In the middle of a humid night in November 1997, two scientists and I donned waders and walked into the water of a half-acre test pond about 20 miles west of West Palm Beach, Fla. The researchers were there to set up egret decoys before the real birds flew over at dawn. I’d been warned about the snakes we might encounter while I was reporting on their research for this magazine [see “The Painted Bird”; February 1998]. Our flashlights illuminated the eyes of not too distant alligators. But despite the potential for venomous and/or crushing reptile bites, the most pressing safety concern explained my long sleeves and head netting—preventing the pinprick puncture of encephalitis-carrying mosquitoes.