Friday, 29 July 2011

On the beach

The Space Shuttle programme may be over and the Lighthouse Keeper back in England, now well-recovered from the effects of jet-lag after the return flight.

But before we head to pastures new there is more to tell about this part of Florida - some of the experiences that it wasn’t possible to write about in real-time during the long, frenetic days around the launch of Atlantis.

Four days after launch (12 July 2011) and it is early evening on Cocoa Beach, a stone’s throw from my temporary home at the rustic and friendly Pelican Landing Resort.

For the first time in a week the coast has seen day-long clear blue skies and, in the middle of the day at least, an almost unbearable sun.

But things have cooled off just a little by 6 pm and with a refreshing breeze off the sea it is as good a time as any to sit on the shoreline and muse a little.

The great six mile long stretch of sand disappears into the distance on both sides, a faint misty spray blurring the distant detail like some desert heat haze.

It starts in the north at Jetty Park, a park and campground area with its own sand dune and beach area, waterside picnic spots and fishing pier, all at the entrance to the busy Port Canaveral.

From Jetty Park you can watch and boats and ships go by, and across the tidal inlet you can see towards the launch towers of Cape Canaveral Air Force base, a good spot for watching unmanned launches of Atlas and Delta rockets.

The Shuttle pad itself is blocked from here by a low mound of land but if you didn’t mind joining the action a few seconds after launch then it was still a good spot to watch Shuttles climbing rapidly into the sky on their way into orbit.

There is an abundance of wildlife all around - seabirds, bottlenose dolphins, manatee and sea turtles, as well as the occasional Raccoon venturing out onto the rocks.

The loud clear whistle of the Osprey is one of coastal Florida's most characteristic sounds. Sometimes mistaken for a bald eagle (because of the white head), the Ospreys are often seen flying with a fish grasped tightly in their talons.

From my spot on the beach some four miles down from Jetty Park I am surveyed by a passing Pelican, which gracefully shadows the wave-line, seemingly without effort for such a large bird.

Just offshore more Pelicans appear to plunder a shoal of surface-feeding fish. Suddenly their wings fold and they dive-bomb into the water with a great splash, and then you see them bobbing on the water whilst devouring their catch.

It’s also time for the myriad of ‘sand spiders’ to come out of their holes in the sand. Though they have an uncanny resemblance to spiders they are actually crabs and come in all sizes and camouflaged colours, emerging sideways from the sand hole before darting back and forth as the waves roll and retreat.

The smallest look like they are floating over the fine sand. All crabs scamper at lightening speed and disappear down their hole as soon as anything moves or spooks them.

A wave rushes in and for a moment they all disappear. And then, at the sand hole near my foot, a pair of pointy black eyes pop out, flicking around to assess the landscape once more before deciding to dash here and there.

No comments:

Post a Comment