A Special Morning Feeling One with the Web of Life in Matlacha

Walking in Unison @Lynne Buchanan
A couple of weeks ago, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life–the kind that makes me ecstatic to be alive and grateful that the other creatures that inhabit this planet with me are so accepting of my presence.  The day before, I had been photographing the troubled waters of the Caloosahatchee.  I'd stayed over in Fort Myers and decided to take my kayak to Matlacha and see how the waters were faring where the Gulf meets the river.  To my great relief, the water did seem much healthier although there may have been some unwanted algae mixed with the sea grasses.  The winds were very stiff though and it was difficult paddling.  It was pretty wavy too, and I was a little nervous with all my gear.  Then I rounded the corner and found this beautiful sheltered area with more birds than I had ever seen in my life in one place.

Matlacha Menagerie of Birds ©Lynne Buchanan
I watched the birds from a distance, not wanting to disturb them in any way.  I felt if I caused one bird to move by my presence, the magic spell would be broken.  I sat a ways off shore in the middle of the shallow water between the two islands just observing for more than two hours. The birds were oblivious to my existence.  Gradually, I drifted closer, but the birds didn't seem to notice.  They were too busy feeding and working out their own issues.  It was so incredible to observe all these natural behaviors unfiltered.

Feeding and Converging ©Lynne Buchanan

I loved watching the spoonbills open their gigantic beaks and the incoming egrets.  There were little blues, great whites, and immature and adult ibis.  So many species together..

Working out Feeding Together ©Lynne Buchanan
While I sat there listening to their cacophonous sounds and watching them squabble a bit, I couldn't help think that there they were feeding on the same limited resources that we humans do, but they were finding ways to work it all out without killing each other.  I also was so grateful for all the diversity I was witnessing and prayed that what we are doing to the water and the air does not cause more and more species to die off.  This ecosystem was incredible and I was thankful that I was a part of it in my little boat.  I think the birds eventually began to notice I was there, but by the time they figured it out I had been there for so long that I seemed to pose no threat.  I tentative stood up and they didn't care. They even began to fly over my head, when they went from one side and then back to the other.  It was so amazing to feel part of this scene in an included and non-intrusive way.  I almost began to feel like they saw me as another bird, instead of some threatening force that might harm them.  My philosophy is to be an equal part of the web of life, and though I always feel this way I have never felt that other creatures accepted me as such before.

Incoming Ibis ©Lynne Buchanan

More and more ibis kept flying in.

Even a Great Egret Joined the Fun...
Great Egret Landing ©Lynne Buchanan

Every moment something new was happening. All I had to do was be present, pay attention, and appreciate each miracle that unfolded. How birds take off and fly and land is so fascinating. Especially amazing is how they never crash into each other when so many are coming and going all the time, and the ones grazing along the shore are constantly moving as well.  Such amazing synchronized chaos.

Draped Wings ©Lynne Buchanan

Suspended in Flight ©Lynne Buchanan

Ibis In Flight ©Lynne Buchanan

Incoming Formation ©Lynne Buchanan
But there were the quiet birds too.  How I loved the way the Great Blue Herons sat in the treetops meditatively above all the mayhem nearby...

Great Blue Heron Still Life ©Lynne Buchanan
Then I noticed a lone white pelican gliding gracefully on the water in the company of a spoonbill, an egret and a couple of ibis.  The colors of the lone spoonbill were so vibrant in comparison to the pure white of the other birds' feathers.  

White Pelican, Spoonbill, Ibis, and Egret ©Lynne Buchanan

I could have stayed there all day, but I started to realize that I was getting cold...  I had been so enthralled by the spectacle around me that it took a couple of hours before I noticed my fingers and toes were numb.
Mangroves and Oyster Shells, Matlacha ©Lynne Buchanan
Reluctantly I left this special place, with its ecosystem of mangroves, oyster shells, and sea plants still healthy enough to support all these wonderful birds that shared their morning rituals with me.  I left the sheltered area and headed back in the open water towards the park where I had put in.  At one point, the wind was so stiff that I had to get out of my kayak and wade, pulling it behind me in order to make any headway.  The birds need sanctuaries like the one I had visited to thrive, and we owe it to them to keep them pristine.