Trouble in Cedar Key: Spring in the Refuge

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By Gene Benedict

Some days back, I was off to the Refuge to note how things have changed over the past several weeks. It is not yet dawn. I take loop road. Fields and uplands come awake. Little birds are in an impromptu chorus led by tiny wrens with uplifted tail feathers and loud crisp songs, notes grouped in two, three, four, and more, "Cedar, Cedar, Cedar Key," "Veeger, veeger, veeger, veeger, veeger."

As morning gets brighter and dawn breaks, brown thrashers, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, and warblers join the chorus. Occasionally, a pair will fly by, males more colorful than females. Pairs of robins, the males with distinctive red breasts, are still here. They either missed the main flights home and are waiting for a later one, or like some "snowbirds" on the Cedar Keys, they decided to stay over through the year to check out the summers.

A pair of cardinals goes by close to the ground. There have been fewer cardinals this year. By now, they are usually all over the place. In the inhabited parts of the Keys one might be seen fighting with that cardinal on the other side of the glass or a vehicle's rear view mirror. They leave a mess down the doors as they fight. Not so this year. I wonder why.

Car windows are all the way down while the vehicle idles along in low gear. The slower you go, the more you know. You can see, hear, smell, even feel more, and your senses get keener as awareness increases. With the radio and the air conditioner off, those sounds are less interfering. Notice, observe, be one with the surroundings.

A woodpecker, I think pileated, blurts out loudly for a few bars at clarinet-like staccato. It's as if he is sounding a warning. Seconds later a large long-tailed hawk flies low through the trees looking about. Perhaps it was a warning. Following the hawk's appearance, the woods fall silent for a while. Then, business as usual.

Along the ditches, a few wild irises yet remain. These are deep violet in color as apposed to earlier ones that were pale blue. All, now, are on the wane. Those bright yellow, many petalled water lilies are gone, maybe due to low levels of water. Once it rains again, look for them to be back.

Blackberries are through blooming. Berries are slowly emerging, small, and reddish green among the briars. I mentally mark a few spots for a snack in coming weeks. In some places, elderberries are blooming, their tiny blossoms clustered much like Queen Ann's lace. They bear no fruit yet, but that won't be far behind. The tiny berries, in clusters at the end of the stalks, will not last. Elderberries have no thorns to protect them. The birds will have a feast. We'll probably not even see the berries. They'll go so fast.

Lilies, tiny white blossoms on long stems are blooming in the wet spots. They'll be around a while unless the drought deepens severely. Small marshmallows are starting to bloom. Some low grasses are growing now and will soon bloom. Prepare for allergies and hay fever if you're not yet suffering.

Whoa. What's that? It's a large barred owl on a lower limb. Once he notices I've seen him, he flies slowly off, down the road, perching again on a lower branch. Again I approach. He takes off a good ways this time and as he prepares to alight, I see a movement in the leaves along the limb. Then I see her. They are grooming, kissing, petting, if you will. This time both fly off to where they can't be found.

Wow. What a morning. I've seen some new things new. I'll be reliving that till we meet again, looking for Trouble in Cedar Key.

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com