Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conflict Resolution with an Old Nemesis

This weekend I was able to make amends with my old nemesis, the Scarlet Tanager. The Scarlet Tanager is neither a summer, nor a winter resident in Florida, but makes a brief appearance each year as it passes through en route to South America. I first *saw* one perched on a telephone wire two years ago. I was driving, and determined much too late that there was something amiss with the cardinal I'd passed. The situation was such that I had had to keep driving and wasn't able to confirm my suspicions, but the Tanager could hardly be blamed for my sluggish ID, and we parted ways with no hard feelings between us.

That all changed last spring, when one humiliating encounter struck me to my very core. I was halfway through my first ever 10k race, the Gumbo Limbo Green Turtle Gallop, when a flash of scarlet and black disappeared into the top of a cabbage palm. Suddenly I was faced with a split-second decision to either continue running, or pause mid-race, letting everyone pass me by while I stared blankly at the top of a tree. Obviously I went with the latter, and for several minutes I stood waiting, momentum spent, as I searched fruitlessly for a bird that had already flown. Eventually, I tore myself away and managed to continue on, but I had been dealt an ignominious blow by a ruthless adversary, and I would not soon forget.

Two luckless migrations have passed since, without even a hint of scarlet. Finally, a week and a half ago, Maureen and I headed to nearby Frenchman's Forest in Palm Beach Gardens. The conditions were awful, being overcast and windy all morning, but during a relatively still moment I was able to pick out a jet black wing beside a strikingly red body. Only small patches of the bird were visible, being on the far side of a strangler fig, and I wanted to be positive my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. I tried to direct Maureen's attention, but a powerful gust came along at that very instant and didn't relent for some time. When it finally did, our efforts proved fruitless and ultimately moved on after the wind picked up again.

Finally, on Saturday and Sunday we returned to Frenchman's Forest and had an extraordinary weekend of birding that Maureen is going to write about. I had absolutely no cause for complaint, given the looks we were getting of some really fantastic birds. Still, I kept thinking it would be a nice time to set aside my grudge with Scarlet Tanagers, if only one would present itself. After 10.5 hours in the field, over the course of two days, we were getting ready to head back to the car. The last remaining spot for us to check was a gazebo overlooking a small lake, but we could see a couple on one of the benches, being affectionate with one another. It was almost enough to turn us away, but with the luck we'd been having I figured that we couldn't afford not to take a peek.

We approached the gazebo, but just before we barged in on the couple's private moment, my attention was attracted by a stirring down low, near the lake's edge. It only took a moment to understand what I was looking at. It wasn't the scarlet plumage of the adult male, but I'm an equal opportunity birder, whose life list is color blind. Not only did the tanager stay put long enough for an identification, it stuck around until Maureen and I were ready to walk away, nearly 10 minutes later. All is forgiven now, and the moment served as the perfect culmination to the weekend. The only thing remaining now is a new nemesis bird.

1 comment:

  1. They pass through here too ,Toronto, during migration, but go further north for the summer. We waited 5 years to see one, and I can still remember the first year I saw one. I was with a friend who wasn't into birding, but even she was taken by his beauty. He was eye level in a bush, but out in the open, didn't even need my bins. Rob and I saw one again together not long after my sighting. Glad you had your moment too. :)