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Mexico Part 4 – The Big Labyrinth

Exploring mangroves is extremely dependent on the tides.  The water surrounding the island (which is plopped between the Sea of Cortes and Navopatia) is never too deep and you can see sandbars form daily in the channel.  In the less fast moving water, serious stands of mangroves have set up shop.  We’d explored the small labyrinth already, less a paddle through than a pulling and pushing on muddy trunks and stems covered in bird crap.  As our boats staged across the channel, we headed for the Big Labyrinth.

It wasn’t far fetched to imagine becoming  disoriented and experiencing labyrinthine wilderness down some lanes of the mangroves.  But the Big Labyrinth was tame.  Several of us could paddle side by side and a powered fishing boat even came up the channel to set a net.  I wasn’t ever nervous on previous explorations but it didn’t feel as secretive, more like a regular thoroughfare.

My friend Dan Maxwell had arrived the night before, after 32 hours on a bus from Tamaulipas.  He worked on Adam’s Northern Sierras point count crew and had done training with Simone and I in Chester, California.  Incessantly exuberant in a very Californian manner, he couldn’t help expressing his excitement at the Mangrove Warbler, the simplicity of paddling through this habitat.  I was enjoyed having someone to reengage my enthusiasm.

Though I’d only been at Navopatia a few days, I was beginning to slump into a lethargy of familiarity.  Sure there was a lot I’d never seen before but it’s easy to glaze your perception once you’ve come off the high of a new environment.  The energy of childish fascination for nature isn’t hard for me to attain, but it wears me out and I’ll realize I’m not actually observing anymore.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the questions I have about new places, in which case, for survival’s sake my brain backs me away from the edge of perpetual inquiry.  For better or for worse.

We caught glimpses of what turned out to be a Northern Waterthrush.  All I managed was a dark shape flying across my bow, which landed in the mud bobbing it’s tail before  secreting away into the endless trunks.  Simone and others caught a better glimpse and confirmed.

Attempting to find animals once they’ve  melded into the mangroves was impossible.  I was leading our flotilla when we broke out into a large lagoon.  Startled at seeing a bright monstrous red thing appear inexplicably, every bird within sight fled.  The only Green Heron of the trip skidded into a mangrove, looked back, and silently climbed deeper into the folds.  Seeing this disappearing act reawakened the mystery of these trees.  Anything could be out there.

We all paddled lazily through the shallow lagoon, spreading out and drifting aimlessly.  This was certainly a good life to be have, one to aspire to.  As my boat was turned around in a circle by the flow of water, I counted a Spotted Sandpiper, a Long-billed Curlew, a Marbled Godwit, Willet, Whimbrel, White Ibis, Reddish Egrets, and numerous Yellow-crowned Night Herons.  I didn’t even have to turn my head, I just held my binoculars aloft let the tide pan  for me.

The Night Herons were particularly hysterical.  Apparently the exposed flats were highly covetable.   One bird would look up and see another, distantly going about foraging, and leap into action.  He or she would swoop in to furiously chase the other off, even following them to a new expanse.  In the meantime another bird would have fill the vacant space of the squabbling pair.  The air was filled with the perturbed croaking of herons that appeared to not be doing much in the way of feeding.  Possibly this wasn’t as simple as food and was more lodged in an expanse of territory. However, having watched herons forage in the past,  no one appeared to be despot of a stretch of mud.  Again the tide made sure of that.

Brown Pelicans eyed us as we made our way back.  One pair was particularly calm as Danner floated nearby and I followed.  I suddenly realized that we were at the mercy of this huge bird, not the other way around.  On the slog back to camp, I pondered how much I took being a human for granted.

That night we had some guests arrive that everyone sort of expected.  They’d tried to keep it secret, but Steve Herman and Drew Whellan were personalities too big to try to ferret away.  I had already sleuthed out their arrival but that made me no less excited to have them with us.  Steve had a lot to do with Navopatia, especially seeing that Sallie was his daughter and Adam his son in law.  Dr. Herman also happened to be the Ornithology professor in whose classes we all became friends, joining a colorful and gregarious group of former students dubbed Hermanites.  Normally I don’t buy into idol worship but if I’ve ever met anyone who deserves it, Steve certainly does.   Equally as colorful and enjoyable was Drew, a good friend and fellow Hermanite, was just as stoked to be there as we were.

We finished the night with a rip roarer of a party.  Fire, libation aplenty, and Ranchero music for dancing under the stars.  To say they least, the following day didn’t start early.

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