On The Ridge
June in Florida. Very early in the morning, one can imagine the air still has the lingering coolness most people associate with spring. It’s a hallucination. If you take more than two steps through the greenery, your feet and calves are immediately soaked in dew. Humidity manifests itself by making you feel as though you have stepped into a sauna. As there is no breeze, walking briskly helps evaporate the drops forming on your face providing momentary relief from the oppressive warm wet atmosphere closing in around you.
And then, right in front of you, an apparition materializes. A Florida Scrub Jay! The rising sun highlights the bird’s spectacular blue plumage. It has acorns in its beak, glances briefly in your direction and in a moment, it’s gone. Endemic to our state, these large jays inhabit a few areas of scrub oak habitat and remain in loose family groups throughout the year, with young birds from last year’s brood helping to raise new birds.
The temperature and humidity are forgotten. The day has begun for Gini and I as we approach the entrance to the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. A few million years ago, ocean levels rose to cover most of what is now the peninsula of Florida. A ridge running north and south was all that remained. Flora and fauna evolved which was biologically unique. As ancient sea levels receded and tourists discovered white-sand beaches, the Lake Wales Ridge retained some of its special characteristics and today lists 33 plants and 36 animals currently having federal or state status as threatened or endangered.
Eastern Towhees sounded off on all sides: “drink-your-teeeeea“. Gini’s sharp eyes spotted a gorgeous Red Saddlebags dragonfly. A Wild Turkey wandered along a forest path in front of us, seemingly unconcerned by our presence. Diminutive Brown Nuthatches high in the surrounding pine trees sounded like so many rubber duckies being squeezed.
Breakfast by a pond. Red-headed Woodpeckers taking insects to their nearby nest cavity. The brilliant blue flash of Eastern Bluebirds. New Tufted Titmice trying out alarm calls at strangers under their branches. A bright red Summer Tanager singing to his mate, forest flowers, a multitude of dragonflies, more birds and, suddenly, it was after noon.
The heat and humidity had been ignored all morning as we marveled at what diversity Nature presented us. Just us. We encountered no other humans during our morning of exploration. There was no urgency to list a rare bird. No schedule. Glorious!
Florida’s very own Scrub Jay.
Tracks in the road let us know about unseen forest dwellers. Here, a White-tailed Deer and a Coyote passed this way during the night. One following the other, perhaps?
Throughout most of its eastern U.S. range, the Eastern Towhee has reddish eyes. In Florida and parts of Georgia, resident birds have light eyes which field guides describe as “straw colored”.
Gini frequently says: “Why won’t that turkey pull over and let us pass?”. Normally, she is not referring to a bird, such as this Wild Turkey out for a leisurely stroll.
This Red-headed Woodpecker is an immature bird, since his head shows a mix of red and brown.
The Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius) is a fairly common sight along woodland trails.
A medium-sized lizard, the Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Eumeces inexpectatus) is somewhat common in our area. Young males have a striking bright blue tail which fades with maturity.
It’s all about the birds and the bees. Well, in this case, the bee. A Bumble Bee loaded with pollen prepares to visit an American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) to unload her cargo. The lily will repay her with sweet nectar.
Another Florida endemic species, the Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii) is quite showy within the green of the pine forest. The header image gives you an idea of a typical pine flatwoods scene. We felt quite special knowing we were observing a flower that does not grow in any other state.
Once again, the keen brown eyes of my beloved were on the job! Gini spotted a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers, most likely mates. The raised crest and lemon-yellow belly is hard to miss.
Not content with just locating birds and bugs, Gini finds blooms, too. In this instance, a bright orange Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
A family of Tufted Titmice (two adults, two young) immediately showed up and raised alarm calls incessantly along a section of path. This one was particularly brave, flying out for a look and returning to his branch to keep up his calling.
This one took our breath away with her beauty. An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) posed nicely and we appreciated it!
A few steps from the above butterfly, a male Summer Tanager was singing from the very top of a tall tree. He eventually flew down to confirm we were no threat, returned to his perch and resumed singing.
All through the morning we heard the ascending notes of singing Northern Parulas. This is one of only a few woodland warblers which breed in our area of Florida.
The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) continues to face a challenge from the Cuban Brown Anole (Norops sagrei) which was introduced in Florida over 50 years ago. They prefer the same habitat and prey and the brown anole was considered a real threat. Recently, however, it seems the native green anole is holding its own. Fingers crossed.
One of three medium-sized all dark dragonflies in this region, the Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena) has a distinct face and wing pattern as well as a pale wash at the base of its hindwings.
In our area, we have three species of “broad-saddled” dragonflies (Black, Carolina and Red Saddlebags). This Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) displayed its namesake wing feature for us.
Florida in June means heat and humidity. For those of us who love nature, it means new bird babies, a bonanza of buzzing bugs and beautiful blooms in the forest. No matter what your June weather brings, find a place to explore and relax.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Wow, Wally – what a visit you had! You and Gini are such good observers. Much better than I am.
Thanks, Ed, but don’t confuse “good” with “lucky”!
