Before Hurricane Irma visited the salt marsh in early September, all the resident birds evacuated prompted by their natural instincts. The marsh was already deserted when I was still trying to get tickets out of here for Dylan and myself…and the sun was still shining. It was eerily quiet. The mandatory evacuation orders for human residents on this barrier island did not have the same effect. Many stayed to ride out the storm.
I have to say the salt marsh fared quite well. Most of the old, tall trees are still standing. But the debris took weeks to clear out.
When I visited the park on my day at home between the storm and my trip to Europe, there were no birds. They had all stayed at their evacuation resorts. Apart from one.
Papa Stanley was perching at the sailing center. He had returned to check out his forest and his home. Or maybe he was looking for Mama Sandy. I’m pretty sure he saw the nest had not been damaged…before he took off again.
When I came back from my trip in October most of the debris had been hauled away and I found this ‘monument’ at a small clearing where several trees had fallen. But only a couple of birds had returned. Among those Mama Sandy. She was perching at the nest looking a bit tousled, very serious and definitely wet. It was good to see that she, too, had made it through the storm. But now Papa Stanley was nowhere to be seen.
A lonely Tri-colored Heron was trying to figure out how to find something to eat despite the still very high water levels at the marsh. And that was it. The evacuees were slow to return.
Late that evening, Dylan and I spotted the young Great Blue Heron on the bay. He too seemed to wonder where everyone had gone.
And so it continued for about three weeks. I started to get worried about Papa Stanley. He had made it through Irma’s 120 m/h wind gusts, but why was he not home? And where were all the other residents, including the Mayor, the Clown and Miss Rosa?
Then one morning in early November I looked out of my office window and discovered a large gathering at the marsh. That was a great sight…and out I ran to witness the return of the evacuees and the migrating visitors.
The first birds I spotted were Papa Stanley (yay!) and Mama Sandy. They were having a mid-morning snack, perhaps following a joint fishing trip. Papa was perching on a lamp-post and Mama at the nest. And they were keeping an eye on each other.
Finally the marsh was busy. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Ibis, Wood Storks and others.
The younger GBH, who now looks very much like the Mayor, was patrolling the waters in his typical manner, pretending to be the boss. Some of the Wood Storks gave him the look.
That’s when I saw a familiar fellow in the corner of my eye. The Mayor had returned! He was foraging far away, completely undisturbed.
Knowing the history of these two, I thought things might get interesting. And before long, the Mayor discovered his young rival. He decided to check on the youngster.
The young fellow noticed the developments. But he didn’t back off from his newly acquired position of power. Looking determined he continued his march…
… until he realized the Mayor was running on water. And closing in on him.
The Mayor took a detour onto a grassy islet, but continued his approach with determination.
Tension was building. Everybody was watching.
That’s when I discovered that the Reddish Egret, the Clown, had returned. He was not performing his usual tricks. Instead, he stood frozen in place under some mangroves. Watching.
The little Snowy Egret, who was hiding in the grass close to the scene, decided it was better to keep some distance. One never knew what could happen.
The Mayor continued his march, and finally the two ‘great blues’ were face to face.
And this is what happened…
The old Mayor still has the spark. The younger GBH ended up on dry land, his feathers all buffed up. He quickly assessed the situation – and walked away. Everyone seems to prefer it that way.
A couple of days ago, Dylan and I went to the dog park in the middle of the day…and found the same crowd at the marsh – minus the younger ‘great blue’. The party was still going on. The Clown discovered my camera and decided to perform an elaborate bathing ritual for his captive audience.
We left this delightful ‘photobomber’ happily sitting in the shallow water. Normalcy has returned to the salt marsh.
Some of you may wonder what happened to Miss Rosa. I was pondering that too, until the other night. Dylan and I discovered her all alone at the marsh at sunset time. And she was there even last night. She is definitely back home too.
Opening my terrace door this morning, I discovered that both Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley were at the nest. That was remarkable. But Stanley’s early visit didn’t last long. Sandy told him in no uncertain terms to wait at least 4-5 more weeks. And promptly chased him away. He will be allowed in the nest only after a proposal dance and a special gift delivery. Traditions have to be respected. And everything has its right time.
I noted that Irma, however powerful, had not been able to sweep the nest clean of building materials Sandy had put in place last year. But this couple will still need to do quite a bit of remodeling when the nesting season starts at the end of December.
With that, we all wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. And peace.