The Sounds of Anna Maria Island

After living here for ten years, I’ve come to recognize certain sounds that are common on Anna Maria Island, but might not be easily recognized by a visitor.

For those who live in canal-front homes, the sound of a boatlift in operation becomes familiar. Yet it is a haunting and penetrating sound at times, suggesting the wail of a supernatural creature. Although the boatlift sound is the product of a purely mechanical movement, it has come to be one more of the many voices that are raised during everyday life along a canal.

Great Blue Heron

Another canal voice is that of the startled night heron. Often these reclusive birds fish at the base of a canal seawall, where they are not noticed by anyone on the property above. But if you happen to walk close to the where the night heron stands, below, it is likely to suddenly squawk a very loud and distressing call, as it quickly flies away, startling you more than you startled it.


The great blue heron is less likely to respond to humans with a frightened call. But they, too, have a loud call, which sounds like a hoarse, relaxed bark. The heron who has claimed our property as his own announces his arrivals and departures with a series of these barks, which decrease in pitch and also become more drawn out as the series of six or so vocalizations is made. This particular great blue heron even announces most of his movements around our yard, so, often, as we sit at the dining table, we know that a particular heron is in a particular part of the yard. This is not something we expected to be able to know when we moved here.

There is no end to the number of other bird sounds we hear, from the surprisingly high-pitched repeating cry of the osprey, to the trill of the kingfisher, to the garrulous chatter of the parakeets.Osprey

One of the most exciting noises we recognize now is the exhaling of a dolphin. It is extremely rewarding to hear the loud sigh, to rush over for a look at the water, and to confirm that we have been graced with the company of so fine a creature.

A whole category of sounds is that of water being slapped, or displaced. A second dolphin sound falls into this group, as the repetitive surfacing of so large an animal makes a sound in the water that is easy to identify. The sound of much smaller fish jumping is also distinctive. Sometimes it’s just one here, one there. But there have been times that so many fish have jumped together, or created “boiling” water that the sound carries through closed doors and windows, and is very surprising.

To the visitor, even just the sound of the water lapping against the seawall can be confusing. We once had a house guest who woke us in the night to report that there was somebody walking around in our dark yard. After stepping outside to listen, we realized the “crunching” noise was nothing other than the wind-driven waves hitting concrete.

On Anna Maria Island, we are fortunate to be close enough to the space shuttle launches that we sometimes can see them as they go up. We also occasionally hear them as they return. The double boom of the sound barrier being broken by a shuttle craft is an unusual and exciting thing to hear from one’s yard.

There are several sounds that vie for my least favorite part of life here. One is the drone of a buzz saw cutting down a large tree. Another is the loud hum of generators when the power goes out. And then there is the noise of other people’s music. Fortunately, most of those who live on this island appreciate the sounds of nature and respect their neighbors enough to keep their music inside.

There is one more undesirable sound that comes with life on a tropical island. Fortunately, I’ve never heard it, but several friends have told me about hearing it: the rustling sound of rats in the roof. It’s not surprising that with all the fruit trees, there are some very happy wild critters running around in the night, including roof rats. Sometimes they find their way inside even the nicest of homes. If we ever have that problem, I’ll be listening in the night for the sound of a live trap slamming closed.

I’ve saved my favorite island sound for last. The sound of a falling coconut landing on the ground. It’s a loud enough “thud” to get your attention. Until you realize what it is, it can be a mystery. We hear it often enough that we now just smile and feel lucky to be surrounded by these trees.

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