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I'm not sure I've got this "fun" thing figured out yet. I mean, I don't
know whether I'm having fun or not.

This morning I parked at Gum Root Swamp, sprayed myself with insect
repellent (which didn't turn out to be necessary), put on my wading boots,
shouldered my scope, and tromped into the woods. Hatchet Creek was very
high, even flooding the trail at a couple points. Otherwise it was a nice
morning. The air was mild, the sun was out. Along the creek from the second
bridge down to the woods' edge there were patches of bright-red cardinal
flowers in bloom, the first I'd ever seen there.

I managed to cross the creek's two outlets without going in over my boot
tops, and splashed my way further out into the open, through the thigh-high
smartweed and taller-than-head-high willows and cottonwoods, many of which
were thickly involved with climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens) - and I
hope you will always remember when I identify these plants that the extent
of my formal scientific education is a lifetime subscription to Ranger Rick
magazine - and it crossed my mind that a.) I couldn't see where I was
putting my feet, and b.) all the young-of-the-year Cottonmouths are
crawling around out there now.

Spishing at the willows brought out a couple Yellow Warblers, a Northern
Waterthrush, and numerous Common Yellowthroats, so I decided to keep going,
partly out of curiosity, partly because I needed to scout the place out for
next week's migration count, and partly because this is how I have fun.

I reached the spot where I usually cut through the cattails to the
lakefront - at least, it looked like the spot - and crashed in. The
cattails were a good seven or eight feet tall, and as I forced my way
through them the fronds acted as restraining straps that hindered my
progress. The water was just below my boot tops, and below the water the
lakebed was sucking at my feet. It did not SEEM to be fun. I was addressing
natural objects in terms usually reserved for bad drivers. I started to
think more seriously about those Cottonmouths. Once bitten, could I even
get out? Did I have a notepad on which to write my will? (But hey, no
problem! I don't own anything of value! Phew!). Then the lakebed gave a
major suck, and Jungle Jim found himself on his back in a foot of water.
The binoculars did not go under, but alas, the spotting scope did.
Thrashing to my feet, I decided to press on, but this decision did not
survive a second dunking. I turned around and struggled soggily toward the
only landmark I could see, the cypress trees at the lake's edge, stopping
once or twice to brace myself with the scope's tripod, assume the position
of a male dog, and drain the water from my boots.

Once I made it to the treeline, I kept to the forest interior, which was
open and mostly devoid of undergrowth (exception: cypress knees - tumble
#3), and continued toward the north end of the lake. When I came out of the
woods, I was less than a hundred yards from open water, and the intervening
vegetation was mostly knee-high - which was good, because it was wearing me
out, dragging around in sodden clothes and boots full of water.

Unfortunately for next week's count, there wasn't much out there - not that
I could have seen them very well, if there had been, with glasses fogging
and binocular lenses covered with water droplets. Common Moorhens, a
handful of Blue-winged Teal, a couple Great Blue Herons - a far cry from
last June, when the water was low, and Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue
Herons, White Ibises, and Wood Storks were there by the several dozens. I
did see a drake Mallard with half-a-dozen Mottled Ducks, and spooked what
appeared to be a King Rail - it fluttered into the lakeside cattails, legs
dangling - but having arrived, the place didn't seem to have been worth the
trip. There was nothing there. It was beautiful, though. The growth was all
just a couple feet tall, like a watery meadow - smartweed, pickerelweed,
some feathery grass with sparse seedheads. I turned back and started
splashing towards the trees, and spooked an American Bittern that erupted
from the grass and flew away over the cattails.

Just before I entered the woods I actually did run into those Cottonmouths.
Two of them, laying out in the open together. They did what Cottonmouths
always seem to do - sat there, giving me that Clint Eastwood squint, and
waiting for me to back off ("Son, am I gonna have to get my gun, or are you
gonna go peaceable-like?"). And there were two Otters in Hatchet Creek. I
froze, and one of them periscoped high out of the water and snuffled
noisily in my direction. And after I got back to the car (pulling off my
boots and pouring a quart of water out of each) and pulled out onto State
Road 26, I saw a Bald Eagle come flying down, land in the middle of the
shady two-lane road, and pick up something. He flew into a roadside tree,
and I pulled up beside him, and watched him pull at the little bloody shred
until I realized what it was - a catfish that either he or an Osprey had
dropped. And then I went home, where - it embarrasses me to say this - no
one was surprised when I walked in soaking wet.

So that was my morning. Did I have fun? (And if the answer is yes, should I
seek help?)

Rex Rowan
2041 NE 15th Terrace
Gainesville, FL  32609
(352) 371-9296
[log in to unmask]

Everyone should have a hobby;
I however prefer an obsession.

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