After I left St. Pete Beach, I turned my car onto Pass-a-Grille Way. I was now facing Tierra Verde and I parked my car so I could walk next to the water. Living in the “other” Florida has made me more or less forget that Florida’s first and foremost tourist attraction has always been its beaches.
The fresh marine breeze was counterpoint to the trapped air that hangs over the central part of the state every summer. The air smelled briny and tangy and I paused for a moment to consider how perfumers attempt to capture this scent in fragrances and end up drowning in a chemical cocktail of ozone, cucumber (representing water), ambergris, and pepper.
I was doing my part to continue this conceit by wearing a fragrance that was heavy on the faux-marine and light on anything natural. It competed with nature and did its best to eclipse it. I walked along the shore and picked up some shells that I thought might be scallops, and then I found a small cone shell that had been so battered by the tide that it resembled concrete. It had been a long time since I’d found seashells and the simple activity delighted me, as did a line-up of seabirds at the end of a dock. As I continued along Pass-a-Grille Way, I found more birds, both sea- and shore-, a couple of whom were happy to pose for photographs. One of these, which I am guessing is a wader, posed in neckless resplendence. The bird was all shoulder; why had it adapted that way?
An elderly couple had brought folding chairs out to the sidewalk. They sat wrapped in sweaters and scarves, surrounded by gulls, pelicans, and a crane. I didn’t want to disturb this gathering so I observed from a distance; there appeared to be a relationship between the couple and the birds. The relationship was most likely food, because as I approached the birds turned their attention to me. They watched to see if my pockets might contain small pink shrimp, and then they turned their attention back to the couple. I made a note to visit a bait store before my next visit.
A disparate group of birds was hanging out on pilings that jutted out of the water. In spite of my very basic birding skills, I was able to identify an anhinga among the group (or not; see Dave’s comment. It’s a cormorant. Thanks, Dave!). Each piling had a single bird atop it, leading to some possibly erroneous conclusion that the perches were like seats in a restaurant, available on a first-come, first-served basis. But then, in analogy to human behavior, surely some “seats” were more desirable than others and worth fighting over. Which bird was dominant and was dominance based on size and sound? A gull screamed, a pelican had the most heft. The anhinga sat on a railing farthest away from land, its feathers drying in the traditional Gothic pose. Or perhaps the selection of perch depended upon a bird’s relationship to humans, which would make the anhinga the least sociable. With only a couple of hours to spend in observation, I was unable to answer these questions and will leave it to the bird sociologists. That there might be a human metaphor was worthy of consideration, though.