The Anhinga’s Evening Routine

It sat in the shallow algae covered waters of the lake; its long black neck snaked out of the water and with its knife-like beak it flipped its catch in the air, turning it around, then swallowing the fish whole. In a flash, it was below the water again. Not even a ripple stirred on the water. It was completely submerged, searching for its next catch.

Anhinga fishing in the water Corrinne Brubaker

These birds always amazed me with their masterful swimming and fishing skills. Most waterfowl like ducks, coots, herons, all stay above the water. Ducks partially submerge sticking their beaks in the water leaving their bottoms sticking in the air and their webbed feet kicking. But anhingas dive completely into the water. In a quick motion, leading with their head, they go completely under coming up 30 seconds later with a fish that it swallows whole. Many other fishing birds don’t even dive for their fish, herons, egrets, spoonbills, and storks all wade in the water and submerge only the end of their long beaks to catch their prey.

The anhinga is agile. I watched this one anhinga hunt. Within a few minutes it had caught more than four fish in the same manner, diving for no more than a minute at a time and each time it came up with a fish and took a moment to wriggle it around in its beak and swallow it before diving back under the water.

It’s common to see anhingas perched on the water’s edge at any of the lakes in Florida. The sit there with their wings outstretched, drying their feathers and soaking in the sun. But this time I got to see one in the water fishing for its evening meal.

The anhinga continued to inch its way up the branch and shake its feathers vigorously. Droplets of water flew off in all directions. Then it spread its wings stretching them out and letting them dry in the setting sun. But just letting them sit there wasn’t enough. The anhinga began beating its wings in a steady rhythm and moving its long neck to go along with it. Unlike other birds, however, this bird’s dance wasn’t for show, it was more practical; it was the drying off dance. The dance seemed effective; its shiny black feathers fluffed on all sides. The anhinga had a successful evening eating its fill, and now it was winding down on its cozy tree as the sun set across the lake.

Originally published on https://www.theodysseyonline.com/anhinga-fishing

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Sandpiper on Beach

Lone Sandpiper

On most days sandpipers, seagulls, pelicans, egrets, and other shorebirds line the shore. Dozens of sandpipers rummage the sand at the water’s edge, pecking for any food they can find. People are seen swimming, sunbathing, and walking up and down the beach, enjoying the warmth and sunshine. Today, however, was different; it was pouring rain. It was one of our first days back in Florida, so my husband and I were not going to let a little rain stop us from going to the beach.

The little parking lot that was normally packed was empty. We left all our belongings in the car including our shoes; it was pouring so hard everything would be soaked in a few seconds. We got out of the car and ran barefoot across the pavement to the beach. I felt like a kid again, running in the rain in my swimsuit and getting soaked.

Normally Florida is hot in May, but the rain cooled everything down, and now I had an uncontrollable shiver as I walked across the wet sand. Allen jumped right in as the rain splashed against the waves.

I hesitated like I usually do because I never know what sort of creatures might be hiding in the water. I waded in up to my knees and splashed the water with my hands. It was warmer than the air that was making me shiver. As cold as I was, the coolness was a relief, it had been hot all day in our house with broken air-conditioning.

I looked out at the Gulf of Mexico in front of me. It was strange seeing the clouds hanging so low above the ocean. They formed a dense gray fog. The waves moved up and down, pushed by the rain and gentle wind. It was almost frightening being so close to such a wild and untamed piece of nature.

My mind wandered to movies I had seen like “Castaway” and “Life of Pi” where people were stranded at sea, pushed mercilessly by the stormy waves. I shivered again and tried to not think of the miles and miles of open water in front of me.

I turned and looked around at the sand. There was not a person in sight. Usually, you could see dozens of people swimming and walking up and down Indian Rocks Beach.

I looked some more and noticed that the birds had all left too. It was so eerie and quiet; it’s funny how rain can empty a beach that is normally filled with people. It was peaceful I splashed around and savored the quiet for a moment. My head cleared and I relaxed from our long weekend of moving into our new home.

I looked at the sand on my left again; it was empty except for one lone sandpiper. The sandpiper was running around pecking at the sand at the edge of the waves finding any bit of food he could. He didn’t seem bothered by the rain that was pouring on him; he was just busy going about his day as if nothing was happening.

“Allen, look at that sandpiper,” I said. I pointed at the sandpiper who continued pecking at the sand. I watched him run back and forth, scurrying along the beach. I was so used to seeing them in groups of dozens or at least a few, but he was the only one on the beach. For a bird that is typically social, he seemed to be enjoying the solitude.

I felt like the little sandpiper at that moment. He was the only bird at the beach, and my husband and I were the only humans there. We were all enjoying the beach like we normally do, despite the downpour and cold. The beach is enjoyable in any weather, and the sandpiper seemed to think so too.

He was probably also happy to not have to worry about anyone else taking his food; he could eat in peace. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone, maybe it’s a little eerie, but it’s also peaceful. The sandpiper continued running along the edge of the waves pecking at the sand content to enjoy the beach alone.

