The outdoor pickleball games at Alabama’s Gulf Shores State Park were going well—nice weather, great competition, friendly people, so why was I itching for this game to be over? What was drawing me away? Is that the screech of an osprey I’m hearing? Might I hear my favorite bird call of all times, one that I heard as a child living along a cattail pond?
As soon as the game ended, I sneaked off. My feet carried me toward the nature center, the purple martin nesting boxes, the active osprey nest, and the calm bay.
A big part of the allure, I realized, was the sensory delights of the sights and sounds of spring. In Wisconsin, I long for the first yellow blossoms on my forsythia bush and the first purple and yellow crocuses. Near the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the yellow Carolina Jessamine vine and showy coral, pink, and red azalea bushes that announce spring’s arrival.
At this park, they have three active purple martin birdhouses, each with 12 white gourds, all of which appear to be occupied. Purple martins flit about snatching mosquitoes, the males showing off by flashing their glossy blue wings.
A boy fishes in the bay and three pre-teen girls rehearse on a stage for a show they discuss performing for an audience. They turn cartwheels. One girl suggests that they strike a pose after each cartwheel and she demonstrates. I remember my own daughters performing skits and plays for the family.
The sound of bike tires makes me turn. A family of four rolls by. Another family plays frisbee. The youngest boy leaves the game to splash in a puddle. Ah, yes, the joys of watching kids in springtime.
Still, I realize, it’s not the sights but the sounds that I long for most. My all-time favorite is the call of the red-winged blackbird. As a youth living in a house overlooking a cattail pond, I got to watch these fascinating birds. The males arrived first, claiming their territories. Once the females arrived, they’d announce themselves, spreading their black wings to show off their crimson epaulets. It somehow got in my blood and to this day, I find it as entertaining as a pickleball game.
Today I hear the short whistles of an osprey. The male arrives at the nest, dropping food with a triumphant cry to the female. See what a great provider I am, the call seems to boast. And she chirps back with approval.
I walk farther toward a marshy area and a flock of geese honk loudly as they fly above me. Another favorite sound, one that conjures fun memories of raising ducks and one special goose, Gertie. I can’t help but wonder if she’s on route somewhere, flying back to Wisconsin.
I sit on a bench and soak in the relaxing sound of the wind swishing the tall grasses and cattails. And then I hear it. Conk-a-ree, conk-a-ree. A male red-winged blackbird is announcing his presence. Ah, yes, spring has arrived.