Holding on with sticky pad feet outside my door, the vigilant gekko prepares for an active evening. The ones that live outside my door in South Florida come alive at night. They hover near the lights where moths and other insects are drawn. As I walk up the apartment steps, I see about one gekko on watch per door. They work alone and are apparently territorial.
In a cold snap, gekkos will try to get into the house to wait for the air to warm outside. It doesn’t happen very often, but I keep watch to make sure they get out of the house alive. One time, I was sure that a gekko watched my steps and ran out along side me as I opened the door to leave. That’s when it first occurred to me that these reptiles had more intelligence than I gave them credit for.
Meeting Rick West was like meeting a phenomenon of nature itself. The boyish enthusiasm and energy permeated his 80-something body. A restless and exacting man arrived at our apartment at around 6:30 one Saturday morning in May a couple of years ago. We were about to go on a bird observation and count in my general neighborhood.
Who is Rick West? He is a bird-enthusiast and former chemist out of Tallahassee, Florida who holds a claim to fame of championing the Delaware State bird atlasing some years back. When we met, he was in the driver seat to do the same in his native Florida. A bird never had a more relentless friend and advocate than Rick.
How did Rick arrive from Tallahassee to my neck of the woods (Everglades) to do a bird count? My youngest daughter met him in Tallahassee while attending Florida State University. She was doing medical volunteer work, and encountered Rick. In conversation, he learned where she grew up, and he shared his interest in birds. She mentioned her mother was “interested” in birds. Rick was looking for amateurs in this part of Florida for the records he was collecting.
Before I knew it, I had a three inch thick book from Rick titled “Birds of Delaware” and a laminated parking pass to show that I had special parking permissions for the task I agreed to take on. Bird atlasing is a counting of species observed in certain areas during non-migratory parts of the year. I gave myself a crash course on the species that I might observe. I had to ratchet up my “interest” to a reasonably informed observer in my neighborhood.
Months before Rick arrived at our doorstep, I visited endless parks and nature spots in about a 10 mile area. I wanted to at least be able to show him where the various species were observed by me. This paid off in dividends.
When Rick arrived, I think he and his grandson were surprised that my daughter and I had mapped out the route to observe the birds. It was an efficient plan to move methodically around the area and hit the spots when the birds were most likely to be observable and abundant. Rick timed himself for about three minutes at each of a dozen sites, observed and listened, noting his observations on a clipboard. He had a GPS drop of each location he made observations on.
He wanted to hit the everglades before about 10 a.m. The plan was to hike out on the dike about one mile in. We were in search of a yellow-throated warbler (or was it yellow-rumped)?! Anyway, it was a bird that there was concern about. We did manage to see one in a bush. Along the way, we saw red-winged blackbirds. Living only about two miles from that spot, I was surprised I hadn’t seen any outside of the preserve zone. Rick said it had to do with spraying that is done. That species eats the insects that the insecticides kill in developed areas.
Along the way, we passed an alligator about 20 feet below the dike and the footpath. My daughter and I were reluctant to pass, but Rick kept trudging. “My mother taught us not to be afraid of wildlife that doesn’t see us as food.” We weren’t so sure, but kept following Rick anyway.
Our bird observation day gave us sightings of ibis, herons, purple gallinules, crows, mockingbirds, shrikes, cardinals and a few other species. I learned that ordinary observers can contribute to the greater good when matched with leadership like Rick’s. As we came out of the everglades area, we had to squeeze under and through a fenced area. We asked Rick if he needed any assistance. “I’m not planning on using my age card any time soon,” was his response. No kidding.
When I was little, my father killed a red fox because of a fear it could be rabid. I remember it came out at dusk behind our barn where we had some food scraps composting. Foxes will behave that way normally.
Others find foxes ruthless because they kill chickens. I’m sure I would be heartbroken if I owned chickens and the foxes snatched them. I know many farmers are very clever with fences and coops.
If I had a farm, I might compost food material far away from my house or contain it well. Cats and small dogs might need to stay inside mostly. I’ve read that foxes are quite smart and a bit on the lazy side. They’ll find food in the easiest way that they can.
Let’s think twice about how we can safely co-habitate with wildlife. Foxes are predators of other wildlife you might find even more bothersome.
Last night I dreamed I was running with the wild animals. We had a common purpose and I wasn’t afraid.
Last night, I saw an opossum lurking in front of the apartment’s dumpster. At first glance, it looked like a cat. In our city, we have the Sawgrass Nature Center and Wildlife Hospital to help sick or injured wildlife. This little marsupial looked rather healthy, however.
Kindness to animals is a good habit to cultivate and share with children. Building designs for cohabitation are a worthwhile effort. Being employed in the “build” industry has increased my awareness.
I hope to learn more about this precious animal and its contribution to our natural world. Check out links below.
On the grounds of the Coral Springs Museum of Art, a 7,000-tile ceramic relief mural graces the grounds. Created by clay artist Jan Kolenda, and dedicated in 2012, it is titled “Imagine Florida.” One side depicts the ocean reef to the beach; side two highlights the hardwood hammocks to the Everglades. It is designed as a scroll, and two quotations grace an end:
“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known.” – Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“Wilderness to me is a spiritual necessity.” – Clyde Butcher.
Sitting on a large rock, the young girl felt its warmth in the middle of winter. Snow-tipped juniper bushes touched the cottony snow mounds. Grey branches rose high above her head. The small berries on the juniper tree were visible. Soon, the girl found it irresistible to jump with wild abandon in the juniper bushes laying low to the ground. She was careful not to break the boughs. I think she was ten years of age.