This past weekend was Mother’s Day, (02) so we decided to run away from home and have an adventurous weekend traveling throughout Florida and enjoying a quiet, relaxing weekend together.
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We saw dense forests of timber pines, miles and miles of cypress and Loblolly Bay filled jungles, rich and poor neighborhoods, tens of lush golf courses near thousands of manicured mansions lining the coasts... and as many dried lake beds and streams throughout the state.
Nowhere was the drought more evident than in the bird populations. I have been a bird-watcher all my life and I know Florida is famous for its vast populations of cattle egrets that forage along the roadsides and among the cattle that have always been one of our largest industries. This entire weekend I saw only two solitary cattle egrets.
When we got to the East Coast where there are miles and miles of estuary bayous that usually team with wildlife, we found only isolated solitary birds. There was one stretch of shoreline at Matanzas Inlet where, using my binoculars, I could see only nine wading shorebirds and thirteen pelicans. Throughout the state, there was an ominous absence of sea gulls in the air and on the shore.
This is a place where shorebirds used to congregate by the millions to replenish their migration weight at the water’s edge after a long trek from South America in April and May. There they would stay and nest in the same sand that is now filled with tourists and motels.
Every day, in every city in the world, millions of birds of every species are killed because they fly into the reflective windows of skyscrapers which they could not distinguish from normal sky. Millions more are lost to domestic cats that maraud their natural habitat in our cities. We call it “our land,” “our buildings,” and “our choice.”
It is our human penchant for “taking” whatever we want, in whatever measure we want, that will probably be our eventual undoing. We can not disconnect ourselves from the species chain of dependency no matter how hard we try.
I fear that we have already cut down too many of the broad-leaved trees, in the name of industry, that help balance natures water supply; and have squandered all the fresh water which that natural balance provides to keep commercial golf courses and manicured landscapes green. We have, for the most part, turned a blind eye to the suffering this causes our feathered friends that harvest the insects and rodents that would otherwise deplete our nation’s storehouses. It may already be too late. Our fate will be doomed with the passing of a few more species of birds.
I was not prepared for just how quiet a weekend I would really have, and as I began to unwind in the quiet that first day as we stopped at a seaside overlook, I realized that it was that same quiet that screamed at me of a coming danger!
It was an uncanny silence of shore life without birds, a silence that I understood heralds a dangerous dawn for mankind. Our forefathers knew the value of their feathered friend, the canary, in the coal mines: for when his song ceased, their lives were in danger from unseen gasses. Are we, now, less knowledgeable than they, that we do not read danger into this year’s “silent spring?”