Jo Ann Jaacks: Beneath the Waves

Twice I lived on a lake - one was small, manmade and surrounded by a gated community and the other was vast and natural. Since much of Florida has a karst terrain with sinkholes, underground caverns and an active interchange between surface water and ground water, it’s hard to avoid proximity to bodies of water.

Being close to a vast and natural lake brought many examples of water wildlife up close and personal. Muscovy ducks had been introduced into urban and suburban areas in Florida but were quickly labeled an invasive species because they occurred in high densities that competed with native bird species. They also were capable of being extremely messy and gigantic nuisances because they simply wouldn’t leave. Muscovies were omnivorous, upending into the water to graze on minnows and aquatic plants. If I chased them away, they came running/flying back as soon as I turned my back.

On the other hand, I loved the stunning green-winged teals that could wheel and bank across the water’s surface in quickstep. One time I threw leftover bread pieces to a flock of teals, flinging it far away from the shore so they wouldn’t be tempted to come closer. Then I looked down at my wrist and realized my new diamond tennis bracelet was missing. My howls chased the pretty ducks away in double-time.

There was also a parrot living in our backyard palm tree that used to walk along the narrow beach, pecking at the sand and fluffing his wings in the shallows. A Google search identified him as a Blue Crown Canure, which is mostly a pet bird, but there’s a lot of wild parrots around that could have been someone’s pet, I suppose. After the teals’ debacle, I didn’t throw food out but I enjoyed his entertaining chatter.

The common brown pelican is a comically assembled bird with an oversized bill and bulky body. They’re slow moving and seagulls can easily pull fish out of their maw. Those pelicans can carry a large cache of fish in their pouch, and regurgitate some of them while flying at high altitudes. I know that’s true because I witnessed a hail of raw, half-chewed fish in my backyard that put a damper on our al fresco lunch. White pelicans, on the other hand, are as lovely and graceful as swans, but of course they’re uncommon and somehow, I doubt they would unleash a sushi attack.

A friend asked if his daughter could release her pet turtle in our backyard because she thought Flippy would be happier there. I agreed and we held a little Farewell Flippy ceremony at water’s edge. While walking back to the house, my friend whispered to me, “You don’t have snakeheads in that lake, do you?” I told him I didn’t know and he said “I hope not, because they eat turtles.”

Although Northwest Connecticut boasts the largest lake in the state, I doubt that anyone in a Bantam Lake cottage has seen an alligator crawl up their beach. Since our very large lake in Broward County was connected by various channels to the Intracoastal Waterway, many of our neighbors had small runabouts. The family two houses over from ours uncovered their 19foot Fun Chaser skiff one early morning to discover a 10foot alligator napping under the tarp. I recently learned that not only alligators, but now crocodiles as well, have been sighted in South Florida, so we moved to Litchfield just in time, although I lament leaving behind my jewels to a watery grave.