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Category: Wild Things


Migration was over, at least officially, so a common yellowthroat shouldn’t have been in the seagrape, but there she was, flitting around as if schedules and range maps didn’t apply to her. Female common yellowthroats always look a little caught out to me. Males have this black mask across their face that contrasts with their yellow throat. It’s dramatically graphic and reminiscent of an old-school cartoon burglar, giving them a certain swashbuckling air.  Females have very similar coloring, if slightly duller, but without the bandit mask. Their vibe is more like they’re out trying to run...

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It’s not often that an animal messes with you just for the fun of it. Stuart, my half pit bull, used to do it. If you took him for a walk up the Keys, he would sometimes find a really long stick, balance it in his mouth, run up behind you and hit you in the back of the legs with it. Then he would stand there with a kind of Fozzie Bear look on his face, like it was the funniest thing in the world. (He did this once with an 8-foot two-by-four. Hilarious.) A couple years ago I was out in my boat and saw a pod of dolphins. I cut the engine to just watch them for a while, and they went into full-on...

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You want to see signs of rain when you wake — puddles that weren’t there the night before, maybe wet streets. You don’t want it to have rained too early in the evening. Sometime between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. is best, though later still works. You want the birds that left Cuba and parts south just after sunset to have hit the weather over the Keys, to know their migration was done for the night, and to set down. You want it to rain enough that, after the birds have given up on the evening’s long-haul flight, they don’t keep moving forward on short hops. That’s how it works in my head, at least....

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The wind was up, so it was likely to be “sporty” crossing the Northwest Channel, but as I cleared the anchorage behind Wisteria Island and moved through the first set of channel markers, it was surprisingly calm. I kept waiting for waves to break over the bow and they didn’t. About halfway to Mule Key, a low line of birds came towards me – big, white, fast-moving. I got a little excited, threw the engine into neutral, and felt the stern lift as the wake caught up to the boat. The lead bird rose up over the water, and all the birds behind him rose, too, then he dropped down, and all the birds...

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WILD THINGS: Drama in the distant treetops

Certain aspects of your life are hard to explain. For instance, I would not want to answer to a jury of my peers why I wasted so much time last week staring slack-jawed at the drama taking place in a pine tree in Eastern Europe. I’ll start by blaming Davis.  He’s Latvian, and the kind of friend who, if you call him up, tell him you’re making a movie for a 72-hour film challenge, and ask him to put on a Grim Reaper costume, run around the beach and try to catch a football that he can’t see, he’ll do it, no questions asked. A few years ago, Davis sent me a link to a webcam that’s mounted on a...

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There’s an oft-quoted line from “To Kill A Mockingbird”: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy … but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” I mean, it’s a lovely sentiment, and a poignant metaphor that plays out throughout the book, but the problem is, it wouldn’t hold up in bird court. It’s the repeated phrase “for us” that’s the rub because, like more things than we care to admit in the world, it’s not really about us humans. (Though, to be clear, it is still a sin to kill a mockingbird.) Bird song, as far as we know, tends to...

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