Recently, my husband and I returned to Pelican Island in Florida Bay in hopes of viewing young Great Egrets on the nest. It is a small mangrove island without sandy beach or even a clearing suited to human habitation. Rather, it is home to three varieties of mangrove and a selection of birds including Double-crested Cormorants and Great Egrets. The last time we visited the island was nearly eight months ago. Unfortunately, it was there that a memorable event, the Great Puss Caterpillar Attack, occurred. So, it took a bit of bravery (some might say lunacy) on my part to venture onto the island again. Yet, drawn by the lure of viewing, and photographing, young Great Egrets we returned. Anchoring our boat near the island, a cacophony of guttural squawks assured us of the presence of nestlings. With eager anticipation we slipped into our kayak and paddled quietly to the mangrove root tangled shore. There we carefully climbed from arching root to root onto the island while steadying ourselves with skinny mangrove trunks. There twenty-foot trees held in their highest branches great nests of white guano covered sticks and young egrets. Their parents stood guard on nearby branches.
The chicks eyed us warily at first.
Soon, however, they seemed to forget the human intrusion under their secure canopy world. Capturing images uncluttered with sticks, branches, tree trunks, and foliage seemed next to impossible. Not wanting to cause any disturbance, we moved silently, endeavoring to avoid stepping on the six-inch aerial roots of the white mangrove that crowded the forest floor. All this was done while balancing on a chosen root or inches of unoccupied mud with a careful eye out for creatures that might sting or bite. Any move to climb up a slanting tree trunk for a better look was met with warning clucks from egret parents with medieval sword-like beaks. Just look at these adorable chicks.
This one is my favorite. What do you think the bird on the left is saying? I think it’s, “Look what Momma’s about to do!”
On the mangrove forest floor there are large circles of whitewash indicating the presence of a nest tucked high in the branches above. It was either that I ignored these circles of warning or that a mother egret grew sick and tired of my presence, but just as I endeavored to compose another shot of the fuzzy headed darlings, SPLAT, an enormous volume of liquidy white goo dumped on my right hand, my shoulder, and my hair. Yuck! It might be good fertilizer, but hand or hair cream it’s not. Once we made it back to the boat, I washed with vigor first in salt water and then with soap and freshwater, but I still smelled like a fish market dumpster. Thus, our island adventure came an end. Once back on shore, we viewed innocuous looking little Pelican Island in the light of the setting sun and wondered how such a bucolic scene could mask such unbridled treachery.