Photos and commentary by Guest Blogger, Fran Palmeri. Contact at fran palmeri at comcast dot net.
Everyday it’s a different show at the Celerty fields in Sarasota, Florida. The Sarasota Audubon Society is often out in force with spotting scopes and binoculars in hand they spread out across Fields to look for the more rare and elusive species than the dozens of ibis clamoring for attention.
It’s a place of contradictions--on the surface, wild and unspoiled but upon close examination, a disturbed landscape, the soil depleted by more than 100 years of human exploitation. In the 19th century, it was part of Mrs. Potter Palmer’s vast vegetable garden, spreading out over Sarasota and Manatee Counties in southwest Florida. In the 1940s engineers created a farm for the intensive cultivation of celery. In the mid-90s, engineers planned yet another role for this area—storm water management-- and for years, dredged out canals, culverts and retention ponds to create a flood mitigation area.
A surreal Dali-esque landscape of canals filled with Indonesian parrot grass, an invasive that arrived here via the drainage system. Cell towers loom like Martian invaders. Lions roar in the background against the omnipresent whine of traffic--a wildly improbable presence from the nearby Big Cat Sanctuary.
Over 188 different species have been recorded in the Fields to date. Historically, these wetlands are used by migrating flocks of waterfowl. Perhaps it is imprinted into their collective memories as four-star accommodation for migrants.
Twice this week I dropped in for the “early show” which is always a bit of a cliffhanger. Bird watchers perched on the gazebo and photographers along the banks, checking their watches. Will the Sandhills show or won’t they?
As the sun nears the horizon, the first pair of cranes arrive, landing gear down. Wave after wave of these beautiful birds follow--dancing, preening, grooming, jockeying for their favorite spots. About sixty birds arrive over the space of an hour. Then, all is still. No encores or reprises. The birds are all asleep.