Note from Barb:
I’ve had a few requests to republish the Mini Bird Blog written from the desk/perch of our dear friend, Cracker the African Gray parrot. As some may remember, he wrote his own blog about a year ago when we traveled down to Curry Hammock State Park on Marathon Key to attend the Florida Bird and Wildlife Festival.
If you’ve ever known an African Gray, you are aware that they approach life from a cautious, suspicious point of view. They are wary by nature and do not dive into any experience without thinking it through and looking at the situation very carefully. Grey’s like their environment to stay stable and secure and their routine to be predictable. They are opinionated to say the least! So, it’s pretty surprising how much Cracker actually likes to go camping. He truly seems to enjoy watching us prepare the gear, get his cage all set up and his food packed. When his special car seat is loaded into the truck for a ride. he chatters all the way to the destination, commenting on the traffic by saying, “Owweee!”, every time a large truck passes us. He wolf whistles at other drivers and constantly checks in with the dogs to make sure that his friends are doing okay. “Hana, Wicca, Wicca, Wicca.”, He repeats their names over and over until they must just be thinking, “Shut up, you are not the boss of me.” He’s like a little brother in the backseat, torturing his sisters on the way to Gramma’s house.
Let me know if you enjoy hearing from Cracker. If you do, we will include more from him and his unique perspective on this year’s trip to Great Smokey National Park.
It’s Me Cracker: Starting the Trip, Sunday September 21, 2014
It’s me, Cracker dictating my thoughts on this trip to my Bird Nerds, Barb and Arnie. For the next week, I will be doing a Mini Bird Blog from the road, talking about camping and exploring the Florida Keys during the annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival. While I will be disguised as an African Gray parrot, be not fooled. Those of you who know me, understand well that I hold a distinctly human perspective.
It will be a couple of hours before we it the road for the Keys and now I need to concentrate on watching Barb and Arnie sweat their butts off loading all of my gear. I’ll just finish my cereal while they work and say good-bye to my bike buddy Ethan. .
It’s Me Cracker: Day One
Just wanted to let you know that I arrived at the first stop of my journey safe and sound. Here is the first installation of my Mini Bird Blog for my Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival trip. Let me just get this cold one open and then you can scroll down to read about the adventure so far.
The first two nights, we are staying in the heart of the Big Cypress Swamp. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s dusk and I can hear an alligator grumping in the near distance. We are about 30 feet from the edge of the actual swamp itself. I know what your question is and the answer is,”yes”. Barb has, at a minimum a sense of adventure, but this place borders on a death wish. I do admit that it has its own beauty, but we are awfully close to the beast too.
We are surrounded by wet prairie with miles of grasses groing in the swampy terrain. This unique and precious place provides important habitat for birds like me. Well, maybe not just like me, since I prefer the comfort of the camper to sleeping in a tree with things that slither about in the night. We are staying at Trail Lakes Campground. It is the home of the Skunk Ape Research Center. You might ask,”What’s a Skunk Ape?”, as we did when we arrived.
Kelly, the night security guy answered our question. Kelly is a rather rotund fellow who emerged from an ancient sardine size camper to greet us and direct us to our site. He was wearing a big grin and little else. It is, after all, pretty hot here. He did solve the mystery of Skunk Ape though. Kelly told us that the Skunk Ape is the guy behind the counter who checked us in. I guess it is some swamp joke they play on unsuspecting tourist birds who were just migrating through for a couple of nights. If you want to unvarnished truth, go on YouTube and watch some of the “real” videos of the Florida Skunk Ape. You’ll be convinced.
After firing up his 40-year-old ATV, Kelly led us to our site with a great deal of sputtering and a cloud of whatever noxious concoction that thing runs on. With warm Swamp hospitality, he pointed to the site and said, “If you folks need anything in the night, just yell real loud or shoot off a couple of rounds.” With that comfort and reassurance, he left and we set up camp. Truth is, he would never hear us and we aren’t gun people, so we were on our own here.
