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.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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.

Green Lynx (Peucetia viridans) – Young Recently Hatched

26 Comments on “Florida’s Fall Forest

  1. Another exceptional series of photographs, Wally. Take good care of those warblers and be sure to send a few of them back here in the spring. Actually, hardy Myrtle Warblers are no longer a big surprise here at this time of the year given the ever milder winters we have year after year. As you know, their name originated with their proclivity to feed on the berries of Wax Myrtle, and they seem to be quite catholic in their choice of fruit here. I keep hoping to come across one feeding alongside Cedar Waxwings. The phoebe gulping down the grasshopper makes me chuckle. It is amazing the size of prey birds can get handle in a single gulp; akin to us eating a whole watermelon it seems! And my heart rejoices upon seeing all those baby spiders. I suspect a few insectivorous birds might rejoice too! Happy New Year. Keep bringing us nature from Florida in 2021.

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    • Thank you so very much, David!

      We are truly blessed with all the flora and fauna within our little corner of the planet.

      Cheers to you and Miriam as we ring in a New Year!

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  2. What a wonderful collection of birds (and a deer!). Would love to see these birds.

    Hope all is well.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Stewart!

      All is quite well here! Good health, good birds – what else is there?

      Gini and I send you and your family wishes for a HOPEFUL and HAPPY NEW YEAR !!

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  3. I’m thrilled to death to find confirmation here of the identity of a new visitor to my feeders: a pine warbler! I’d thought I was seeing a goldfinch, but the size of the beak, and the fact that the bird was scarfing down dried mealworms made me take another look. Cornell’s Merlin suggested pine warbler, I decided that was right — and it sure was!

    More later — I’m at the car wash and it’s time to go!

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      • Well, having any car at all is a blessing for me. Here’s the short version: a road trip to Lost Maples, a bum alternator. Alternator fixed in Bandera, car went kaput again in Bulverde. Guys who repaired it forgot to reconnect some hoses and etc. Forty miles down the road, I had an empty radiator, broken water pump, and overheated engine with no compression.

        The guy whose shop messed up stood the cost of the replacement engine and the rental car. I haven’t been out in nature since December 9, but I have a new engine with 100K fewer miles than the old one, a new radiator, new water pump, new alternator, new hoses, and new fluids. Thank goodness I broke down both times where there was cell phone coverage, because there mostly wasn’t while I was in the boondocks.

        Now, I’m trying to get over my anxiety every time I start the car. It’s running fine, though, and I figure in another week I’ll have the courage to take it to Galveston. It’s been a traumatic two weeks, although in the end things worked out better than I could have imagined.

        Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I was admiring the Phoebe with the grasshopper, and marveling at those spiderlings. I’ve seen more Green Lynx spiders than ever before during this year, but I’ve only seen egg cases — never the babies. It’s a wonderful photo. I wonder what the survival rate is for those babies?

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  4. Fabulous beautiful shots, Wally! I’m back in Florida (Everglades City) for the winter, I cannot wait to see all the incoming birds on my treks! Happy Holidays and happy birding in 2021!

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    • Welcome “home”, Donna! I see you’re bring a cold front with you. That’s gonna put you on the naughty list ……

      We wish you Good Things over the holidays – and every day!!

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  5. Thank you Wally. The Red Maples in your header make for a lovely landscape image. And your list of observations is impressive once again.

    I’m also grateful that you cleared up the ornithological mystery for me – much obliged! 🙂

    Ed

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    • Thanks very much, Ed.

      Most “real” (maybe that’s “real old”?) bird watchers call them “Butterbutts”.

      You and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

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  6. You’ve done it again with that fabulous header image, Wally! Right now, I feel that we could benefit from your autumn warmth – we could do with a break! I have, however, gleaned a great deal of comfort from this delightful (as always) post from you. With love to you both – – – Richard

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    • Thank you so much, Richard!

      We’re trying as hard as we can to send some warm sunny breezes your way. Hope it reaches you soon!

      Wishing you and Lindsay a wonderful holiday season!

      Like

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