September 21, 2014

Of Fishing Lines and Limpkins

Not long ago I spotted a limpkin hiding in the shade of a palmetto at a crowded riverfront park. I was startled. This shy, mostly nocturnal wading bird belonged on some secluded creek bank, not here among the boaters, picnickers and Frisbee-catching dogs.

Only a week before, I had seen and photographed another limpkin, but that one was out in the wilderness, picking up freshwater clams from a streambed. Later that evening I heard its eerie, wailing cry (krr-ow, krr-ow) reverberating through the swamp. It's a sound they used frequently in the old Tarzan movies, as haunting and evocative as the scream of a panther or the song of a whale; and it was worth staying late, long after the waterlogged path had disappeared into the darkness, to hear it.

The limpkin in the crowded park stood motionless and unnoticed as the sunburned families tromped by lugging their coolers and clattering rods. Looking closely, I saw its problem: one leg was swollen and discolored, like a twig with a gall. A vestige of fishing line protruded from a fold of infected skin. I set up my camera and took a few shots, then tried to catch it, but it dodged away, still able to outrun and outmanuever me. I was late for an appointment; I looked for a park ranger but couldn't find one, then resolved to return the next day and left. I had a vague idea of calling someone, the Audubon Society, perhaps, but forgot.

Three days later, I remembered and returned. The bird was gone. It was a weekday morning and the park was empty, but it seemed like there was fishing line all over the place, hanging from the pilings on the dock, wrapped around cypress knees. I picked up what I could and brought it home.

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