I prefer that Barb and Arnie work at a reasonable pace when they’re setting up camp. I don’t like to be hurried. This morning when they were loading the car, Barb disrespected me by making me hurry. I then disrespectfully bit Barb when she forgot to ask me if I was ready to get the car. I slowed her right down to my pace with that little reminder that I am to be respected at all times and that we are on Cracker Time this week. I’m sure it was not the oppressive heat and humidity that dictated their pace.
The colors of the glades combined with the songs and sounds to make swap magic. This beautiful natural place is a treasure. Tomorrow we explore. Put your head under your wing and have a good night.
It’s Me, Cracker, Swamp Critter
Here I am, a city professional sort of Parrot, transported to the southern Florida swamp at the whim of these humans. They may enjoy an edgy experience in the land of the Skunk Ape, but I’m a stuck-in-my-rut kind of guy who likes his routine.
I was awakened this morning to their exclamations of how beautiful the water and sky are here in Big Cypress National Preserve. All I see is a plethora of very large birds circling overhead who think I am a tasty treat. All I hear is grumpy gators looking for love. What I really worry about is what I cannot see or hear. I know it is out there in the Wild Wood of the swamp. Will
We visited a ranger station and saw some great nature art, had a short boardwalk hike to see…… yippee……. more water and sky! Throw in some birds and a few more gators and it becomes clear that my people are easily amused.
Okay, finally something I can relate to. We are back at camp where they keep the French press for my coffee. Cream and sugar please. I am a bird who appreciates the finer things in life.
Me and my French Press
Tomorrow we head for Kona Kai to tour the botanical gardens with the resident ethnobiologist. It’s the first lecture of the Bird and Wildlife Festival. Let the festivities begin…yawn. My people want to learn more about how humans relate to plants. How utterly fascinating for me. I cannot wait to hear the dinner table discussion while they chomp on arugula and herbs. Please send a limo and rescue me from these nerds!
Your Friend and Bird of Paradise, Cracker
It’s Me Cracker: now in the Florida Keys
Can you believe that Barb and Arnie set the alarm for five o’clock AM this morning? They said they had to break camp and hit the road before sunrise to make the first workshop of the Birding Festival. It took two hours to pack up and leave the Skunk Ape Research headquarters (Floridian version of the Bigfoot myth or so the legend goes). If you’ve ever watched the show Swamp People, Trail Lakes Campground was not too far behind. The Nerds considered it an adventure and loved the place. I considered it slumming even for camping.
It was good to head to civilization again. After a couple of hours on the road, we arrived at Kona Ksi resort where my two Nerds took a tour with the ethnobiologist of the gardens there. I relaxed in the camper because, well….. I couldn’t care less. Unless there is a female African Gray in that gumbo limbo tree, I am staying in this camper with the AC on and the classical music playing. I am a bird of discerning tastes.
We left Kona Kai by noon and pulled into our site at Curry Hammock State Park on Marathon Key. After I was properly attended to and made comfortable, my two Nerds were free to sweat their asses off setting up camp again. I wish I could help, but, again, well………..I couldn’t care less if the camper is level as long as I have ice in my water and fresh grapes.
By the way, I am rather proud to say I’ve learned to help Barb back up the camper by repeatedly asking, “Okay? Okay?”, in her voice. I say it just like she does when Arnie is directing her into the site. I thought it was clever, but she found it quite distracting with the pressure of trying to maneuver a truck and camper backwards into that small space while Arnie provides dyslexic directions. “Geez…I was only trying to help. Okay? Okay, Okay?” Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Don’t you think, “Shut up”, is a little harsh?
There is an iridescent green iguana in the bush right outside the camper’s kitchen window. I think he is a distant relative of mine minus the acute intelligence gifted upon me. Let’s see him try imitating Barb’s voice. He does no tricks and the Nerds think he is cute. I practically speak in tongues and they think I’m annoying.
There are Bird Nerds like Barb and Arnie all over this island counting Peregrine Falcons that are on their annual migration. I freaked the researchers right out by making bird noises they did not recognize. They were looking all over with their binoculars to identify the mystery bird. Pranked! That was worth a good laugh !
