The Five Minute Vacation

Imagine a way long time ago. All the way back in January. Remember then? When it felt a lot like, well, a lot like April should feel… About that time, I was receiving a call from a classmate asking if I could take an emergency trip to Orlando, Florida, to represent our class on a national level. On twelve hours’ notice.

Honestly, what I said was, ‘I don’t know… I’ve got plans this weekend…’

But what I was thinking was, ‘Heck yes! I love traveling! And it’s warm down there! This is perfect! And I’ll get to do something cool and meet people! Oh, wait, I need to act a bit wishy-washy so the Other Half doesn’t get mad that I’ll be changing our plans…’

Anyway, long story short, I found a flight to Florida. I just needed to leave right after my classes so the Other Half could get me to the airport in time. By the skin of my teeth, I jumped on my flight… Only to get bumped off my connector in Dallas because it had been overbooked. [To be fair, I volunteered to be bumped in return for a guaranteed seat on the next flight out and a voucher for another flight. I’m getting better at negotiating with airlines.]

After several hours next to a very drunk Australian tourist,  I caught a shuttle to the hotel… Only to realize I had no idea how to get into my room. Heck, I didn’t even know I had a roommate! Luckily, she was pretty understanding of the random bedraggled person showing up in her room at midnight.

So why was this only a five minute vacation? Because I was in town for business, I didn’t get much time to actually enjoy the scenery of the resort town. I did, however, find five minutes to notice some odd-looking birds in a couple of muddy ponds. I also found the time to call the Other Half and crow to him about how many awesome animals I was seeing. Which, to be fair, wasn’t very nice…

On the other hand, being threatened by the first anhinga I’d ever seen was pretty stinking awesome.

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Every time I took a step toward this dude, he’d snap his beak around and raise his wings up to make himself look bigger. When I backed up, he was content to just keep an eye on me.

This guy was standing next to a mucky roadside pond near one of the convention centers, along with a surprising variety of other feathered fauna, including this snowy egret.

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Just across the way was the bird that had drawn my attention when it flew up: a tricolored heron that I at first mistook for a great blue heron. These colorful birds are just not nearly as common up in the midwest, despite apparently being as common as pigeons in Florida.

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Yeah, it’s a sucky picture. But it’s still a pretty cool bird. He and a glossy ibis were camping next to a drainage area that ran under the road looking for a quick meal.

Near them were what I at first thought to be domestic ducks and then realized were actually a group of white ibis with a greater yellowlegs running between them in an attempt to camouflage itself from a rather angry mallard. And of course, this being a wonderfully temperate climate, there were dozens of pied-billed grebes, a few hooded mergansers, and ring-necked ducks arrayed in a flotilla across the pond.

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Energized by these cool finds, I was totally convinced I was going to find an alligator. I’d seen a few ripples and some splashes, and this was swamp country, right? Turns out it was just a few carp and an exceedingly long catfish skimming the surface for algae.

Not to be disappointed, however, I fairly ran out of my hotel to look into the property’s pond for alligators. Instead, I found the coolest hunting pack of hooded mergansers ever. This snowy egret was following them, snapping up any leftovers, as the mergansers synchronously dived in the shallows.

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After running away from some begging mottled ducks and mallards, I paused. There was a living stick that seemed to be piercing the still waters on the other side of the pond. It was another anhinga trying to find dinner! Never having seen them before, I’m sure I was a sight trying to follow this trail of bubbles around the pond to get a sight of the strange bird every time it rose up for air.

All in all, despite only having a few minutes, I found quite a few awesome things in the balmy air on my short break. I’m not sure whether that means I’m extremely good at finding adventure or I’m excessively easily amused.

Heck, I even got to fly home in a tiny jet, and my seatmate played a ukelele the whole flight home. It was totally worth it.

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