A morning spent with nature on the island

  • A flag flies on Main Beach at dawn after Labor Day weekend. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A flag flies on Main Beach at dawn after Labor Day weekend. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

I’ve gotten into the slovenly habit of drinking coffee and reading the paper online while still lounging in bed in the morning. It has been forever since I jumped up before dawn to walk miles on our beaches, but recently I scheduled myself with an early morning appointment to encourage me to do just that.

My appointment was to meet Mac McIntyre early at the Egans Creek Greenway to walk and talk with him about the New Guinea highland wild dogs before it got too hot. We settled on 7:30 a.m., and with sunrise around 7 a.m. that day, this was perfect. I hopped out of bed and raced to Main Beach to capture the sun show. And wow, what a show it was! The flag was still flying from the shell work of the Amelia Shells over Labor Day weekend and Patriot’s Day, 9/11. The sun was just about to lift from the horizon in a sky adorned with pinks and orange. I was not the only one there to watch. Ahead of me, a man was fishing, a handful of people were snapping shots with their cell phones, and one photographer was poised with a large camera on a tripod.

As this photographer was walking back up the beach, I stopped her to chat. My curiosity always outweighs any hesitation I might have about approaching strangers. This photographer was Lea Gallardo. She is a member of the Facebook site “The Moods of Amelia Island,” which has 3,400 followers from 44 countries and is growing. Add that to the 2,500 members of the “Amelia Shells” Facebook Group, and the many members of Facebook Groups devoted to the Egans Creek Greenway, Fort Clinch, Wild Amelia, etc., and there are a lot of people interested in the nature and beauty of our island, even if they don’t have the good fortune to live here. If you are on Facebook and love the nature here too, check out these groups.

With my dawn mission accomplished, I left the beach to meet Mac. Although it was only 7:30 a.m., it was already hot and muggy, but there were no noxious bugs to torment us. The lighting was beautiful, and pink swamp rose mallow blooms adorned the edges of the trail. Across the canal, a great blue heron was standing and still eyeing its prey, unperturbed by our presence. Ahead of us, wild rabbits hopped off into the brush as we approached. Mac and I chatted about the absence of bobcats on the island these days as well as the presence of coyotes that have taken their place as apex predators. We talked about our experiences doing fieldwork in Southeast Asia, about the highland dogs, about otters, about lots of things, but then it was time to part.

Mac headed for a gym for his workout routine and I rushed over to the Atlantic Recreation Center pool nearby. By 9 a.m., I was happily cooling off and bouncing around in my water aerobics class trying my best once again to follow instructor Gaia’s professional directions.

In the pool, though, it is more than exercise for me. I’ve been in the deep water class for years now, and the people with me have become friends that I look forward to seeing two days or so a week. In pre-COVID days, we usually could congregate ahead of, and after, the pool sessions, but this is restricted now. It is still great to see everyone.

And, even when in the pool and struggling to do the moves properly, I have time to look up at the sky above me. Although we are reprimanded for talking while exercising (“You are not exercising hard enough if you can talk”), I can’t help but call out to my water neighbors “anhinga!”, “wood stork!”, “osprey!”, “vultures!”, “ibis!” when these birds fly overhead, which is often enough to keep me looking up.

By 10:30 a.m., I was home again, all showered up, and relaxing on my sofa with my newspapers on my tablet, a full morning well spent. And the day was just beginning. It is a day like this that I would never wish to live anywhere else. Here on Amelia Island, for nature lovers like me, we have it all!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.