Of course, it’s funny how the more we explore, the “luckier” we become ……
Stunning shots and a wonderful variety, Wally. Great morning, worth the conditions! I can understand how we can ‘forget/ignore’ the conditions (weather, bugs, back/leg pain or just plain tired) we’re in once nature presents one of its gorgeous specimens. Been there done that so many times! And always glad I did too! 😃
Thank you very much, Donna!
My theory is that Ponce de Leon really DID find the Fountain of Youth in Florida. It was our plethora of natural beauty he kept seeing everywhere!
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More wonderful words and images to delight us from that ‘tropical paradise’ that you call home, Wally. I’ve just had to wipe the perspiration from my brow!
The blue on that Eastern Tiger Swallowtail makes it look even more fabulous than the European Swallowtail and the similar sub-species we get in UK. The Red Saddlebags is a species that I’d really love to encounter.
I hope your week is going well. My very best wishes to you both – – – Richard
Thank you, Richard.
We hope all is well with you and Lindsay as we begin another week.
Efforts to showcase our paradise will continue as long as we are able. Okay, we actually would do it even without blogging!
This blog’s unofficial motto: “We perspire so you don’t have to.”
All the best!
Many thanks for that description of the geological formation of the Florida ridge Wally. I can now see why Florida is the shape it is and why as you point out, it has a number of unique species.
Thank goodness the Brits and others haven’t found Lake Wales Ridge. It’s all your Wally and I don’t I don’t blame you for loving it just as it is, remote and with nothing to interest the average Jack or Jill, or turkey. All that humidity must help to keep punters away and on the beaches too?
The swallowtail reminded me of the ones we see in Greece and Spain, but not here unfortunately. As for the Great-crested Flycatcher, I remember well its habit of vigorously clacking the bill in anger when trying to put a ring on. Great birds of a lovely size to handle, not like those squirming LBJs.
Enjoy your week of sun. I think we’re about to have a dollop or two, until weekend at least. Love to Gini.
Shhh, Phil, don’t tell Disney about our ridge!
I guess since we are native Floridians, we just accept high humidity as a way of life. Like taxes. Once a bird is spotted, the weather is the last thing that bothers me.
We hope your “dollop” of sun helps bring many visitors to your nets! Even if they are squirming LBJ’s!
Great post Wally. I think that the heat and the humidity might have done me in – at the every least I would have found it quite distasteful – but sometimes you have to put up with a little discomfort to observe nature. I have strong memories of tromping through jungle in Vietnam in conditions that had you dripping within seconds, but the the three species of broadbill we found made it all worthwhile. When I look back I remember the birds not the terrible conditions. Florida Scrub Jay holds a special place in my heart. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Glen Woolfenden in 1994 at the Archbold Research Station where he and John Fitzpatrick had done so much work with this species. I had a first hand session (about four hours) with the man who probably knew more about the species than anyone on earth. He was gracious, kind and entertaining. He passed away a few years ago, but it was an honour to have met him. This is turning out to be a long comment but I knew Dan Strickland, the Canada Jay biologist, and Glen had a hundred questions about Canada Jays and thought it quite wonderful that I knew Strickland. The world of ornithology is quite small sometimes – and ever wonderful!
I did not know Glen, but the important work carried out at Archbold continues. The Scrub Jay is so interesting and not bad to look at, either!
You are so right about this avocation of bird study – “ever wonderful”!
Here’s to a New Week – may it hold peace and happiness for us all.
I always enjoy your outings, great sightings of the birds, butterflies and lizards and flowers. Maryland can have hot humid summer days but nothing there’s like Florida. Beautiful photos! Have a happy day!
Thank you, Eileen! We remember some pretty humid Maryland days. Thank goodness we could get to the Eastern Shore pretty quick!
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What a marvelous habitat and inhabitants! We habitually start our morning walk about 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise, partly to escape the oppressive heat, but also to look and listen for owls and nightjars. Our wetlands have become so waterlogged that the Eastern Towhees seem to have abandoned us since about three years ago. Thanks for the pleasant and educational stroll ion the ancient ridge.
Yes, Ken, early starts! That area has become one of our favorite. Seems we always find something new there.
Huge thanks to you and Gini.
You (and nature) are stronger than I am. Heat and humidity do me in quickly and turn me into a sad, soggy and grumpy mess.
I am so very grateful to be given these wonderful images to marvel at without dripping all over the keyboard (and risking shorting out the whole damn thing).
Well, EC, I never said I wasn’t a sad, soggy and grumpy mess – but that’s just my normal demeanor! 🙂
We’re very happy to share a bit of what makes us happy with you any time. And we really appreciate your kind words.
Not a great lover of humidity especially if I have to mow the lawn or go to work! I’ll put up with it when viewing your latest offerings (we are due to reach the 30c mark this week).
Your Tiger Swallowtail is stunning and the dragons amazing. We have only one species with coloured wings and they are just a ‘golden’ wash and not patterned.
Hoping to take Tina out on Friday for her first visit to see the legendary Purple Emperor providing we don’t get thunderstorms that are forecast later.
Take care you two and mind the ‘gators.
Fingers crossed you and Tina have a successful Purple Emperor hunt!
I’m surprised how chasing a bug or a bird makes me forget about weather conditions.
Have a great new week, Brian!
Wonderful pictures – that Scrub Jay is a great looking bird.
Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne
Thanks very much, Stewart!