On Friday, the local paper’s top headline on Page One was entitled “For The Birds”. The story is about the purchase by Audubon of Florida of Lanark Reef. I’d never heard of the place. But it’s in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile south of Lanark Village. And I do know Lanark Village. You have to pass by it on Highway 98, between Tallahassee and St. George Island. It has a much larger cousin, Dog Island. Dog Island is 6 miles long and 1 mile wide.
It turns out that this place I never heard of is one of the most important sites for nesting, over-wintering, and rest stops for migratory species, for all sorts of birds. It has the largest rookery for brown pelicans out of only four in the state. (What? Only four?) So I guess this is not only a geography lesson, it’s also an ornithology lesson.
The article says the reef is 6 miles long also, but most of it is submerged at high tide. It’s a sand flat, with mudflats at both ends, and the “dry” part can sometimes be submerged itself during high tide…or a storm surge.
So here is the absolutely hysterical part. Since 1956, Lanark Reef has been in private hands. In 2011 it was “acquired” by Premier Bank from a private developer. One wonders what “acquired” means in this context. Prior to that, the developer applied for a permit to build houses here, and was denied. Duh. You wanted to build houses on a SAND FLAT? Only in Florida. It sounds like something from a book by Carl Hiassen. (Read “Sick Puppy”).
60% of Dog Island is managed by the Nature Conservancy. The other 40% has private houses, and true story: during Tropical Storm Debby this year, two large families who were vacationing together had to be rescued from Dog Island by helicopter. Two large families and a dog, that is. The basket that was lowered to the house could hold two people at at time–or one person and one dog. They had a boat of course, because that’s the only way to get there, but there was no way they could have taken it anywhere safely. The Gulf was churning like a washing machine. It took the authorities a long time to find a helicopter. All the ones in Florida were in use rescuing other people. I think they finally got one from Texas.
If that happened on Dog Island, picture what Lanark Reef would have looked like. The people in those proposed “homes” would have drowned long before a helicopter could get there.
Audubon purchased it for $33,000. Again, What? That sounds like about $32,999 too much for a worthless piece of “land”, if you can call it that. But we value land by whether or not you can build or grow something on it, and birds don’t count.
Now that Audubon owns it, they have a new rule. You can’t set foot on it. You can ride around it in a boat, and look at the birds through binoculars, but you can’t walk on it.
One of the birds that likes to hang out on the reef in winter is the American Oystercatcher. Shorebirds love nesting on sand flats, and they love hunting in mudflats.
So another true story: Once when Fakesister was visiting, we went to Bald Point State Park for a little fun in the sun and amateur birdwatching. Bald Point is not that great as a sunbathing beach, but it’s good for birdwatching, because there are mudflats close enough to shore that you can almost see the birds there. We were both armed with our bird ID books, and were having a friendly discussion about whether the birds we were seeing were sandpipers or sanderlings. When what to our wondering eyes should appear but a Serious Birdwatcher, loaded down with a tripod and a camera with the largest zoom lens I’ve ever seen. It would make a fatal weapon if you hit somebody over the head with it.
Serious Birdwatcher guy set up his gear very close to us, so Fakesister and I decided to ask him what the little brown birds were. We were a little hesitant to interrupt him, but decided to be brave. He turned out to be incredibly friendly and completely willing to share his passion with us. And he asked if we wanted to look through his zoom lens at the mudflat he was trained on. We did. And there, for the first time, we saw American Oystercatchers. I had never heard of them, speaking of ornithology lessons.
Here is a picture of one, and this is exactly how we saw them. Feet submerged. Bright orange bills, poking and snapping. They are considered threatened in Florida. I wonder how they’re doing now, since oysters have become more scarce. The photo is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the premier place to go if you want to learn about any bird.