As the day draws to a close and the last rays of light glisten from the peaks of the ripples in Mosquito Lagoon, sounds of day fade with the light. When all activity seems to have ceased for the day and no sounds but the gentle lapping of the surf can be heard, the piercing cry of the Willet sounds out evening taps for all seashore life. Now darkness can come softly and the sea turtles can safely come ashore and lay their eggs. The little sandpipers can gather in a group and stand on one leg and nod through the night.
Always vigilant, the willet stands watch and calls an alarm when humans walk the beach at night. They sound the alarm when raccoons appear and start their nightly raid on the new turtle nests, only to fall on deaf ears. So who is this guardian of the seashore? It is a very large sandpiper that stands about 15 inches tall. In the winter their color is rather drab except when they fly. Their wings have a stark black and white pattern. During the day they are very noisy birds and call out every time another bird enters their territory.
Willets inhabit just about all watery shores in Florida except in the deep swamps. Along the seashore they try to beat the waves as they push their long beaks deep into the crushed shells and sand hoping for a morsel. Small crabs and sand fleas make of most of their diet along the ocean shores. I have seen them feeding with the little white Ibis on mud flats searching for mud worms. Compared with much smaller sandpipers they seem almost undisturbed by the foamy surf sweeping past their feet. They make their homes in the brackish marshes from Florida all the way to Texas. Their nest consists of very loosely arranged sticks and soft grasses. When on the nest the female blends in so well a person could almost step on her and not know it. If you get too close though she flies a short distance and pretends to be wounded. All the time leading the would be enemy away from her nest with that mournful pleading that keeps all the attention on her and away from her nest.
Many of our favorite moments come at sunset as we sit in our beach chairs where the waves just lap at our feet. Every few hundred feet in either direction we can see a willet staking out itís territory for the nightsí vigil. Later as we walk the beach with a flashlight, near Sebastian Inlet, we search for mother turtles coming ashore and we are sure to disturb a willet or two. Should you go in search of turtles please go after dark and donít disturb them. Stand at a distance and watch her dig her hole and lay her eggs. If she is disturbed she might return to the water and not return for a long while. Remember she has traveled thousands of miles just to this spot to lay her eggs and is tired and would like to complete her journey. Most likely this is where she was also hatched some 30-40 or perhaps 80 years earlier.
Many shore birds, like the willet, donít sleep like you and I do. They take short (cat) naps right at the waters edge, ready to fly out over the water at the first sign of danger. Also the high and low tides make them change positions during the night. Iíve often wondered if such a disturbing lifestyle causes them to have shorter lives. Surly not. If your vacation leads you to the ocean this summer donít forget to look for the common willet.
It is very comforting to know that our Creator stands vigilant over us at night and all other times too. At the first sign of danger to our well being the Holy Spirit whispers in our ear to be aware. Please donít let His alarm go unheeded.
- Uncle Burney
(Story by Burney)