Florida’s Fall Forest
“Come to the woods, for here is rest.” – John Muir
Upstate New York is unbelievably beautiful. In autumn, that beauty is enhanced by trees adorned with leaves of hues we never even knew existed. Walking along a path in November, crisp cold air turning your nose red, dry leaves crunching under foot, a Ring-necked Pheasant in a field springing up suddenly and snow beginning to fall gently to create a soft blanket which would cover those crunchy leaves during the night.
Gini and I are native Floridians. Living in Syracuse, New York was an adventure we shall never forget.
Fast forward – a lot of years. Back in our home Sunshine State there has always been a joke that Florida only has two seasons: brown and green. We are in the brown one.
However – there are a few spots in the state which, while not on the scale of a New York fall, sport a rather colorful display during late November and early December. Our local state park at Colt Creek happens to be one of those locales. Thanks to a healthy population of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and a combination of rainfall amount and temperature, we occasionally find red and gold among our normally green patch of swamp and woods.
December in Florida also means we have opportunities to observe birds visiting from as far away as, well, upstate New York. The migratory travelers appreciate all the insect life the swampy woods offer. We appreciate them consuming as many as they can.
A couple of weeks ago, Gini packed up some fresh Florida citrus and granola bars and we enjoyed a splendid day chasing small birds in big trees. We saw our first Chipping Sparrows of the season but, alas, they were quick to escape and I couldn’t find them again for a photo. In addition to a good number of birds, we saw some of our “regular” residents: alligators, deer, squirrels, turtles and even caterpillars, butterflies and a few dragonflies.
The woods smell different at this time of year. I suppose it has to do with decaying leaves recently released from limbs now becoming compost which will support new life in the spring. Drier weather means lower water levels in the creeks and more of the banks exposed for animals and birds to explore the soft mud for a meal.
In addition to fall warblers, we were fortunate to spot a local pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, an American Kestrel, young White Ibises, lovely Turkey Vultures trying to stay warm and a couple of Killdeer at the ranger station. The morning passed all too quickly.
We lingered a bit to enjoy our colorful autumn display across the lake. Admittedly, not as impressive as our New York memory, but we like it just fine.
The Common Yellowthroat has what we refer to as “small bird syndrome”. Similar to his cousins the wren and gnatcatcher, they are quick to challenge any would-be intruder and aggressively jump to a conspicuous perch to defend their territory.
Speaking of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This one was too busy keeping an eye on a breakfast bug to challenge my presence.
White-tailed Deer are common throughout the park early in the morning and have become somewhat accustomed to human presence. This doe still eyed me suspiciously and eventually melted into the trees as I wandered around looking for birds.
An Eastern Bluebird seems to defy gravity as it hangs on to a piece of pine tree bark.
Pine Warblers can be quite bright yellow or quite drab gray, and many shades in between. These big-billed warblers readily come to feeders for seed to supplement their insect diet.
At the park entrance, two Killdeer probed the grass around the pavement for insects. The bird supposedly gets its name from its call. The naturalist, Mark Catesby (early 1700’s) called it the “chattering plover”.
Small gray/brown bird, subtle breast streaks, yellowish flanks – a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The species has been split into two distinct varieties: Myrtle with a whitish throat and Audubon’s with a yellow throat.
It is an ornithological mystery as to how the bird received its common name.
As we passed by a creek, a slight movement caught our attention, otherwise we would have walked by this pair of beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks.
There’s nothing like an old metal roof to warm one up on a chilly morning. A pair of Turkey Vultures soak up the heat as they wait for thermals to form so they can begin their day of soaring. I thought the one perched on the roof’s peak would make a good weather vane. Gini said – well – suffice it to say she was not quite as enthusiastic as I was.
North America’s smallest falcon is the American Kestrel. This one was typically wary and flew to the next county as soon as I snapped a distant picture. The male is unmistakable in his colorful plumage.
A pair of White Ibises prepare to land in a small wetland. Immature birds are brown with white splotches until their second year, when they molt into the pure white of an adult.
Eastern Phoebe’s are fairly numerous throughout the winter and we miss them when they migrate north again. This one enjoys a large grasshopper brunch. Almost too large?
Our memories of distant autumn foliage are cherished. We are blessed to have small bits of color at this time of year which add to our enjoyment of Florida’s forests.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
LATE BREAKING NEWS FLASH !!
When last we met, spiders were busy guarding egg sacs throughout the land. We found one which Mother Green Lynx Spider had torn open to help all her new babies crawl out into the wide world. All those little reddish-brown dots have legs.