Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Body and Mind Workout Day at the Park

Lettuce Lake Park, that is. Wify has been clamoring to take a long overdue walk in that park as part of our exercise routine. In fact, that is the only one for me, other than the morning lifting-the-sky exercise taught by WJ. Yesterday was a total washout. But today was your typical day after the deluge: crisp with azure sky. So we drove to the park around noon, half expecting that it might be close for the Easter Holiday, a prognostication based on our last experience on last Christmas eve. But it was open, many visitors capitalizing on the balmy weather to hold family picnics. (The top image was a drawing of an osprey done by wify just for this occasion, based on an image taken from here).

As usual, we took the boardwalk that skirts along the lake, wify walking briskly in front, me trailing, our Nikon ColorPix L6 in hand, ready to capture and shoot the teeming life there, digitally. And boy did I have a field day, my only miss was the young water duck that did a Houdini on me, diving and swimming away under the green carpet (you'll soon see what I mean from the images below) while I was fumbling with my camera to get the right setting.

We greeted everyone who came our way, and the favors returned, as enthusiastically. We ascended onto the top of the tower (the right image is scanned from the brochure Lettuce Lake Boardwalk Guide, which is shot from the lake side and is much more than I can do humanly, being not ready to dive into the lake) and met (by chance of course) our designated bird guide of the day, whom we shall address as Mark here. Mark had a telescope set up with tripod and all with the lens pointing at the tree line across the lake. He motioned to wify to look through the lens. At what? Apparently, it was an osprey's nest, nestled high up on the tree. He offered the telescopic view to any visitor who came by, at the same time fielding questions from them. I too succumbed to the looks of amazement on those who had seen the light, so to speak. Through the lens, at about 40X (that's magnification) according to Mark, I could see the mother's head swiveling and bobbing up and down at the nest line. The Dad was perched on a tree branch in the vicinity, like a sentinel scanning for threats.

Just like a human family too, the male and the female adults playing their respective roles in a household, separately in charge of matters without and within the home. Nowadays this rigid familial role compartmentalization has largely blurred as evidenced by the moniker, stay-home dad. [At home, I suddenly realized what I had heard here that the Chinese character for peace and safety is a combination of a roof over a female. How uncanny!]

Ospreys have these talons on their feet which they catch their prey, meaning fish, with in a swooping motion. Then swish, it's out of the water. Eh, do they eat other smaller birds or maybe rodents? That's me asking the seemingly dumb questions. No, as a rule, no, unless they are hungry and there happens to be a bird or rodent, frozen into inaction nearby (OK, I get the drift). That's why there are also known as fish hawks. Oh, I see (only after the fact). And no, they are not wintering birds that migrate over great distances but stay pretty much within about 100 sq. miles.

In the midst of the ornithological Q&A, Mark was seeking help as to the English word that means characterizing the animal behavior in human terms. He qualified by saying that being a math grad, he was not expected to know (sound like a cope out to me). I ventured “personify”, but he just shook his head. The couple next to us tried to help, but the word just escaped them (yeah right). At the end, they settled that by agreeing that mutually they knew what each other meant, and that's that.

As a parting shot, I said I would google it. But Mark was quite lukewarm to my sudden flash of ingenuity. Being a man of my word, I googled it dutifully, the first thing I did upon reaching home, and it only returned “humanizing”. I doubted that's the right word as it would apply to inanimate objects as well, not just animals. Then a flash went through my head. I typed in “humanizing animal behavior” and Voila, the very first return read “Naturalizing Anthropomorphism: Behavioral Prompts to Our ...”. On opening the document, right there staring into my face was the very first sentence in the Abstract: Anthropomorphism is the use of human characteristics to describe or explain nonhuman animals.

When I announced to the family that Dad has done it again, CE chipped in by saying that that was what she was looking for. Too late, pal, the glory is all mine. Just kidding. What happened was I posed the question to our resident English expert, CE (the other itinerary one is way across the continental divide and unavailable at such short notice).