We took a ride tonight to see the Key Deer on Big Pine.There are dollar bills stapled on every inch of wall and ceiling space with messages from guests. There’s enough cash to get a limo to pick me up and take me to a fine hotel instead of spending the week in this dinky little camper. But Arnie left all those dollar bills right there on the wall so I am stuck in paradise for another day listening to my two Nerds pour through books to identify what bird they just saw. What did I do in a previous life to deserve the two of them?
Yours Truly, Cracker
It’s Me Cracker: Hippie Bird of the Keys
Here I am, still coming to you from Marathon Key. I’m getting some sun on my plucked chest. There is a gorgeous female cardinal who’s been hanging around and I think she’s pretty in to me. It’s hard to be sure from behind bars but some girls like the bad boys and I certainly am that.
Our campsite is directly below the balcony with the Peregrine falcon count is going on. The researchers take shifts counting the Falcons as well as any songbirds passing through on their migration to a warmer climates. Barb and Arnie left me in the camper for a while yesterday and I amused myself doing crow calls. Well, I guess that caused quite a stir with the researchers who were trying to locate the Crow responsible for such a persistent call. They finally realized it was me from inside the camper. Pranked again, you bunch of bird nerds! Serves you right for looking at me with binoculars like a bunch of peeping toms! Now they are including me in their volunteer orientation so that my vocal talents don’t throw off their scientific count.
Barb and Arnie had deserted me to go into Key West to see the sights and sounds and have dinner. They said it was interesting to see the old historic Flagler railroad trestle, but how would I know as I was locked in the camper like a naughty two year-old. I wanted to do that famous Duval Crawl with them but they said, no!
Instead of doing the Crawl, they went to, Conch Republic Seafood on the Marina. They said it was a perfect night to sit by the water for dinner, wander around Mallory Square and end up at the Hog’s Breath Saloon where the motto is, “Hog’s Breath is Better than No Breath at all.”.
Mallory Square for sunset is a favorite of locals and tourists alike! I am thinking about setting up a street performers booth. I would like to test out that idea to see if it is viable. Will you help me? There will be a hat out in front of my home at 807 Sunshine Ave. If you like the idea, please put a five dollar bill in. If this offends you, please put money in the hat with your name written on it and I will take you off my mailing list.
Kind regards from the land of the Parrot-Heads, Cracker
Hiking and Bird Watching in Layton State Park
Barb and Arnie went hiking and bird watching in Layton State Park this morning. My two Bird Nerds and the accompanying nerd herd of birdwatchers rounded a corner and came upon a Vista in Layton State Park this morning. There were a variety of shorebirds including plovers, dowager’s, sandpipers, etc. along with some raptors and frigate birds. Lots to see.
One of the naturalists was kind enough to share his scope so that they could see a Merlin. It was a female. I’m so excited I think I will go pluck myself in private!
The trees on the salt pan are weather worn and shaped like bonsai. No good for me to perch on. One of those raptors would have me for lunch! I stayed behind to help with the Hawkwatch while my two Nerds walked the Layton trail. I did my best to continue to confuse the volunteers with all kinds of bird calls I’ve picked up.
There is an observation tower that the hikers climbed to get a good view of the canopy. A variety of songbirds are visible from there as they migrate south. Barb and Arnie said it was well worth the climb to see marlins, baltimore orioles, cliff swallows, cave swallows, etc form such a unique vantage point. The two old bats looked tired when they got home though!
They showed me a picture of a bird foraging on the ground. That’s nice, but it’s not really a picture unless I’m in it.
Kind regards from the President of the Mensa Society for Birds, Cracker Poo
It’s Me Cracker: As the Festival Comes to an End
Being a bird myself, it is a bit incomprehensible to me as to how anyone could be bored with birds. I think I am rather fine and I think I make a very good boss for my two Bird nerds. I tell them what to do and they follow instruction pretty well. But, I do admit that the Keys has a fabulous variety of nature to get all tingly about.
I encourage you all to get out there in the Wild Wood and see something amazing today. I am headed out to lounge on the picnic table and watch my two Nerds pack up for the journey home. The sky is blue, the sea is green and I am gray. All is right with the world.
Cracker, The African Gray, signing out for now