Originally published by Corrinne Brubaker on Odyssey

Stream Through the Woods

Spending Time With Nature Heals You

Four years ago, I woke up in a flurry of emotions; my mind weighed down by a cloud of anxiety and depression. “Will he break up with me? What will happen? What should I do?” I forced a bowl of cereal down and crawled back into bed. The sun shone through the window beckoning me outside. “It looks so happy out there, so why am I sitting in here wallowing in my own pity?” I got dressed, put my walking shoes on, stuffed a water bottle, my phone, and a journal in my purse and went outside.

The summer sun embraced me. I started walking and every step I took, the dense cloud on my mind evaporated a little more. I passed by a house with its massive tree; it was covered now with bright green leaves. I stopped for a second, inhaled and enjoyed its beauty. More green trees, flowers, and soft grass beckoned me onwards until I came out of the subdivision. Across the street was a natural field. Beautiful purple and yellow wildflowers bloomed; their colors filled me with unexplainable happiness, it was hard to believe I was depressed just moments before.

I stopped and sat with the flowers, the blue sky, the sun, and the gentle breeze. They carried away all my fear, everything I had been anxious about seemed so silly. Nature is more than some nice, pretty scenery to look at; there is this energy about it that brings you back to reality, back to yourself; it restores; it heals. I started to take walks like this every day where I would spend an hour or two enjoying nature and letting nature heal me, many times it was the only thing that kept me sane.

In Florida, I would experience similar healing from the ocean. Stressful school assignments would be looming overhead, I would feel overwhelmed with all I had to do, but then we would go to the beach and as my toes touched the sand then the waves, I would forget all my stress and my mind was clear again. It wasn’t even that I tried to forget my worries, it happened on its own, nature healed me without me doing anything but stepping outside and enjoying it for a moment. Life is slower in nature; it knows how not to be busy, how to rest and enjoy and that peace can’t help but rub off on you.

Nature not only restores us mentally but physically as well. The other day I had been lying in bed with stomach cramps and backaches all day. I was sure I couldn’t run, but I went with my husband to the park anyway. It was beautiful; all the trees were blooming; the grass was growing long and bright green. I tried running, and as I did I felt no pain, the movement felt good, and nature felt good. I managed to run the whole mile around the park surprised at what my body could do. Movement and being in nature has this way of making you forget your pain, to enjoy and rest in the moment while all your other problems fade.

Originally published by Corrinne Brubaker on Odyssey

Fighting Conch

20170706_144104Before moving to Florida I knew nothing about sea shells and the wonderful little creatures that inhabited them. A few days after moving to Davie Florida in April of 2016, my husband and I decided to take a day trip to Naples. The drive was an hour and a half long on one perfectly straight highway through the everglades. The excitement of driving through swampy wetlands for the first time kept us occupied for the entire ride. At the beach in Naples we enjoyed the warm waters and I quickly noticed that Florida beaches had more seashells than I had ever seen on a beach before. As I walked along the beach searching for shells, I noticed a beautiful little conch shell nestled in the sand. I picked it up excited to take home such an unbroken and beautiful shell, but to my surprise, it was occupied by a little squishy slug like creature. I gently placed the shell right back in the sand where I found it and went on my way searching for other, uninhabited shells.

Later that same day we went to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park just a little further north in Naples. While walking along the more natural beach there, I found more conch shells along the shore, each of them were alive. We did however find eleven beautiful empty shells on a sandbar that I was able to take home. To this day, I still have them displayed on my windowsills reminding me of the uniqueness of each one of these shells. No two shells look alike, they share the same basic shape, but each has their own unique coloring and pattern. Some are a beautiful deep brown color, others are much lighter, almost white, some even have magnificent stripes.

At the time I found the shells I knew nothing about them. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I discovered they were called Fighting Conchs. Despite their name, none have attacked me, they are rather soft and gentle creatures. If they do fight it is typically male conchs fighting other males since they are territorial.

Months later, in January of 2017, after moving to Largo Florida, two hours north of Naples, I had the opportunity to see more live fighting conchs. One day my husband and I were searching for sea shells at Indian Rocks Beach and we spotted perfect whole conch shells nestled into the very wet sand on the water’s edge. We picked one up and sure enough there was a beautiful little conch inside just like the live ones I had seen back in Naples. There were countless living conchs lining the shore, every one of them was alive. We noticed how they would dig themselves down into the wet sands probably to stay protected and not dry out and possibly to eat detritus as well. It also kept them from being pushed around by the waves. Some conchs were burrowed deep in the sand, almost completely covering their entire shell. It was hard to find them as just a small side of their shell was visible.

I was amazed at how the soft squishy looking bodies of these little creatures could dig so well. After seeing these little creatures, I saw how truly alive they are, they are beautiful and fascinating. Before, I thought of them as simple, mindless creatures, but I realize now they are so much more.

A week later when my parents came to visit, we went to the same beach, and again found countless fighting conchs lining the shore, burrowed into the wet sand. I noticed a few that were overturned or out in the dry sand and helped them back to where it was safe. After picking one up thinking it was empty, we found it was alive and gently placed it back down. Right away we could see it start to burrow again, digging itself safe into the sand. My family and I walked down the beach in excitement pointing out every little conch we noticed and watching as they dug their little burrows, I will never forget this moment or these little creatures.