Crystal blue waters reached out into the endless horizon. Matched by a sky just as radiant, Mother Nature was begging people to break out of their houses and enjoy the splendor that she had to offer. A sandy beach lined the shore while what seemed like hundreds of pelicans soared through the sky, taking a moments reprieve on whatever stoop offered an area to land.
Was I even still in Florida? As far as I knew I hadn’t left but this atmosphere was so unlike any other place in the state I had explored, like I had escaped to a small island vacation town detached from the mainland and by consequence, detached from the stresses of the world.
As I zoomed in on my map to get my bearings, I surprisingly found that was in fact true as missing a turn down the highway had led me to Cedar Key, a hidden paradise along the Gulf Coast.
I parked my car at the waterfront park and jumped at the opportunity to explore this small town. Old wooden buildings lined a thin main street with restaurants and businesses attempting to entice people inside. The sound of waves washing up on shore accompanied caws of local birds.
As nice as a meal sounded, I was drawn to the astonishing amount of air born life and walked up and down the side walk seemingly having a staring contest with every bird that would let me.
I came upon a small one who had lost a leg and hopped about on one foot as if the need for two legs was laughable. It noticed me taking its picture and stopped to stare at me for a second.
What the heck are you looking at? it seemed to say as it puffed up its feathers. There seemed to be so much emotions in its eyes and face.
I often think about the sentience of animals while I am interacting with them in the wild and am convinced that we downplay their ability to intelligently communicate. Here in front of me was a perfect example. I could understand the struggles this bird had gone through at some point. I could feel the confidence that surviving through them had given it. Just by interacting with me, it was in a way telling me its story. Animals seem to do this all the time, we simply don’t understand the language.
I left my new friend and walked along the pier, a long faded white dock lined with local fishers, the salt from the ocean having worn down any sheen on the wood and the sun equally affecting the locals. Pelicans seemed to especially enjoy this area as every perch one could find was taken.
I stopped to have a staring contest with one and was immediately lost in its crystal blue eyes. I had fallen into them so deeply, it was as if I had slipped into a pool. The deep black pupil seemingly never ending. The pink of the eyelid pushing one to forget that this was not a human. The blue iris, cold like an icicle.
The yellow feathers puffed up like hair on baby, seemingly light and fluffy.
Before I knew it, I had been staring at this bird for 20 minutes. That was my signal to head further on my days journey.
Not wanting to end the day yet, I started to drive north aimlessly, fully confident that I would find something to do. 20 miles in I saw a sign for a wildlife refuge and thought that a small hike would be nice. The next thing I knew I was on a small boardwalk surrounded by dense foliage.
It amazed my how quickly the atmosphere can change in the gulf. One minute I was on the ocean and now I was in a forest. The wonder never ceasing to amaze me.
As I was about to leave, I noticed a small bat house along the road and read that there were about 100,000 bats that lived inside.
Now that’s a lot of bats.
Knowing that they would come out near sunset, I decided to wait for the opportunity. After all, it was only 30 minutes away.
As I waited, I noticed some movement in the trees and saw a pair of Red Tailed Hawks up above. They were there waiting for the bats to come out!
All of a sudden, thousands of bats started to emerge from the house out into the sky. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was as if a swarm of insects were released from a hive and this dark cloud of life and sound was exploding out into the world in front of you.
Before I knew it, the two hawks started their hunt, swooping down and grabbing bats in their talons. They moved so fast, and so silently, they bats didn’t stand a chance.
Boom! I saw one enter a dive bomb and grab a bat out of thin air bringing it back up to a tree to eat. I could hear the tearing of the bat’s flesh as it sat there and ate it.
They other hawk dove and grabbed one landing on the ground to have its snack.
This repeated over and over for about 20 minutes, each hawk catching at least 4 bats that I saw. Then suddenly, the buffet was over as all the bats had gone off into the night. The hawks knew this house was here though and were sure to return to this smorgasbord every night.
That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Closest Supercharger Ocala
4414 SW College Rd, Ocala, FL 34474
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
16450 NW 31 Pl, Chiefland, FL 32626