Gators, Birders and a Whooping Crane

Sometimes I do other things besides cook (shocking!). Today for instance, Daniel, his cousin and I went on a “hike” through Payne’s Prairie near our town. I put hike in quotations because hiking in Florida, at least in this case, is more like a stroll across a city park. Almost no elevation or tricky footwork required although you do have to watch out for those gators.

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Other than the alligators the highlight of the morning was the opportunity to see a wild Whooping Crane. I’d listened to a podcast recently about a foundation (the International Crane Foundation I think that talked about how endangered the species is and to what great lengths people there are doing to save them. There were at one point only 21 of them in the 1940’s but their numbers have recovered slightly to about 600 living in captive or in the wild. That is 600 in the WORLD. The trail we were on was full of some pretty intense bird watchers. I decided you could determine the level of interest by the number of cameras and binoculars they carried. I also decided that in the event two birders had the same amount of equipment then you default to measuring the length of their camera zoom lenses. Those carrying tripods got extra points. I was a bird-watcher watcher. So the three of us are enjoying the bright day and the fresh air, blissfully unaware of the incredibly rare bird that is hunting in the marsh close to us.  A nice bird-watcher (intensity level: moderate. This birder had both camera and binoculars but no tripod) we had been talking to invited us to see the Crane and he was obviously excited about it. He explained to us what we were so lucky to be seeing (readjusting intensity level to High, extra points given for experience and knowledge) and he even let us use his binoculars. The bird was a little ways off and even my (small) zoom lens didn’t help me see it very well through the tall grasses. I gave the camera to Daniel hoping that maybe from his height he could get a little better photo. Meanwhile a crowd of another 8 or so birders of all intensity levels had gathered and everyone was “geeking out” so to speak. Excited whispers, people standing on tip-toe and congratulating each other on what they were getting to see. Suddenly, the bird took off and flew right over our heads. There was an audible collective gasp and then the only sound was camera shutters. Daniel is the one who actually got all the great action shots of the bird in flight! One guy (intensity level moderate) was thrilled to have caught the bird on his point and shoot and kept saying that his friends “wouldn’t believe it”.  Our bird landed just on the other side of us to continue hunting. He had no idea how special everybody thought he was.

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