Nature’s Timeline

Header Image: Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

A definition of a “timeline” might be: a sequence of related events arranged in chronological order and displayed along a line.

Therefore, “Nature’s Timeline” could be as simple as:

Spring  > Summer > Autumn > Winter

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Seasonal change is caused by the axial tilt of the Earth, which creates climatic differences due to greater or lesser exposure to solar radiation.  —-Reference.com,  Characteristics of the Four Seasons

On the other hand, when we are exploring within Nature’s milieu, and feel the first cool breeze of fall on our cheeks, hear the crunch of fallen leaves as we walk a path, see the brilliant orange patches flashing on the otherwise black feathers of an American Redstart – we realize Nature has no “timeline”. Rather, there is a rhythm which produces infinite possibilities throughout the year, every year.

Experiencing those infinite possibilities is what keeps us returning to the outdoors.

 “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” — Henry David Thoreau

(Note: The visit described herein took place in early September.)

There is a reason we keep visiting some places more often than others. For us, it is usually some combination of convenience and potential. Colt Creek State Park is such a place. We can be there in 20 minutes and the diverse habitat offers good opportunities for birding as well as enjoying flora, insects and mammals. An added benefit when we go on a weekday being the park is seldom crowded.

Gini packed our breakfast staples of granola and fruit which we were enjoying as we looked out across Mac Lake. Another meal interrupted. A flock of Barn Swallows appeared and began feeding over the lake, occasionally dipping their bills into the water for a drink. Photographing these sleek speedsters is a challenge for me. Bonus bird! Among the swallows was a Purple Martin, all dark and a bit larger than his cousins.

The morning went by too fast. Lots of dragonflies and butterflies begged for portraits. The ascending notes of Northern Parula Warblers, clear calls of the Tufted Titmouse gang and non-stop branch-hopping of dozens of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were all signs that fall migration was in progress. As if signaling a farewell to summer, a soaring Swallow-tailed Kite swooped low above our heads. These handsome raptors breed in Florida and migrate to South America for the winter. This bird is a couple of weeks late as we typically see none after the third week of August.

Change was in the air. Florida doesn’t normally have much of a distinction between seasons, but the subtle notes in Nature’s rhythmic timeline were there and we look forward to the exciting prospects which lay ahead!

A new boardwalk was recently added over a small wetland area. No wet feet today!

There are not many dragonflies this small (1 inch/26 mm) which helps in identifying the Little Blue Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax minuscula). Adult males are powdery blue.

Some spider species can be recognized by their webs. The zig-zag “zipper” in the center of this large web identifies the owner as the beautiful Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia).

At first, this little mushroom looked a bit sad. But as I knelt down to take his picture, I found out he was really (wait for it) —- a fungi!

(sorry)

Purple Martins are North America’s largest swallows. This one joined a group of Barn Swallows as they swooped over Mac Lake snapping up flying insects.

Barn Swallows are beginning to appear in large flocks as they begin their annual migration. It’s fun to watch them touch the surface of the water for a drink as they twist and turn following clouds of bugs.

A young American Alligator has already learned humans don’t represent a threat. This is a very dangerous trait. If he ever leaves the park, he may discover humans with different attitudes. Humans who don’t understand wild animals are likely to approach too close for a photograph or, worse, toss the animal a snack. Injury to both parties could result. (To be clear, we were some distance from this alligator and the photo was taken with a 600mm telephoto lens and then cropped further so it may seem we were much closer.)

Skippers get their name from how they appear to “skip” in flight from one flower to another. Worldwide, there are more than 3,000 species of skippers! We took a picture of just a few today. A Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes) has twin “tails” for which it is named. The left “tail” has been removed, likely by a predator.

Another subtle sign of Nature’s Timeline. The Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona domiciliorum) is usually nocturnal, but as fall begins the female becomes active during daytime.

