Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 30, 2006)
The ‘drunken dancer’
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Known as the “drunken dancer”, the reddish egret spreads its wings open, then sprints back and forth in shallow water to feed. The spread open wings block out light reflections upon the water improving the egret’s view for opportune fishing.
It seems we always want what we can’t have or at the very least believe that the prize is beyond our grasp.

My early years were spent exploring interesting nooks and crannies upon the southern range of the Appalachian Mountains. The snake-like path of the Tennessee River bore its way in between the soft rolling, mountain peaks. This habitat was as if a terrarium, complete within itself.

The rain clouds arose in the afternoons lumbering up the sides of these great mountains. Eventually the struggle against the mountains was too much, the weight of the water too heavy, and the distance too great. The mountains won triggering the clouds to spill their cargo down the sides, as if being captured by some secret force.

Springs burst forth nurturing fern beds, conifers, hardwoods and falling glens, eventually traveling down again to feed the original source, the rivers. As the warmth of the next day wore on, the rivers steamed with mist that gathered once more into the fertile air forming more clouds and other storms were born.

To a young girl in awe of this place, there seemed no escape. All I knew was within this world. Although vacations led to exotic locations, we always returned back to the cradle of the mountains … the door closed behind.

I learned where the robins nested, where the rattlesnakes sunned themselves, where the chipmunks stashed food for winter, where the bobcat raised her kits, the trail of the deer, where the wild asparagus grew, walnuts, blackberries, and the locations of the water bird nests along the Tennessee River.

Over time these faces became familiar within a worn edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide to Eastern Birds” that my mother had purchased for me at a local flea market.

As I learned about the faces around me, I also began to yearn to know the faces of the birds I had not seen before except on the pages of this little book. This was the beginning of my life’s adventure. This book became the fertile ground that nurtured the seed of exploration outside the boundaries of my closed world. It was through those eyes of inquiry that a young girl realized there was another world with infinite possibilities.

In my travels and explorations I have encountered many wonderful experiences and remain upon that early path of discovery. Television and video games hold no attraction. Beyond every turn is something new and exciting. Perhaps we can’t always possess what we want, but with a little prescience we may be able to reach beyond our grasp ... back to nature.

One face upon the pages of my Peterson’s “Eastern Field Guide” is the reddish egret, uncommon along coastal tidal flats, salt marshes, shores and lagoons from the Gulf States to Mexico. The reddish egret has two color phases which can be quite confusing to the novice bird watcher.

In one phase the plumage of the reddish egret’s body is a bluish gray; the neck and head is covered in rusty feathers. These feathers are shaggy. The white morph reddish egret is completely white. You can identify this bird from other egrets by the blue legs and the pink bill that is black tipped. The other major identification is based on behavior.

The reddish egret is known as the “drunken dancer.” The reddish egret spreads its wings wide open then sprints, lurches and rushes awkwardly back and forth in shallow water while feeding. Although it may appear this bird has no sense, the spread open wings actually block out light reflections upon the water for a better view and to lure fish into this bird-made shade. I’d say this is a pretty smart fishing technique.

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