Heading into the piney woods growth, it had the feel of the Big Thicket area of East Texas where we had visited my grandparents so often as kids. The look, the smells, even the bugs were the same. The only things missing were the sounds of the thicket — the beautiful, ever-present backdrop of birdsongs and insect noises that caress your ears in that wonderland of forest life.
The trails at Mercer wind through the forest floor, offering a beautiful respite from the neighboring airport and the nearby metropolis. There are a couple of pond / swamp areas, complete with knobby-kneed cypress trees rising out of the murky waters.
After about an hour of walking, I finally began noticing the missing sounds of the piney woods. Cicadas buzzed from the trees and undergrowth around me. Mockingbirds sang high overhead. But still no birds within sight.
Then I arrived at Hickory Bog, and the "bridge to nowhere."
Suddenly there were plenty of birds overhead, diving, flitting from branch to branch, and singing their magnificent choruses.
I spotted a tired-looking robin who perched on a nearby branch, seemingly as interested in me as I was in him.
Unfortunately, most of the birds I saw and heard stayed in the limbs above, where I could only catch glimpses of them from time to time. One of these days, I've got to start learning to identify birds by their butts ... er, I mean, "undersides and outlines," as that's all I was able to see of most of them.
But even I could identify this one:
There were three or four male cardinals playing chase through the swampy terrain, dodging in and out of branches and tangles of roots and limbs.
There was a pretty little female cardinal as well, with her glowing red beak offsetting the rusty brown of her feathers, but she stayed well-concealed from my camera lens as she kept the boys hopping around her.
After a time, the cardinals took off, and I turned to find another treasure in the trees just behind me.
A female Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was slowly working her way up a limb, looking for lunch.
She reached the broken end of the limb and rummaged around, looking from every angle for any juicy little tidbit that might be hiding within.
I sat there for several minutes, quietly watching her work, until she finally gave up and flew off to find food somewhere else. Realizing it was past time for my own lunch (and for getting home to help with the weekend chores), I took her cue and headed back out of the park.
No swarming hordes of migrating Monarch butterflies in sight, but all-in-all a very nice adventure.