YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsBird

Spending time with big ol' bird

January 07, 1997

Tim Rowland

Herald-Mail Columnist

Fully realizing that this puts me in the same category as some very odd people, I must admit that one of my favorite hobbies is bird watching.

Only half of the hobby is bird watching, really. The other half is watching the people who are watching the birds.

I'm not a fanatic about it; I don't have one of those monopods with the land equivalent of the Hubble telescope so you can categorize the fibers on an evening grosbeak to see whether it may have been involved in the O.J. Simpson case.


But within reason, I like to watch the feathered critters, which is what brought me to the Black Point Wildlife Drive on marshy Merritt Island, which is within sight of the Cape Canaveral shuttle launch site.

I like these touristy drives because there aren't too many hard-core bird watchers and basically everyone is as dumb as I am. If I stop and point my binoculars at a grackle, pretty soon 30 people have exited their vehicles and are intently watching the same bird, which seems startled, like "What are you looking at me for, I'm just a grackle."

I traveled on down the narrow dirt road that wound its way through the swamp, occasionally glancing at the literature. The pamphlet had many bird-related facts, but failed to address my main question, which was "How many people have been so busy looking for birds they have driven into the swamp?"

Eventually I got out of the car and sat out on a grassy dike. The sun was warm, the sky blue and everything was peaceful and quiet. Then, not 10 feet away, a head began to rise, periscope-like, out of a culvert. It was snow-white and long-beaked, with a delicate yellow-green eye that glowed brighter than any jewel.

He was so close I didn't dare move for fear of frightening him. He, however, apparently had no such fear and hopped up on the corrugated metal for a better look. He looked me up, down, all over - as if compiling a mental list of improvements he'd like to make. Instead of moving his head to change perspective during his assessment, he raised and lowered his expansive, gracefully curved neck. He was white from head to tail, and when stretched out he was well over three feet tall.

We communed silently for a few minutes. It was so pretty and peaceful, with a slight breeze gently feathering the grasses of the marsh. A bit further removed a Louisiana heron was calmly watching us.

And that's when I first heard the truck.

It was buzzing up the dirt causeway at a speed much greater than the suggested 25 mph. When it got to the levy where I was sitting it skidded to a dusty stop and out popped two scruffy guys, talking loudly and headed our way.

I figured that was the end of my friend. But he didn't fly; if anything, he seemed more interested in them than he did in me. I guessed these guys were park personnel, they seemed so familiar with the territory.

I'd calculated my friend to be an ibis, and anxiously awaited these guys' verdict to see if I was right. One of them stopped up short when he saw the creature. He examined it carefully before he spat and pronounced it, not an ibis, but a "big ol' bird." It was then I decided these gentlemen were not from the park service.

The big ol' bird looked the guy over and responded with a husky, two-pack-a-day "Grock!" which I think is fowl language for "skinny ol' dork."

Apparently these guys were looking for turtles and finding none they thankfully left.

I eventually left, too. The ibis, being low on appointments that afternoon, seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. Or do anything, save from spearing an occasional minnow.

I saw some neat things and met some neat people on this southern swing, but my best hour was spent alone in the marsh, doing nothing but chewing on grass and hanging out with that big ol' bird.

The Herald-Mail Articles