Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Smiles From the Swamp

STEPPING STONES


Thisjuvenilebobcatfollowedmefornearly200feetontheBigCypressboardwalk!WasIanew friend or a curiosity for this youngster? Photos by Bob McConville

Thisjuvenilebobcatfollowedmefornearly200feetontheBigCypressboardwalk!WasIanew friend or a curiosity for this youngster? Photos by Bob McConville

Congratulations to Austin Bell, curator of the Marco Island Historical Society, on his new book “Marco Island.” I had the opportunity to experience the Leadership Marco program alongside Austin in 2014 and to co-chair an event with him the following year. He is the type of guy that you want to meet for the first time over and over again. His book reflects his organizational and technical skills, as well as his personality, as he describes the history of our island. It is a great read and I look forward to more of the same.

 

 

It’s been a pretty tough couple of months in our area for many residents as they get their homes, businesses and personal lives back into perspective in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The same is true for many of the animals that call our region their home. Destruction of many habitats that the human eye will never see will call for an adjustment or change as a result of the storm.

These creatures, however, are even more adept to starting over or rebuilding than we humans are. If there is one thing that is constant in nature, things change, and animals are very good at this. As part of a dolphin study team we have seen more than 75% of our cetacean population doing what they are supposed to do where they are supposed to do it. There is no doubt that the dolphins that are yet unseen are surely here.

The “country-western” barred owl peered from around a branch when it heard “Rocky Top Tennessee.”

The “country-western” barred owl peered from around a branch when it heard “Rocky Top Tennessee.”

The rookery for our area birds located near the Jolley Bridge was almost immediately repopulated within days of Irma. Nature always finds a way. For some animals it may be the “new normal” but it is a change that they will embrace.

As recovery continues I thought that it would be fun to share a few fun stories, true ones, regarding my experiences in the Big Cypress area.

Bobcat Encounter: I have, on many occasions, travelled to the Big Cypress swamp on my own to be one with nature and enjoy the sounds and sights in my little part of the world. Any noise at all will conjure thoughts of encounters with amazing wild beasts. At times the imagination will just run wild. Other times that dream becomes real.

On one particular day I was walking along when I heard the rustling of leaves in a tree. I cocked my head to the side and glanced towards the heavens to see a squirrel scurrying along the branch of an oak tree. Leaning back, it was fun to see how busy this furry friend was.

From the corner of my eye I noticed a shape to my left as it bounded from the forest floor to an opening on the path. My immediate thought was another squirrel was very close by.

As I glanced downward, to my surprise, I saw a young bobcat just a few feet from my position. I was in awe of the spots on its coat and the tufts of fur around its pointed ears. The hind legs were in a stance to pounce and those ears were pinned back. The cat was just as surprised to see me as I was to see it. Then, reality took control of my thoughts…Where is its mom?

You never want to get between any creature and its parent. That could be extremely dangerous, regardless of size. I began to scour the area but no adult appeared or could be heard. To calm the juvenile at my feet I calmly did my best “Here kitty kitty.” To my amazement the ears came up, its stance relaxed and the tiny bobbed tail began to move from side to side. Had I made a friend that quickly? It seemed so!

Letting nature be natural I continued my walk down the path, smiling about this chance encounter. To my surprise the youngster followed me for nearly 200 feet! I stopped on several occasions and it did the same. At one point I motioned for the cat to pass me by and it nearly did! It’s an encounter I will remember always.

Country-Western Owls: On another solitary walk I was fortunate to notice a beautiful barred owl camouflaged on a small tree branch. It was situated such that I could not see its face clearly. The branch of the tree was an obstacle that denied me a good photo opportunity. How was I going to get that owl to look at me without scaring it away?

I tried to make several “owl” sounds to get its attention and, believe me, these sounds were nothing that a specialist would admire. The owl did not move, would not look my way. I began to gently talk to it but the results were the same.

What would be my last resort before sulking away without a picture? I said to myself “Self, let’s sing some songs!” This bird of prey was not at all interested in Elton John or Lynyrd Skynyrd. It would not budge for my best “ Ice Ice Baby” or “You are the Sunshine of My Life.” My best Garth Brooks didn’t do the trick either.

However I started a little country tune called “Rocky Top Tennessee,” and I got a reaction! The owl budged slightly and glanced in my direction. I aimed my camera in its direction and continued with my song, “You’ll always be, home sweet home to me,” and I’ll be darned if it didn’t look me square in the eye! I got my photo!

Now, it could be that this owl was completely bored and frustrated with my presence and shot me a look of annoyance. However I like to think that this one was a country-western fan and I chose the right tune. To this day I will still walk that area, humming “Rocky Top,” in hopes of seeing my fine-feathered friend.

Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours, conducting nature walks in the Big Cypress Bend. He is also a naturalist for a dolphin survey team on board Marco Island’s Dolphin Explorer. His pictorial book “Beyond The Mangrove Trees” is a popular local favorite and can be found at steppingstoneecotours.com as well as several local stores. Bob loves his wife very much!

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