I walk here most days, to this strip of sand settled by the Ais, a tribe of Native Americans.
It’s easy to imagine them living here, small nomadic bands making camp.
So much has changed since then.
Remember when you could just pull off to the side of the road and stroll through dunes to the ocean? Today, most of the Atlantic Coast is overrun with parking lots, concessions, and billboards.
But here in the land of the Ais, there are still plenty of pristine beaches with easy and free public access.
Markers always interest me. (There isn’t one for the Ais. At least, I haven’t seen one yet.) I’m curious to know more about the honorees, the folks who came before us, the ones who deserve our gratitude.
The marker near the dune is for C. Scott Fletcher, an Australian-born education professional. Fletcher spent more than three decades protecting these beaches from development. He pioneered Save Our Beaches. The Ais would applaud him, I’m sure.
This part of the shoreline was named in honor of Scott and his wife Billie. It would look much different today if it weren’t for the efforts of these beloved visionary community activists.
C. Scott Fletcher died in 1991. His legacy never will.
Ospreys are plentiful here on this restless ribbon of sand. There’s usually one on the tree not far from my porch.
I call him ‘O’. His peeps and squeaks are a summons to worship.
I’m in awe of O’s aerial displays. He wheels high overheard, then lands on his preferred branch to devour fish after fish… after fish… after fish. O is a fiercely determined fisher.
I read everything the FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) writes. They know it all and are happy to share. Every piece they publish makes me curiouser and curiouser. I learned that osprey fly hundreds, yes hundreds, of feet up before diving in quickly for the kill. O’s flight ritual is to fly gimlet-eyed above the water, grooved talon pads grazing the surface, then closing in a mortal-lock cinch to snag a meal. The Birds of Florida Field Guide says the osprey is the only raptor that plunges (sometimes up to three feet) into the water. Cool, with an attitude. (I could like swimming/diving if I had osprey nostrils with closable valves, no water up my nose.)
I’m pretty sure O is a male. Clearly, courtship is definitely in progress. O shows off his catch. A lot. See, ladies, what a good provider I am!
But I’m a birding newbie. Identification is pretty subtle stuff. FWC says that males tend to look goggle-eyed; females look squintier and smaller-eyed. If the bird has dark brown chest markings, it’s a female. But wait! Unless it happens to be a male with dark chest markings, because that happens, too. Or it might be an immature. The crown of an immature osprey is more heavily streaked with brown than that of an adult. Unless it’s an adult with a streaky crown. See? Subtle stuff.
If everything goes as planned, a female will respond to O’s show-off-i-ness. I hope to see one cozy up and eat the fish he brings her. Then my hunt can begin. I’ll be looking for their nest engineering marvel of sticks, twigs, and seaweed. Like the one I saw last year.
O’s feathers are very oily for extra waterproofing. I’ve seen him emerge carrying a large fish, shaking the water from his feathers like a dog. Beguiles the eye.
O is my Island BFF. We share the sunny and windy days of January. He’s showing me that you can put your head under the (emotional or otherwise) water and still survive. He doesn’t wait for the fish to jump out of the water to meet him, but splashes in headfirst like an air-to-ground missile. Yet for part of every day, O sits on his perch and just watches. Like Alan Lightman. I loved Lightman’s book, In Praise of Wasting Time. He says let your mind roam, sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing at all. I agree. So does O.