“…words are all we have of wings.” — Mark O’Connor
There’s nothing like an air travel delay to offer hours of unplanned time to ponder the miracles of flight. This week, I traded Illinois’ tallgrass prairies for Gulf Coast beaches, with about a break-even in temperature (it’s 98 down south; 96 on the prairie as I type this). It might be easy to get snarly about a three hour delay on the flight home and easily undo all the tranquility of a week’s vacation. Tranquility can be only surface deep sometimes; with tension lurking just under the surface.
But instead, I decide to think over the past week. One of the great aspects of displacement is exposure to unfamiliar flora and fauna. It offers you a chance to see the world with new eyes. It reminds you what a diverse and delightful place the world can be.
I miss the tallgrass prairie wildflowers, which I know are spectacular this week.
I remind myself of this as I admire the neon hues of Florida hibiscus.
In Florida, the familiar jostles against the unfamiliar. Across the beaches; over the ponds and mangrove pools, dragonflies and damselflies tirelessly patrol for mosquitoes. A new place means new species of tropical dragonflies. This gives me an excuse to peruse Odonata websites, in search of names. Such glorious colors! Like this scarlet skimmer.
And funky patterns….
… like the ones on this four-spotted pennant. (Could have guessed the name of this one, right?) . I feel a bit nostalgic for the dragonflies and damselflies that are patrolling the prairies back home—just a two-and-a-half hour jet flight away.
But it’s the birds that demand my full attention. Shorebirds. Herons of every possible description and hue.
Yellow-crowned night herons in full breeding plumage.
Some are familiar visitors to the prairie during migration or in the summer. These white pelicans, for example. You’d think this photo was taken in Florida…
… but in fact, these white pelicans were ones I saw at Nachusa Grasslands at the end of last month. Down south now, I wonder about their migration patterns. What do they think of the change from beach to prairie and back again? Is it as jolting for them as it is for me?
Beach birds like the pelicans will find the company they keep in Illinois a little different. Although the tallgrass prairie birds have some startling color combinations…
…Florida’s roseate spoonbill’s bright pink screams for your attention.
Hard for our little prairie Henslow’s sparrow to compete, isn’t it?
Despite all the color and sizzle and “gee-whiz-look-at-me” that the Gulf Coast beaches and their birds and dragonflies have to offer…
…there is truly (as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz) “no place like home.”
I can’t wait to be back on the prairie.
Opening quote is from the poem, “The Mutton Birds,” by Australian Mark O’Connor (1945-), in “The Olive Tree: Collected Poems.”
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): alligator (Aligator mississippiensis) in lily pond, Sanibel Island, FL; yellow crowned night heron in breeding plumage (Nyctanassa violacea), J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL; pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hibiscus (Hibiscus, unknown species), Sanibel Island, Florida; scarlet skimmer dragonfly (Crocothemis servilia), Captiva Island, Florida; four-spotted pennant dragonfly (Brachymesia gravida), Captiva Island, Florida; juvenile tri-colored heron (Egretta tricolor), J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL; yellow crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) in breeding plumage, J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL; American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; bob-o-link (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida; Henslow’s sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset on Captiva Island, Florida; sunset on Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Markham, IL.