Sick humor

Sick humor

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Last Friday, November 11, I got down to Everglades National Park for another look around. Hurricane Irma hit on September 10. Considering it has only been two months some things are recovering nicely. The park itself is now open 24 hours a day which is a new return to normal. Only a week ago the public could not enter until 7 AM and had to be out before 7 PM. I’m guessing, but I would suspect that change was primarily to appease the anglers as there are no facilities or campgrounds functioning yet. Only the anglers were bothered by the 7 AM opening: it is 40 miles to the boat ramps from the main gate so, at best, anglers were on the water around 8, which is well past sunrise. The hard-core anglers and guides prefer to launch in the dark to be fishing when the sky lightens.

Environmentally, there are signs of recovery also. Some mangrove trees, the ones along the sides of the raised roadbeds, the canal margins, and the river shores are flushing out with regrowth leaves. I say some because there are different species of mangroves and those that grow on higher ground (the Black Mangrove and the White Mangrove) are the ones that appear to be recovering. The Red Mangrove, the iconic species with spiderlike roots, that grows at the lowest elevation, usually right in the water, does not appear to be sprouting new leaves. If that is the case, and it was predictable, it is really bad news. The Red Mangrove is a cornerstone species of the entire food chain.

During the 1960’s the Park’s main biologist was Frank C. Craighead, Sr. He started to write a book to describe the trees and plant communities in the Park, but he was distracted by two large hurricanes the pummeled the Park (Donna and Betsy). His book, in turn, documented quite a bit of the initial and subsequent environmental devastation. During that period large swaths of Red Mangrove were unable to recover due to inches of Florida Bay mud that was spread by the storm surge. When the mud settled it strangled the mangrove roots by starving them of oxygen. Irma and Donna had almost identical paths across Florida. Hopefully, the unnaturally heavy rains during and since Irma will have washed much of that mud away.

Fishing wise, things are also looking up. TA and I managed to find a good number of juvenile snook. These fish were only one or two-year-olds, and although not trophies they were a very welcomed sight. South Florida was hit by a devastating freeze in 2010 and the snook stock suffered a severe decline. These little guys are a sign of good spawns during the last two years. Juvi snook were once considered a plague, and then for a while, they were AWOL. Other good news is we found some large tarpon, and I even got one to eat, but we will not talk about the rest here. The sad results probably would be better discussed in the knot thread on board.

We drove out of the Park during daylight. No matter how many times I drive that road I am always in awe and learn something new. This trip even caused me to chuckle…

The following story is true. Although short, it took many years to unfold. Please be advised: if you are the sensitive type that believes no animals should ever be hurt by humans, purposely or accidentally, you should stop reading now as this story revolves around roadkill. Try not to touch the ground as you leave, as each step you take likely squashes a multitude of life forms.


The story begins years ago when SN, his lovely wife in tow, moved to South Florida to start a family and follow his career path as an environmental engineer. SN was, and still is, an avid fly angler. The son of a flyshop owner, he was quite accomplished in angling and casting, but as to be expected, upon arrival not very knowledgeable about fishing in the Everglades


I actually do not remember the trip but apparently I may have been his introduction to fishing in Everglades National Park.  As I was recently reminded, we were driving down in my van, a canoe no doubt strapped to the top, and we were traveling the desolate yet scenic 40 miles of two-lane road between the park entrance and the marina, probably around sunrise.  Along that road, each night, although lightly traveled, there are numerous small animals killed by traffic. Mostly frogs and small snakes, but also lubber grasshoppers, crawfish, and assorted large insects. Occasionally, although infrequently, larger life forms like owls, nightjars, and gators also succumb to automobiles.


One life form commonly encountered along that road, especially in the mornings, although never seen dead, is the Florida Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus). This subspecies of crow is a somewhat smaller version that is almost bluish black and apparently just as intelligent, or even more so, as its famous relatives. These birds relish an early breakfast on that road as they dine on a smorgasbord of freshly crushed critters as soon as dawn breaks.


They seem to have the traffic situation all figured out. They will remain in the path of an oncoming vehicle until what seems to be the last moment, then simply hop over onto the shoulder or opposite lane, then return as soon as the vehicle has passed. Commonly, they are in competition with others, so timing is everything.


So, as SN explained, we were traveling along at around 55 mph when he spotted a crow, or crows, on the road ahead and he cautioned me to be careful. I no doubt replied, “Don’t worry, you cannot hit one of those smartass birds even if you try… watch.” At that point I allowed the van to drift toward one, which nonchalantly hopped a bit further to safety. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it is not uncommon for the hassled bird to respond with an obviously annoyed “Caaaw!”, verbally flipping you the feather.


SN has since moved away from South Florida, still following that career path, but he resided here for years, becoming a rather proficient local angler and along the way acquired a nice flats boat. A ritual that he and two college buddies have adopted is to meet up each year for a week of fishing. Many years after that first trip with me, SN invited his friends to camp and fish in the ‘Glades out of his boat. So, it was his turn to be driving down the Park road at dawn with rookies.


It is here that I need to introduce another black bird that commonly feeds upon roadkill: the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus). These birds are probably twenty times the size of a fish crow. Although famous for their flying ability (they are sometimes attributed to being the model for the Wright brothers who invented the airplane), they are quite clumsy on the ground and dumb as a box of rocks. Or maybe they are just unconcerned? Due to their choice of sustenance, carrion, they are disturbingly malodorous. I’ve heard it said that even a black vulture will not eat a dead black vulture.


So, it turns out that SN did not recognize the difference between a Coragyps and a Corvus and the results were rather dramatic. One vulture took out the driver side headlamp and another embedded itself in the grill, but the most impressive impact took place dead center of the windshield right in front of the passenger side seat, behind which two Everglades novices were leaning forward in expectation of seeing something entertaining.


The fact that SN did not reveal this story to me until years after it happened is a testament to the carnage that took place… and only adds to my personal enjoyment.


Oh, there is another interesting fact I forgot to mention: as a defense mechanism the Black Vulture when threatened or scared will vomit.


(insert ROFLMAO emoji here)