornbread a lot. I also brought some of my own regional food down for my friends (since I talk about eating it on line), and that's gone over well.

I spent yesterday wandering around the Everglades, my first visit. I took a National Parks boat ride. Wow. Royal Terns, White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans. And a Frigate Bird. (I had to get another copy of the eastern Peterson Guide the other day because I'd left mine at home.) I was able to see a Ringed Gull well enough to see that it was a Ringed Gull, but there were other gulls I couldn't figure out from the distance. I'm lousy at gulls all around, but especially eastern ones.

Then I talked to one of the rangers, and she sent me off on a dirt road loop to see some birds, and see birds indeed, I did. I saw Wood Stork (they're impressive just standing around, but when they take flight, just stunning) for the first time, and White Ibis. The immatures confused me for a bit, but a good long look at the Peterson guide helped.

Lots of Great Blue Heron and Turkey Vultures (of course). I love seeing TVs in flight, but they've got faces only a mother could love up close. Other first sightings include Little Blue Heron. I thought for a bit I'd seen a Bittern, but after looking longer, I think it was a Green Heron. And then I saw a couple more Green Heron, so I'm convinced that's what the first one was, too. I think I saw a Black Scoter, but I'm not sure. If anyone out there birds, I'd like to know if they're down in the Everglades, or what else I might have seen. (I'm more familiar with Surf Scoters, but...)

I really liked seeing Anhingas, but I was confused at first with the Cormorants. Then I saw a couple of them near each other, and that helped me see the differences really well. I've seen Belted Kingfisher maybe once before, a quick glimpse of one as a more experienced birder pointed, but I got to stop and sit and look for a while as one sat on an electric wire, and then saw several more over the course of the day, mostly on wires. They tend to fly off fairly quickly if I stopped near, so I stopped a ways back and just watched with the binoculars.

I started remembering the old black legs, black beak vs black legs, orangy beak stuff for the white egrets, and saw some Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets. Seeing them together makes it easy to see the size differences, but across a field, the leg/beak coloration helps me. Are Great Egrets the same species as what I learned as Common Egrets on the west coast in another lifetime? (I should remember to look at my old western Peterson's when I get home.)

The dirt road was a great idea because it wasn't busy at all, and I was able to stop and get out, watch and look in the quiet, alone. I think I saw maybe three cars that passed by, but other than that, it was totally quiet. I think it took me about two hours to cover the 19-20 miles, and it was about as good a two hours as could be.

My big surprise was how few small birds I saw. I saw some light grey looking pigeon shaped birds, but wasn't able to get a good look as the pair flew by.

Other encounters with nature: I saw some alligator. My, they're BIG, especially through binoculars. The warning signs at the turn off of the dirt road said not to approach or feed them. I have to admit, I didn't really need that particular warning!

At one point, when I got back in the car, I started getting all these nasty little shooting pains in one of my legs. I stupidly reached down and scratched, and felt what I thought was a flea or something, and squashed it. Then more nasty little stinging pains, and I actually looked, and my leg was close to covered with ants, all of whom wanted to punish me for stepping too near their place or something. I hopped out of the car and committed what ant murders I could (formicide?), with more and more stinging pains as they got onto my arm. Delightful.

Yes, Bardiac, Nature Buff-et.

Happily, I survived the encounter, not much the worse for wear.

I've finished listening to the WWI book, and Stephen Hawking's The Theory of Everything. There are things I just don't get in physics. If c is constant, then when you picture a black hole, from which photons can't escape, they start being pulled around by the gravitation, so that they don't escape the event horizon. Ok, so I can understand that: they don't slow down, just get pulled by gravity so they curve back around. Here's the thing, though. Hawking says that the trajectories of photons have to be either parallel or moving apart. But when they start curving back at the event horizon, shouldn't they start moving toward each other and collide?

Anyway, so if one got inside an event horizon (and survived a moment), you'd see a very bright environment, so to speak? (Except, of course, you'd also be dead from gravity and even if you weren't, couldn't get a message of any sort out, or escape yourself.)

It was a fascinating book to listen to as I drove.

I also listened to Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, which was depressing. We academics often talk about how difficult our job market is (which it is), and how hard it is that so many PhDs never get academic jobs. But Ehrenreich's book makes the whole middle class career thing seem pretty dismally uncertain. It's not just PhuDs who have career difficulty.

Now I'm listening to Rushdie's Shalomar the Clown. So far, so good!

That's it from just north of the Everglades, slowly heading back to snow country. For now, I think I'm the only person in the state driving around with snow boots and a snow shovel in the back of my car.


  1. I liked Shalimar, so I am interested in what you think about it!!!

  2. My husband is from Florida, and we try to return there at least once a year. I have to say that bird watching in here in the mountains is nice, but there, oh there we get to see so many of the big birds. One year, we were driving down the busy busy freeway, and I saw a bird on a sign, huge bird and I made Mr. Zelda turn around. I got out the binoculars, he got out the camera, and while cars zoomed past at 90 or so miles per hours, we watched an eagle rest his wings and then after a moment, he took off. It was as magnificent there as it is when we watch them fly from the cliffs of the White River, here in the mountains of Arkansas. Such beauty. I also like to watch the pelicans. I know they are stinking birds but they are so huge and friendly. We spent about an hour watching a gopher, a huge turtle, cross the road. All the traffic stopped as it slowly went from one side of the road to the other. It was amazing. This summer, we are going to spend a week or two in the Keys. I plan on doing some heavy writing, he plans on doing some heavy fishing. We can't wait. Hope you get to see an Eagle on a sign. Unfortunately, the picture that Mr. Zelda took didn't show the bird, but did show the words Topless, Topless, Topless. Next Exit. Maybe the people passing thought we were looking at the sign because of the half naked girls. Oh My Gods, I didn't even think of that until now. Arkansas tags, middle aged man and woman looking, with binoculars and camera, at a sign of half naked girls. That's it!

  3. I forgot to mention in the post, but did see several Osprey on nests on the boat trip, and one in flight stooping (or is it bating?).

    I lived for a while not too far from the Mississippi River in Illinois; during midwinter, the lock and dam area not so far away was still relatively free of ice, and I'd go watch literally hundreds of Bald Eagles perching, flying, hunting at the river. It's a truely awe-inspiring sight.

    I like Pelicans, too. They're just such goofy looking birds. Like Toucans, they just look like they really shouldn't be able to fly, all front heavy and awkward-seeming.