Our Ocean Front Retreat

by Ann Brixey

Hoping to photograph another sunrise, I was up early, but as daylight dawned, I soon realized it would be impossible, the sky was dark and threatening. The faint glow on the horizon indicated the sun was trying to make an appearance, but only for a few brief moments, she was soon hidden behind the thick curtain of cloud. Would this be the way my last few days at our beachside condo would end, sunless?

Despite the tropical storm to the south of us, I had hoped to capture pictures of the sun, as she rises almost reluctantly, from her watery resting place, and, for a precious time, enhances the surface of the ocean with streamers of gold. Sitting on the balcony with my cup of coffee, watching this miracle of nature is my favorite way to start the day. Today I was denied that pleasure.

On this morning, the ocean was strangely calm, its deep grey, green surface, rippled like the finest silk. Out on the horizon, on a ribbon of inky black, were several bulky vessels, probably container ships heading to the islands of the Caribbean. Each dark outline, stark against the backdrop of pale grey clouds, that loomed, ominously, behind them.

From my tenth story balcony, anything on the beach below appears miniscule. I notice many tiny specks moving rapidly at the waters edge.  As the waves receded they ran forward, digging in the sand, then, as the water came rushing back, skittered away to safety.

It was a flock of Sanderlings. Hoping to find some small snack, they brave the incoming tide, whose waves constantly encroach upon the remaining narrow strip of sand. These charming birds seem to know instinctively when it is safe to stay and forage for tasty morsels buried in the waterlogged sand, and when it is time to run from the fast approaching water.

One of them is unlucky when the water seemingly covers him; I gasp, thinking he has been swept away to a watery grave. As the water recedes, I see him, a little bedraggled I think, but quite safe, a flutter of wings then he scurries off to find his kin.

Soon, they are joined by other water birds, as a Great Blue Heron flies in, finds a desirable spot at the waters edge, and patiently waits, undisturbed, for his breakfast.  When some sandpipers sneak up on him, he turns his head and gazes at them with contempt. His concentration appears to be momentarily lost, then, extending his neck, he takes off, perhaps to find a more secluded haven further along the beach.

A dead tree on the nearby dunes plays host to an Osprey. As I had not noticed him before, I am unable to say how long he has been there. Soon, he too, soars aloft, occasionally swooping down to snatch a meal from the sea. Nothing seems to his liking, so, he turns, and flies off to look for a hunting ground with a greater variety on the menu.

With the breeze disturbing the surface of the water, I was unable to see the schools of baitfish that I felt certain were close, but the Pelicans located them quickly. A flock of these large brown prehistoric looking birds were searching for their breakfast. Gliding in, they skim just inches above the waves. Wasting no energy diving, they seemed to skid along the water, with their feet out in front, landing somewhat awkwardly. Once down, they bobbed along, taking their fill.

The tide was almost completely in, leaving only a thin margin of beach, several fishermen, having staked out their spots, were busy setting up. Some had already cast their lines, others standing at the waters edge, put bait on the hooks, and followed suit.   Several pelicans coming into land close by waited expectantly for an easy meal.

The quiet of the morning was quickly shattered when a small boat, with a powerful motor, scudded across the water. There were several more in the distance, but it was not long before they were all out of sight, and peace resumed.

As the sun broke through briefly, I spotted a familiar and welcome sight, the dorsal fin of a dolphin as it swam close by. It broke the surface, with its back beautifully arced, and then swiftly disappeared beneath the waves. A few moments later it was joined by several more, I watched as they lazily began to circle a shoal of fish. Soon, they too would be dining well.

Later, in the afternoon, we walked several miles along the seaweed littered, shell-strewn beach. Despite the grey skies, it was still warm, but breezy enough to be comfortable.

We stopped frequently to pick up shells, or to be entertained by the antics of the Sanderlings, constantly fleeing from the incoming tide. The never-ending search for tasty morsels kept these delightful birds always scurrying. Occasionally a Willet joined the group, not minding the incoming tide, he waded importantly through the shallow water, his long beak probing deep into the sand. When we got too close, he swiftly flew to a safer spot.

Overhead the watery sun, in vain, tried to shine through the grey veil of cloud. We stood transfixed, watching the aerobatics of a pair of Osprey above us. Spotting its quarry one rapidly plunged down to the water and captured its prey. What a remarkable sight, seeing it fly off with the fish still writhing in its talons.

Although I did not see a beautiful sunrise, the day was filled with surprises, and memorable moments, the sea birds, the ocean, the cloud formations. Found treasures given up by the sea, like the Sand Dollar, Apple Murex, and the Florida Fighting Conch shells. All will be cherished, and talked about, until the spring, when we return again to our ocean front retreat.

Photo by Ann M. Brixey