I'm just enough of a birder to know cool birds when I see them, and on Saturday I saw some of the coolest — a flock of eight roseate spoonbills in one of the pools of standing water that have lingered most of the summer on either side of Bellamy Brothers Boulevard in central Pasco County.
In 23 years in this area, I've seen precisely one spoonbill, which are almost as vividly pink as flamigos and for the same reason: a diet high in small, shelled creatures that are loaded with a group of organic compounds called carotenoids.
My younger son and I got out of the car to take a look at the spoonbills' rose-washed wings and watch their characteristic feeding technique, shoveling through muck and snapping their bills shut when they come upon a snail or insect. And, though they prefer saltwater, they apparently found something good to eat in this flooded pasture. They were there when we drove south Saturday morning and still there three hours later.
The birds can be seen from time to time in the shallows of Tampa Bay, which is the northern edge of their range, said longtime birder and Hernando Audubon member Mike Liberton of Ridge Manor.
He's also seen them in ponds behind Brooksville Regional Hospital and at a chicken farm in Lacoochee. But they are a rare sight in this part of the state, even for dedicated birders.
"I've been birding in this county for 25 years now and seen them three times, maybe four times," Liberton said.
Five years ago Friday, I came across one of the grimmest and saddest sights of my reporting career.
Assigned to try to interview St. Petersburg City Council Chairman John Bryan at his weekend home in Floral City, I found him in a utility shed filled with small vehicles, their motors running and spewing out a blue, toxic fog.
He was dead, a suicide victim, and I was no longer just covering a news story, but was part of it.
Most of you have probably forgotten this event. I haven't, because the sight of him has stuck with me and because I felt as though I did a lousy job as a witness.
For this paper, my only intelligible quote was, "I was stunned." I was, I guess, because I wasn't much more articulate when interviewed by several television news crews. Also, I kind of felt that Bryan, who had resigned amid allegations of sexually assaulting a teenage girl who worked for his family, got what he deserved.
I feel just as outraged about Bryan's actions. Still, I think of a middle-aged man with a family and who came to a point in his life where he thought ending it was the only option. On some level, at least, it seems like a tragedy.
It's the nature of the job, I guess, but a column I spent a good part of the week researching — about the referendum that will decide whether to continue the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program — got only a handful of online comments.
On the other hand, the one I wrote about Catie Blue, the Sheriff's Office assistant finance director and self-appointed tax watchdog who asked for the county to fix her road, drew bunches of them.
Maybe it's because that one came from the gut. Though Blue let me know in the online comments that she didn't like it (to put it mildly), the hypocrisy of the anti-tax crowd is almost universal. Everybody needs roads. Most people, at one time in their lives, get some form of publicly funded help in their retirements. Some of us need unemployment payments.
If you collect these things, and aren't willing to pay for them, in my mind that makes you a hypocrite.
Those of you with young children who have heard all the horror stories about bringing up teenagers, I've got good news.
To me, it's been one of the best phases of parenthood. For example: Friday afternoon, I, my wife, and 16-year-old son drove down to Dade City to buy him his first car.
Yes, it's just a Ford Focus with lots of miles on the odometer. But it looks great and turned out to be far peppier than you might imagine, and getting our paws on the title was enough to bring a huge smile to my son's face.
And mine. He hasn't learned to drive a manual transmission yet, so I got to drive it home.