Monday, July 9, 2012

Adapting to the ebb and flow of lake life

An alligator takes advantage of an exposed lump of peat in the middle of the lake

Simply Living
July 9, 2012

The daily downpours from tropical storm Debby have given our lake a lift. Water levels that had fallen to near-record lows during months of drought have gradually risen. The change is far from dramatic but it is definitely noticeable.

I do most of my observing either from the front porch or kitchen window. From both places, I can see that the mid-lake isle of peat, which took months to emerge, is once again submerged. New sights catch my eye daily.

Recently when the island of peat was almost completely submerged, I watched an alligator and a great blue heron share the narrow bit of bumpy ground. Although the gator's toothy mouth was slightly ajar, the heron seemed unconcerned. While the leathery reptile lay but a few feet away, the feathery bird paid it no heed, concentrating instead on its own search for food.

A heron and alligator share a barely exposed island without incident

I, on the other hand, anxiously anticipated a dramatic encounter. Grabbing my camera and positioning myself on the shore, I focused my binoculars on the duo and patiently waited.

And waited…and waited. Nothing happened.

The heron caught supper, the gator caught rays and I put my binoculars away to go inside to make my own evening meal.

On another day — this time when the island was exposed — the pair of sandhill cranes that makes our lake their nighttime home landed on the peat island and hung out there for a while.

"I hope they aren't planning to build a nest," I muttered as much to myself as to Ralph. "It's going to rain again and when it does, the island will disappear."

I spoke from experience.

In 2001, a pair of sandhill cranes had raised a family on that same strip of exposed land during a similar drought. Ever since, I hoped the birds would return but only if they timed it right. As was recently proved, the island is hardly a dependable piece of property. A few weeks of precipitation can alter its appearance to the point of disappearance.

Not the most secure place to raise a family.

The cranes must have thought so, too, for although they spent several hours that day poking around, they eventually flew back to their regular roosting place — a slightly larger temporary island at the north end of the lake.

In addition to cranes, alligators and herons, numerous turtles, ibises, crows, tri-colored herons, lesser blue herons, egrets and the occasional osprey have taken advantage of the mid-lake peat island. I had hoped to see otters — they appeared in 2001 — but they have yet to show up or, if they have, I missed them.

An otter eyes a sandhill crane nest in 2001 when drought exposed a mid-lake island of peat

 In the aftermath of Debby's deluge, tufts of green rising above the water line are the only signs of the isle's existence. During the months when the peat island slowly rose, grassy seeds sprouted, grew and ultimately flourished. The waterweeds don't seem to mind the land's submerged state. Neither do the wildlife. Alligators, birds and turtles continue to flock to the soggy platform, wading through the shallow water to explore, hunt or absorb the sun's rays.

When I was new to Florida, extreme weather conditions caused me to worry. I fretted over high water flooding and became anxious when drought caused drastic reductions in the water level. But two decades of lakeside living have provided perspective. I've come to understand and appreciate the ebb and flow of lake life. Rather than stress over nature, I've learned to relax and accept the moment.

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