• David

Anhinga, Creature of the Black Lagoon

Updated: Jun 2

Having grown up in one of America’s richest migratory bird flyways, I became familiar with many of our common, and some less common water birds, but a few years ago I lost any

hopes I might have harbored of ever being awarded my “junior ornithologist” badge. Upon encountering my first anhinga, in my most professorial manner, I confidently pointed, and said, “Cormorant!”.

Not a cormorant...

Anhinga bird holding wings out to dry
Anhinga, drip-drying

I saw these birds on a very interesting trip to the alligator-infested Silver River near Ocala, Florida. In my defense, the anhinga is a southern cousin of the cormorant. Like the cormorant, the anhinga’s feathers do not repel water, which seems like an odd feature for a water bird. The anhinga will dive from the sky for fish and frogs, darting hither and yon with great underwater agility to catch their prey. Then, sopping wet, they emerge from the depths to perch upon their preferred roosting branch in a nearby tree. There, they spread their wings like an angel that has gone through a carwash, until such time as they have dripped themselves dry. It is really quite a marvelous bird. If I were among their prey

Florida alligator on river bank
Mama alligator....

animals, I would live in constant retched fear of this avian menace. It truly is a creature of the black lagoon.

Generally, I think of birds as being very well groomed, every feather in its place. But for a few seconds after a dive an anhinga looks every bit as disheveled as a wet bird dog. In fact, for a brief period, they look as though they've been stripped of two thirds of their feathers and covered with watery tar. Tarred and unfeathered. But within less than a minute their beautiful plumage is fully restored.

For any genuine ornithologists among us, I hope they might feel free to correct whatever misinformation I’ve provided here to whomever will listen. To that, I can only say that I made what I saw in those first few seconds after the dive. And this is the bird I saw:

bird sculpture
Anhinga (in wax)

And that is the beauty of being an artist. You don’t have to be correct about much of anything. In fact, if you are really correct in every particular detail when making a piece of art, is it even art, or is it just a facsimile of the real thing? Whatever the case, in my mind, art is about sharing ideas or observations that we find interesting. With my anhinga, I’ve tried to capture something about the essence of this impressive predator that is only evident for a moment in time.

There. I got that out of my system.

My incorporation of what are obviously human-made structural elements in this piece surely comes from that Orville Wright gene I got from my great-grandmother, Lily Wright. And every human, at some point, envies a bird’s ability to fly.

The egg in this piece is obviously quite large, as some might note, and the bird is accordingly very protective of it. I’ve heard that birds sometimes kick one, or several eggs out of their nest. I suppose those eggs are either deemed inferior, or that birds are occasionally clumsy. Or maybe something about a particular egg just pisses the bird off. I don’t know. But I think that if I was a bird, and I laid all of my eggs in just one egg, I would absolutely protect it.

I’ve been on this ‘bird thing’ for three pieces now, and maybe, for the time being, I’ve said what it is I have to say about birds. They are graceful and elegant creatures, so magnificently evolved to survive most anything nature can throw at them. But the thing is, we humans have discovered ways to throw almost anything at almost everything, for good or for bad. We hold the power to restore, or even create new safe spaces for our fellow Earthlings, as much as we hold the power to destroy those spaces. We are profoundly fortunate to share this Earth with so many remarkable creatures. It is my opinion that maintaining this planet for the continuance of its biodiversity is the single most important thing that we humans can do. For every creature that humans displace, as we encroach on more and more wild spaces, we are the poorer for it.

baby alligators on a log
...and baby alligators

Our numbers are 7.9 billion and counting. If there is no limit as to how many humans we should provide for, then there is, by default, an absolute limit to how many species we share our world with. Resources being what they are, our wildlife is getting short shrift.

9 turtles on a log in a river
Turtle lineup

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