Everything seems familiar at Long Pine Key in Everglades Nat’l Park. I remember every bend of that back road, the sign for a Boy Scout Camp and the marsh at the end. It seems more like the 8 months than 8 years ago that I was last here. I guess those first memories of birding and bicycling are embedded in me.
8 years ago we toured (in a van) across the states, speaking about the need to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In between shows in Key Largo and Washington D.C. we took off a week to experience the Everglades. Twice a day we’d cycle to Anhinga Pond . . . the total distance of 16 miles was the farthest I’d ever ridden in a day. I’d sweat along on my old red bike, longing for the shade of the forest around the pond.
Many of my defining birding moments occurred around the boardwalk and trails of Anhinga Pond. I remember staring at a dark ibis, wondering whether the pale gray around its face was enough to turn make it a White-faced Ibis. (Rarely found east of Mississippi) I sought a park ranger’s opinion. Instead of saying “No you idiot, that’s the common Glossy Ibis” he kindly encouraged me by saying “well it’s possible, it’s only separated by air”. I was awestruck by the amazing birds, I spotted a Limpkin camouflaged in the marsh and admired a gorgeous Purple Gallinule stalking over lily-pads. I stared into the thick reeds, hoping to spot the elusive American Bittern, but only saw egrets and herons. Missing the bittern would soon become a common thread, re-appearing whenever I birded in a southern wetland.
In a way not much has changed since then, Purple Gallinules still walk along the banks and Anhingas still swim in pursuit of fish. And just like my first time here, the American Bitterns are still hiding from me!