Never one to turn down a free trip to a deserted island, I jump at the chance to join Joyce and Chris from the Wildlife Refuge on a Bird Counting expedition to Egmont Key. This island is not exactly deserted. Accessible by boat or a passenger only ferry, Egmont Key is a wildlife Refuge and part of the Florida State Park System. During our overnight visit, I encounter more turtles and birds here than people.
Five Hours and 14,318 Steps Later
Thursday morning we set out at dawn to count the early birds. Warm breezes and bright sunshine deliver a perfect morning for beach combing. While Joyce records the avian populations, Chris and I try to make a dent in the layers of trash that have washed ashore on the island’s south side. I collect enough fishing lures to start my own tackle box.
After lunch we cover the second half of the island counting not only birds, but also people enjoying the solitude of the public part of the refuge. Blocked by a forest of Australian Pines and Palm Trees, the breeze deserts us. As I weaken in the broiling sun, I wonder if Joyce will consider letting me swim out into the cool, aquamarine Gulf waters and count the fish swimming close to shore.
At one point, Joyce exclaims to me, “run and catch that Gopher!” My mind does not immediately grasp that command for two reasons. First of all, no one has ever exhorted me to catch a gopher and I doubt that I can. Second, what is a gopher doing on the beach? Turns out Joyce is directing me toward a Gopher Tortoise who I am able to outrun (barely). This animal turns out to be the only one that Joyce feels she can trust me to accurately count for her. I find twelve (with Chris’s help)!