After a stormy summer night and morning, acting on the spur of the moment, and hoping against hope for better weather, I drove into the deserted park and wound my way around to the parking lot to meet my Audubon guide and re-enter the world of birding I’d left behind ten or more years ago. There were grassy puddles everywhere, a gray on gray sky and I was armed with slicker, visor, bug spray and binoculars. No one but the guide and I showed up.
With an eagerness that just barely outweighed my fear of impending storms, I followed her to a marshy pond alive with frog sounds. Grunts, chirps and everything in between filled the air. And then a peacock, far off, cardinals and wrens – a gallinule or coot, invisible in the reeds. The original sound-surround.
PIcking our way through the swampy trail, she pointed out blackberry and buttonbush. There were butterflies and dragonflies – the dragonflies with wafer-thin wings of aquamarine, ruby and mother of pearl. Now the sun was breaking through, smiling thinly on all the tangled loveliness. I felt like Eve in the Garden.
Soon we came to a tree and pointed our lenses at movement—three downy woodpeckers: mom, dad, and little one begging. And then herons–green and yellow-crested, cormorants and ibis and grackles, redwinged blackbirds flashing their epaulets in the ever-strengthening sun, egrets and a lone gull.
On our path of wet, fallen leaves I saw a tiny hopping movement and was delighted to find a Lilliputian toad, only an inch from stem to stern, looking more like a dead leaf than a toady. She sat stock-still while we admired her petite beauty.
On our way back, my guide discovered a small striped snake, buff and black, who we followed until he glided gracefully into the underbrush, smooth in movement, strangely disjointed in repose, like a skinny bag of bones.
And last but not least, we heard, then saw, two Carolina wrens, ordinary-looking little birds with extraordinarily beautiful voices.
As we turned back to the parking lot I felt tired, grubby, damp, hungry and happy to be back out in the world I love best.