Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Visiting Florida

Roseate Spoonbill

Russ and I don’t get to travel together very often anymore—we’re living with his 99-year-old mother, and except when his sister can drive 500 miles and stay at our house for the duration to cover for us, one of us needs to be here all night every night and on and off every day. So it was a big thing for us to break away for 10 days to visit our son Joey in Florida last month. We spent most of the time in Orlando where he lives, or taking day trips from there, but we spent three nights down in Florida City near the entrance to Everglades National Park, where we had a magnificent time.

Hurricane damage there is still tragically obvious. A lot of the Visitor Center in Flamingo was demolished, and though they’re making repairs and some of it is in use, a lot is still damaged. Worse from an ecological standpoint though was the loss of mangroves, most of which are now completely bare—no one knows if the plants will heal over time or whether they’ll die out.

Right after I turned 62 during my Conservation Big Year, I bought a Senior Pass that, for the rest of my life, will let me and any passengers in my car in to any federally-operated recreation site in America, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and so when I bought it for only $10 in 2014, it was a great deal. Now the price has gone up to $80, though seniors are allowed to get an annual one for $20, and after four years of buying them, can turn them in for a lifetime Senior Pass for free. Even though I don’t have to pay the entrance fees anymore, I still usually do. The Senior Pass money supports our national wild lands in general, but entrance fees help support each specific site, and to fully recover from the hurricane devastation would seem to require as much of my help as possible.

I also made a purchase at the Flamingo Visitor Center gift shop. I’ve been looking for a small backpack in which to keep my sound recording equipment, and they had one on display that seemed pretty much perfect. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it sports a “Junior Ranger” patch, and the woman waiting on us threw in a Junior Park Ranger badge. I chose the pack for the nice drab green color and the three pockets—I can keep my microphones in the large one, the recorder itself in the middle one, and extra batteries and other supplies in the small one. But it turns out that the design is even more useful, because the bungee cord webbing in front is perfect for holding my actual recorder, with or without being plugged into my various external microphones, and the two water bottle pockets are ideal for holding my shotgun microphone and my omnidirectional microphone. Now when I have something to record, all I have to do is put the backpack down, turn on the recorder in place, aim the microphones, and I’m in business!


We were in the Everglades before spring migration of Neotropical migrants started, so we didn’t see many new arrivals, but we were in perfect listening distance of a nest colony of waders, including Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks, on an island not far from a roadside stop at Paurotis Pond. I set up my shotgun microphone a few times, ending up with some nice recordings of the sound of hundreds of hungry nestlings begging constantly as a stream of spoonbills, storks, egrets, herons, and ibises flew back and forth. I could stand at a distance photographing flying birds even as my recorder captured the raucous colony. It was a thrilling experience for both Russ and me.

I took a lot of photos, and made a lot of recordings, on our trip, but with spring migration kicking in now, I’m not going to have too much time to process it all for a while. My recording of the nest colony that is playing in the background right now is the only one I’ve posted online so far. If you want to hear 18 minutes of that sound, here's the link. You can hear a lot of my ambient sound recordings, some a half hour or longer, if you click on Miscellany in the top menu of lauraerickson.com.  Over the course of this spring and summer, I hope to be adding a lot more.

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