One of the smaller members of the vast skipper family of butterflies, the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) can be identified by the small scattered spots on its hindwing.

As with most things in nature, butterflies don’t care what WE would like and seldom pose in the manner WE would like for a glorious photograph. Fortunately, specimens such as this Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe) are glorious whether or not some human is around to record it. Just having observed it is enough.

We’re not sure why this Swallow-tailed Kite is still here. The rest of his clan left a couple of weeks ago for South America. Quite unusual to see one after August.

Butterflies obtain nutrients from a variety of sources, including the nectar of flowers. They occasionally need extra salts and minerals which they get from damp soil (also known as “mud”). Once in awhile, large numbers of butterflies can be seen “puddling” as they gather around a rich source of what they need. This group is made up of Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) butterflies.

Even an all-dark butterfly is beautiful, with subtle markings easily overlooked in the field since they simply don’t care if we want them to hold still or not. This is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius).

Eyes on its wings. The large spots on the wings of a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) could be mistaken by a would-be predator for eyes and will sometimes result in the butterfly escaping rather than being eaten. Not too bad to look at, either!

In the wetlands, a small Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea) tries to make herself look even smaller as she clings to a stem of Alligatorflag (Thalia geniculata).

No matter how you look at it, a Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) is pretty spectacular on either side! From above, the mosaic design is captivating. The underwing looks like a work of stained-glass art.

Yet another member of that large skipper family, the Tropical Checkered-Skipper  (Pyrgus oileus) is an example of nature taking “just gray and white” and elevating it to something very special.

Throughout the morning, we noted several warblers heralding the coming fall migration. As we neared the park’s exit, as if to underscore the fact that summer is over and autumn is here, an Eastern Kingbird posed for a moment. We only see these in the park during migration. With all of the insects we saw today, he should eat well!

Nature expressed as a graphic timeline may be accurate. Nature enjoyed as a sensory smorgasbord is an overwhelming delight!

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

18 Comments on “Nature’s Timeline

  1. Hi Wally. Be careful how you describe those seasonal changes and the effect of solar radiation. I wouldn’t like for you to be “cancelled”. It seems strange that only now are you seeing Barn Swallows when ours left many weeks ago and are now in Africa. The spiders you show are rather lovely but perhaps scarier to some than baby alligators – as you say a recipe for disaster. Love the Swallow tail. Say hi to Gini.

    Take care and good luck for next Tuesday. Stay indoors if necessary.

    Like

    • With my level of social interaction, being “cancelled” would have no discernible effect.

      We tend to get “waves” of swallows which correspond to cold fronts in the north. They will now begin to thin out substantially. (Note the visit date for this blog was early September.)

      “Spiders” and “lovely” may be an oxymoron for some, be we find most to have a unique beauty.

      Speaking of unique beauty, Gini says “Hi, Phil”.

      No worries for our election day. What matters most is how we react to the results. We have plenty of swamps in which to hide if necessary …..

      Like

  2. Hello,

    Beautiful nature series. It is hard to pick a favorite, I loved them all.
    Colt Creek sounds like another great Florida park. Take care, have a happy day!

    Like

    • Thank you very much, Eileen!

      It’s okay to love all the pics! We do.

      It is a really nice park and it helps that it’s only a few minutes away.

      The day is very happy already!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to see you have what I take to be Bidens pilosa, or Spanish needles: the little flower with white rays and a yellow center that the skippers are enjoying. I often find it on Galveston Island, with the skippers just as eager to visit. And as much as I like the tree frog and the alligator, the alligator flag caught my eye, too. It’s one of my favorite wetland flowers, although your species differs from ours. The maps show just how distinct the species are!

    Your comments about nature’s ‘timeline’ are apt. When I first began wandering, I often was puzzled by plants that seemed out of season. Sometimes it was hard to decide whether a given species was coming or going: whether it was blooming early, or lingering late. No matter. Like individual birds that linger on despite their flock having taken leave, explanations can be hard to come by. The good news for us is that there’s still enjoyment to be had.