She countered with the term, animorphism, that she has found on the Net. But apparently it has something to do with computer software (animation?). Undaunted, my google trip (my first quest using my favourite online dictionary did not list this as a word) led to this statement: animorphism, or people projecting their wants and needs onto animals. See how my family tackles things together. Nothing is too small to invoke the mighty Lee famly resources.

Anyway, back to the Park. Mark also serves as the resource guide in the Audubon Resource Center at the Park's Visitors Center (we located it later) and has been birding for quite a long while. He said there are more than 120 bird species in the Park, on a year round basis. He can identify the birds by their calls like Oh, that's the limpkin (we later found out what it is on a display board erected on another part of the boardwalk, see image below).

The second bird from the right on the top row is a limpkin. No osprey here since it is not a wading bird.

As we were doubling back from one end of the Boardwalk to head the other way, Mark had descended too and pointed out some others bird species for our benefit. The white bird there is the Blue Heron, even though it's white in color. The Snowy Egret resembles it too, except that the Egret has yellow-colored feet. Oh, the green carpet-like stuff on the water surface? They are the lettuces (huh? Maybe I did not get the spelling right. Then, Oh Oh, there's where the name comes from. And I was wondering where is the lettuce. You know, the one we see in Publix. That's another belated realization but at home).

Yes, they are floating plants, just like lilypads and water hyacinth (At this point I wanted to jump in and shared my knowledge of water hyacinth in Malaysia, specifically on the Muar River, that moves up and down the river with tide like a huge green barge. Too much of one-sided exchange is not too good for anyone's intellect. But I can't seem to be able to interject during his continuous delivery). But sometimes, the water hyacinth anchor themselves on the bottom too. You know, further east of here there is the Flatwoods Park with a loop trail (or was it boardwalk? I found out later that it's a 7-mile paved trail) several miles long winding through the park. A certain lady would cycle round the trail to keep a record of these small wooden tree houses affixed to the tree trunks sporadically (or maybe not) ever so often and then send the records to the Florida Chapter which in turn will forward it to the National Headquarters ... Like a bird census, you know? (The last part was mine). I once encountered a 300 strong colony of Robins at the Everglades and at another time I was the only one who spotted a Robin in another bird count down in Miami (or did I get the places reversed?).

We could only nod in unison, marveling at his recall of information at will, at least as far as birds are concerned. And we thought math and bird don't mix.

When we returned to the car park, it was almost an hour later. So we had a good workout (despite the constant walking and stopping to capture the Kodak moments, I did sweat, or rather feel the sweating). So did our brain, thanks to Mark, whoever you are. (As it turned out, I googled some of his "claims" and they checked out.)

Enjoy the fruits of my shootout (you know, shooting, outside, get it?)! If these images seem amateurish to you (my only defense is that the camera's resolution is only 6.0 megapiexels. Not the reason? OK, I'm just a point and shoot guy, satisfied?), read here, with lots of closeups.

The breathtaking vista that greets a visitor on any given day, especially today.

An osprey's hunting for food in action. We were too far to actually know whether that was a fruitful attempt. But it continued to circle above the water and made several subsequent forays.

Our friend with a bushy tail, a squirrel. Squirrels are ubiquitous here. Everyday while on the way to work, I have yet to fail to chance upon a high wire act by these furry critters, darting between telephone poles with nary a halt.

A turtle poking its head through the water to savor the spring in the air. Those white streaks at the top are the ripples of waves called wakes generated by their swimming.

A majestic cypress tree rising above the rest to take its place amidst the azure sky, the boardwalk seemingly going through it.

The carpet-like meadow making its way into ... Gotcha. These are the mats of tiny lettuces covering the water surface.

A blue heron on a food drive. It turns white when it reaches the adult stage, but still a blue heron nonetheless.

The casual wear of wify, spotting sunglasses, bears testimony to the glorious weather.


ONEDIA said...

What a stunning park.

Say Lee said...

It is, isn't it? I can count on one hand the number of times we have been there since we moved here a year ago, which is just 5-min drive away. We have reached a pact that the Park deserves more of our time, and to think that there are people who drive for miles to enjoy what it has to offer.