Monday, January 23, 2006

Afternoon in the Tidewaters

On the morning of the second day, we went to Waffle House. (Actually, we went there for breakfast every day, but that's another story.) And when Ben was done with his waffles and Trudy was done with her fried eggs and grits and I was done with my cheesy eggs and pork chops, we got up to pay the bill.

You heard, didn't you?

Four people were seated next to the cash register, and they all had VIP badges hanging from their necks just as we did. They were looking up at us with serious expressions on their faces.

You heard that they scrubbed the launch, didn't you? said the woman closest to us.

We hadn't heard, and frankly we weren't willing to take their word for it. We had come this far, and it was hard to imagine how we'd kick ourselves if we took their word for it and it turned out to be wrong. So we thanked them but drove to the visitor's center anyway, where we were promptly informed that the launch had been scrubbed.

Although the rain from the night before was gone and the sky was a cloudless blue, the cold front had hit Baltimore hard, and the science center was running on backup power. You don't launch when your systems are already running on backup power. So they scrubbed. And we got a day off.

Leaving the world of rockets and interplanetary spacecraft, we spent the day at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. As it turned out, we ended up being rushed for time and only got part of the afternoon, but that also is another story. In any event, our afternoon there was time well spent. We checked out a pair of 7x binoculars from the ranger station and took a long, slow driving tour along a dirt road thru the mud flats and hammocks of the refuge.

You should have seen us when we came across two Roseate Spoonbills.

There they were standing in shallow water sweeping their bills back and forth thru the water, periodically tossing their heads back in the air. The sunlight was dancing on the ripples of water stirred up by the wind, and it illuminated the birds in a way no words or picture can capture.

The pink of their plumage was a gentle pastel. A dark streak of fuchsia ran down their sides. And sometimes when they turned their tails to the wind, the breeze ruffled their feathers and the sunlight shined thru, making them glow in the afternoon light.

Left and right, left and right, they worked their greenish bills thru the water, oblivious to our presence only 30 yards away. And it's not like we were being subtle; we were plastered to the windows. Ben was snapping pictures as Trudy and I at first gawked in silence, and then began offering photo advice.

Take that picture.

Take a picture now!

From the outside, we must have been a sight to see, although the Spoonbills didn't especially seem to care.

Behind the Spoonbills, there were black Koots with white beaks. And there were Brown Pelicans flying in formation overhead and landing in the tidewaters. There were Great Blue Herons and Green Herons and Tricolored Herons. And there were Cattle Egrets and Snowy Egrets. There were White Ibis. There were Ospreys flying overhead and Ospreys perched on poles and limbs. And there was a Bald Eagle nest large enough for a double bed in a pine tree far in the distance.

But the Spoonbills. It was the Spoonbills who slew us on that afternoon in the tidewaters.

And we plan to go back someday.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

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