    Like

    • I just finished raking “hitchikers” (Spanish needles) off my pants from this morning’s walk. It is amazing how such small, almost insignificant flowers can attract so many different pollinators!

      Researching plant species is sometimes frustrating for me and this is a good example. It seems Bidens alba and Bidens pilosa have been “officially” categorized as the same species. Not all botanists agree with that and many states Dept.’s of Ag. continue to separate them.

      I’ll continue to call them Spanish needles.

      ANOTHER hurricane in the gulf! Looks like it will miss you this time.

      Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A fine narrative and a great series of pictures, Wally. Makes us realize just how diverse nature is and the extent to which many of us just couldn’t live without it, any of it, even that which has the potential to threaten us.

    Like

    • Thank you, David.

      Yes, removing any element from our natural world ensures the degradation of our lives, perhaps in ways we won’t recognize immediately. We must ensure our children and grandchildren understand that fact.

      We had another great day today exploring one of the Natural Places!

      Like

  5. Your narratives are always wonderful, Wally, but this one is exceptionally so – a real delight for me on a chilly and damp autumn day. Then you ply us with your gorgeous photos too, and the whole thing becomes magical! Great photography of a fabulous variety of wildlife – so I’ll forgive you that corny joke.

    Your reference to butterlies going for salts reminds me of the benefits of taking a pee in the wild on a sunny day and coming back some time later to see what has come down to feast on one’s waste.

    I hope that your week gets off to a great start, and continues that way. Stay safe – – – Richard

    Like

    • All here is very good, Richard!

      We appreciate your very nice comments. What do you mean “corny”?? (Describes my personality quite accurately!)

      Our week is, indeed, off to a rollicking start! We spent the morning in a field of hundreds (!) of dragons. Butterflies were abundant and we even managed a few migrating birds!

      Stay tuned for details!

      Like

  6. Once again I enjoyed both your photos and writing, Wally. I think my favorite subjects in this post are the Cloudless Sulphur butterflies. The header image is a lovely flight shot and in the “puddling” photo they almost look like leaves on the ground.

    Also, I did smile at your fungi. Thanks for that!

    Like

    • Thank you very much, Ed!

      I think most folks are too polite to show their true reaction to such “low-brow” humor! Not to mention, that joke has probably been around since Adam told it to Eve.

      Like

  7. Since we ply through the same disturbed wetland nearly every morning before sunrise, there often seems to be little change in the experience from day to day. Yet we tune into the larger rhythm as Mars dips lower and disappears to the west and Venus moves higher ahead of of the Sun (although now her orbit is turning back). First a few, then hordes of Barn Swallows streamed southward for over 2 weeks until the arrivals halted as if a switch had been turned off. There is a more ominous long-term trend: fewer butterflies and less diversity of species than when we moved to south Florida from New Mexico 16 years ago.

    Like

    • I’m hoping the trend you have been experiencing is part of nature’s continuous cycle of adjusting life on the planet.
      Working on Florida’s Breeding Bird Atlas a few years ago, we saw some species with increased populations, some with decreases, some with cause for alarm, some with surprising resurgences. Beyond my pay grade to assign causation. I’ll just try to enjoy what’s offered each day!

      Take care, Ken.

      Like

  8. So many beautiful butterflies! Ours are about finished for the year now. Amazing capture for your header picture, I’ve never managed a butter in-flight.

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  9. They don’t care about our arbitrary insistence on a rigid time line – and neither should they. In this, as in so many other things, they are much more observant than we are.
    And usually much more beautiful too.
    Huge thanks to both you and Gini for this delectable collection.

    Like

    • Hey, EC! We hope all is well way down under.

      Gini is one of the exceptions to your note: “And usually much more beautiful too.” She is, by far, the most attractive creature I have ever observed!

      Take good care!

      Like

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