CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the perks of my job is getting to watch wildlife.
Earlier this week, I arrived early at a New River boat launch site for a meeting with a couple of fish biologists. I had half an hour to kill, so I sat on a rock and scanned the river for signs of life.
The first thing that showed up was a young coot - no, not a teenager imitating an elderly man, but a real, live, honest-to-goodness juvenile American coot of the bird variety. It flew across the river toward me and landed on a gravel bar a short distance away.
It lingered there only for a few moments before it lit out for the river's far shore. If you've never seen a coot take off, it's sort of comical. They flap their wings furiously and, in an attempt to gather momentum, they run across the water until they finally become airborne.
Not long after the coot disappeared, a blue heron came flying along, looking every bit like a pterodactyl of the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods must have looked.
Its neck formed an S-shape, and its head sat atop the middle of the S. Its long, slender wings flapped slowly, gracefully, and with so little effort that the heron appeared almost to glide along.
It landed on the downstream edge of a promontory a couple hundred yards upriver, and, after a brief rest, continued its journey to the opposite shore.
About the time it departed, the surface of a nearby cove erupted with spray. A school of small fish came shooting out of the water, closely followed by a rather large fish apparently intent on eating them.
I caught only a glimpse of the would-be predator, but judging from its length and general shape, I suspect it was a muskie.