I glanced at the weather app over breakfast. The morning would be in the mid-70s (around 24 C), and no rain until eleven. Partly sunny. A perfect morning to go birding. I raced through my chores and then headed toward Big Talbot Island in Jacksonville, Florida.
A cool breeze met me as I stepped out of the car. I decided to leave my backpack behind, since I wouldn’t need water and the breeze would keep insects away, eliminating the need for repellent.
As I walked the boardwalk toward the boat ramp, Fiddler Crabs dove between the boards. I heard the raspy cry of a Clapper Rail and used my binoculars to scan the towering marsh grass. The expanse was a field of gold, broken by a strip of blue water known as Sawpit Creek. Here and there, the heads of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons appeared above the stalks.
A floating dock extended into the water. Where it met land, I noticed a Spotted Sandpiper searching for its meal.
Backtracking, I crossed State Highway A1A to the boardwalk edging Spoonbill Pond. Across the pond, I spotted a Reddish Egret, as well at the first Avocet seen since last season.
From the boardwalk, I entered the bike trail, where I found another birder observing Redstarts. Maintaining a social distance, we chatted a bit, and exchanged information about possible birding sites.
I walked the edges of a wooded parking lot. There was only one SUV and, as I walked around it, I noticed a pants-less driver facing the vehicle. He appeared to be changing clothes.
I quickly averted my eyes and pretended not to notice, as I walked toward an ocean overlook.
The wind seemed stronger now. It lifted the sand from the beach, many feet below, and thrust it into my eyes. It was impossible to look out, so I returned to the lot and then to the bike trail. I continued birding and glanced at my watch. It was already 10:15, but not a cloud in the sky. Maybe the weather report had been wrong.
As I debated, gray sky suddenly appeared. It started to sprinkle, and I searched my fanny pack for a plastic bag with which to cover my bins. Argh! I’d put it in the backpack.
I picked up my pace, and covered the lenses with cupped hands. But soon the drizzle stopped and it was sunny again.
I returned to my car, put away my gear, and retrieved my coffee thermos. I poured the coffee into a wide-bottomed mug and walked up a paved ramp, toward an old bit of highway that now serves as a fishing bridge. I walked past the brush and gazed out over the grassy expanse. But to my amazement, the marsh had disappeared. The entire area had become part of Nassau Sound, where river and ocean become one.
In the distance, I could see the boat ramp. The floating dock had disappeared and the boardwalk was partially submerged. Only the tips of the towering grass blades were visible here and there. And the creek proper was no longer distinguishable.
The wind was picking up as I set my coffee mug on the ground and photographed the incoming water.
Only a sandbar, jutting into the newly formed sea, remained. The distant sky grew darker and the wind grew stronger. My coffee cub trembled and rattled on the pavement. The legs of my pants roared in the wind.
The incoming waves grew stronger.
I glanced back at the bridge and realized how high the water had risen in 15 minutes’ time. I suddenly remembered I had to drive home. If I waited, A1A might become impassable.
On the way out, I snapped a photo of the submerging boat ramp and of a large grasshopper staying dry on the boardwalk railing.
I pulled out of the park and onto the highway. As I drove, I watched the water rise. On my right, the water splashed ten feet away. To my left, on the ocean side of the highway, the water was also ten feet away, then four.
As I entered a stretch of A1A lined with homes, I watched water fill parking lots and creep into buildings.
Safe at home, I turned on the news, and learned I’d experienced a Nor’easter, caused by a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. Usually these bring heavy rain, but today’s storm brought only relentless winds up to 40 mph (64.37 kph).
There had been impressive flooding along the Atlantic coastline of northern Florida. Online videos showed water cresting the sea wall in Saint Augustine (60 miles south), and filling the land surrounding the old Spanish fort.
In a sense, I’m glad that I hadn’t learned the Nor’easter was coming. It would have prevented me from venturing out. Instead, I saw firsthand the power of water – and how quickly and ruthlessly it can advance. It’s an experience and lesson I’ll long remember.
All photographs (c) Carol Fullerton-Samsel 2020