• Myna birds, looking for a drink and food scraps tossed by visitors, were regular visitors to this pool in Krabi, Thailand. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Ah, the pool life

Sometimes a swimming pool is the closest source of fresh water for the animals that live nearby, and sometimes various critters just find it by happenstance. Whenever I am in an outdoor pool, I am always scanning for nature around me.

At the Atlantic Recreation Center in Fernandina Beach, I am a real aficionado of the wildlife nearby. Sometimes during a water aerobics session, I notice a misdirected crab or frog floundering in the scuppers and, if it’s a crab, I just capture it and toss it to the deck where it can crawl its way to the saltwater areas it is really looking for. If it is a frog, I take even more care and sometimes disrupt my exercise program to leave the pool and carry it to a vegetated area, much to my instructor Gaia’s chagrin.

Some stranger things end up in the pool too. One time, 10 years ago, the recreation staff notified me that a very strange object had been found at the bottom of the pool, an alien-like creature made of soft bones with an unrecognizable (to me, at least) skeleton. I was curious enough to take the object to the University of Florida Museum of Natural History, and they had no problem identifying it.  It was the skeleton of a small bonnethead shark, with cartilage, not bone. Maybe it had been dropped into the pool by a passing osprey, but why was it decomposed? More likely, someone tossed it in as a joke. Whatever the reason, it sure got attention from a number of us.

One recent morning, Bucko and I were admiring the large swimming pool at our resort in Krabi, Thailand, before anyone was swimming. Gardens and palm trees surrounded the pool, with tropical flowers falling into it from some overhanging branches. A huge limestone monolith filled with caves and partly covered with vegetation loomed behind it, and in the far background shone the blue water of the Andaman Sea. A stunningly beautiful scene, for sure.

And that’s when we noticed it. A monitor lizard – a smaller version of a Komodo dragon – was lounging on the shore of the pool, enjoying the fresh water in the scuppers. This critter was only about two feet long, including the tail, but if you don’t know much about lizards, it could have been a scary sight. In fact, when I posted this story with photos on my Facebook page, some of my friends were unnerved by the sight. One friend even said, “That would be the end of my water exercise until I was home!” But Bucko and I were happy to see it and approached it closely until, sadly, it swam off across the pool.

Later in the afternoon, while lounging by the pool, we noticed other creatures attracted to the water. By this time, there were a number of human swimmers and no monitor lizards in sight, but a family of myna birds was keeping us company. This parent and juvenile were unafraid of people and in fact were attracted to them, looking for handouts of food scraps. But when it came to a drink, off to the pool they went.

Unlike the situation at the Atlantic Recreation Center, there were no lifeguards to watch the goings-on. But hey, I wouldn’t count much on Thai lifeguards anyway, if what I saw was any indication. On another day, Bucko and I hired a longboat to take us to a few offshore islands for snorkeling. We ended up at a National Park beach “protected” by a lifeguard and there he was, high on a regulation lifeguard stand, with official life-saving equipment nearby. But what was he doing?  He was stretched out on the stand, feet up on the armrests, totally immersed in the happenings on his cell phone.

But lifeguard or not, it didn’t stop me. I found an open patch of clear, tropical water beyond our longboat and floated in the lagoon, with a towering limestone cliff behind me, a sandy beach in front of me, and some needlefish floating head down under me. Soon after I entered the lagoon, a school of sergeant major fish swarmed over to me looking for (illegal) handouts. The lifeguard wasn’t doing his duty in preventing people from feeding the fish either, but it wasn’t my problem. At that moment, in that place, I had no problem at all!

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