Always something new at wetland wonderland | Opinion

It’s springtime in South Florida, a most glorious time to lift our spirits. We’ve been hibernating for over a year now. It’s time to stretch our wings and let our souls soar.

Perhaps you’re dreaming of the touch of soft, hot sand on your toes on a COVID-drenched beach. Perhaps strolling downtown through packed precincts where you can rub shoulders with a horde of unmasked celebrants?

Hmmm, maybe it’s too soon to dare fate, even if you’re fully inoculated and wearing a double mask.

I suggest that there are nearby places to visit that will lift you higher than a morning at the market or an afternoon in the mall.

This is the moment when nature is shouting at us to partake in the bounty of its rich feast of regeneration and renewal.

Steve West

Steve West (Mort Mazor / Courtesy / South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

We live in a land that is a cornucopia of natural environments that bond our beings to the rebirth of life. For Judy and me, our nature magnet is the Wakodahatchee Wetlands at 13270 Jog Road in Delray Beach, which is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Although your visit is priceless, there is no fee to enter so you can close your wallet and open your senses to the magnificence that all this wetland wonderland has to offer.

Here you can walk the planks of the boardwalk and take in a unique wonder of nature with each step. As many times as Judy and I visit, there is always something new to discover. Let’s share a few samples of the doors to nature that have been opened to us there.

The tricks to maximizing your visit are to go slowly, observe everything, look for the details. take clues from other visitors, and bring your camera, mask and binoculars if you have them.

On one visit last year we watched a pair of fish birthing right beneath our feet under the boardwalk. The plump female swam in a tight loop carving out a circular depression in the soft mud.

The male watched the work from a short distance. Upon an imperceptible signal, the ladyfish stopped circling. With the precision of a fine clockwork gear, she ended her rotation with her bloated belly directly in her mate’s path. He, like a bull charging to the matador’s red cloth, smacked headlong into her bloated belly liberating a spume of wriggling beings. The male reversed and repeated this dance again and again making the water boil with new life. Judy and I will always remember viewing that small miracle.

Many visits are rewarded with alligator sightings. When one is visible you can count on a small crowd gathering to watch these graceful beasts. The fun is that you see them in different activities besides just basking in the sun. Once, a large mama swam directly beneath us under the boardwalk. Our close proximity afforded us the privilege of seeing her three youngsters hitching a ride on her broad, warty back.

Beware of alligators lurking in the waters of the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach.

Beware of alligators lurking in the waters of the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Britt Head/Courtesy)

Another magic gator moment was having a front-row seat to the soup to nuts (pardon the pun) courtship of a reptilian love affair. We’ve even seen a crock run at 35 mph over the grassland.

Every few steps afford a close-up experience of our local natural wetlands in its pristine environment. We’ve seen playful otters frolic in the weeds. Once a friend caught a mother and baby cougar lying in the weeds in the early light of dawn. He shot a prize photo to prove it.

Iguanas often appear like small, smooth-skinned green alligators. They can swim and climb and we’ve seen their cruel fight for survival as they raid the egg-filled homes of nesting birds.

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But the birds are the stars of the wetlands. Throughout the spring, various species literally cover the trees like living snow clusters clinging to a green carpet.

In the late winter, when snow is piling up north of our paradise, our avian friends are staking out their territory and weaving homes for their future offspring. As the days fly by, eggs are laid, patiently warmed by their mother’s loving body until hatched into little living peeps whose appetite strains the ability of their dutiful dads to forage and glide back to the nest with masticated baby food, which they deposit deep into the waiting open mouths of their offspring.

Scott Bennett, of Weston, looks over at a swarm of wood storks at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach.

Scott Bennett, of Weston, looks over at a swarm of wood storks at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (John McCall / Sun Sentinel)

Wakodahatchee has one special vantage point, even for people who can’t do a lot of walking. The first station is a roofed gazebo that puts you a breath away from the nesting birds.

Frequent visitors can watch the process unfold until the baby’s wings unfold to bring them to launch their own circle of life. No matter what the season or the time of day, Wakodahatchee offers you an ever-changing free show.

Among the parade of fauna, a multitude of wildflowers and waterlilies sing their siren song to keep you transfixed at each step you take.

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