Header Image: Pygmy Rattlesnake
Hot. Wet. Oppressive. Taking a breath almost requires effort. In the time it takes to walk from the car to the trailhead, your clothes are soaked through from the humidity. There is not even a hint of a breeze. We are in central Florida. The Green Swamp surrounds us. It is summer.
It is that time of year we simply LOVE to be outside! The stillness of early mornings allows us to hear the Common Nighthawks “booming” over the pine forest. Distant drumming by a Pileated Woodpecker changes in pitch as he tries to locate just the “right” sound which will attract a mate. Cicadas buzz in waves which wash over us like warm waves breaking on a beach. Shortly after lunch, dark clouds will gather on the horizon as thunderstorms move across the peninsula dumping fresh water on the land which will filter into the underground aquifer providing life-sustaining liquid to over 20 million Floridians.
On this summer day, we are in the Richloam Wildlife Management Area in Sumter County, Florida. Old logging roads crisscross the Green Swamp and provide slightly different environments for us to explore. We begin near a wetland which is bordered by a meadow and a small pond. A short drive through a section of hardwood trees (oak, hickory, bay) brings us to a vast pine forest. The understory of palmetto is interrupted by occasional potholes which fill with water during the wet season. Another mile along the road and we are crossing a small river and are enveloped in what most people think about when envisioning a “swamp”. Large cypress trees standing in shallow water, alligators slinking in nearby weeds, herons and egrets wading as they hunt for breakfast. Beyond the “wet” swamp, we enter upland pine woods where there are many open areas, lots of white sand and a variety of plant life.
Gini had thoughtfully (as usual) packed a bit of nourishment which we enjoyed while Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Chickadees flew back and forth in a stand of tall pines. The strong scent of the conifer trees, bright blue sky and a perfect companion made it difficult to continue. Can’t we just stay here a few more minutes/hours/days? Okay. A few more minutes. She is SO good to me.
Somehow, I remembered to take a few pictures.
The grass adjacent to a wetland was an agreeable hunting ground for a Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile), a small and fairly common damselfly in this area. Laying down in the damp grass provided a unique perspective, not only for the damsel, but for all of the surrounding habitat. Getting up – we shall not mention the process.
Although we didn’t spot the bright red male Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia), the female is quite attractive, thank you very much.
Our largest grasshopper, the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera), wasn’t interested in posing for a portrait. She held still just long enough for an intimate close-up then exited into the tall weeds never to be seen again.
With a total length of about one inch (25-27 mm), the Little Blue Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax minuscula) is the second-smallest dragonfly in North America. I chased after this pretty female for awhile before she sat still for a microsecond.
At the edge of a pond, we found a large male Gray-green Clubtail (Arigomphus pallidus). We normally only see these dragons on the ground but this one obliged by perching on a nice twig over the water.
Dragons in flight. Not my forte, but I keep trying. A very unique wing pattern helps identify a male Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps). They fly back and forth tirelessly patrolling a specific area to protect a female during her egg-laying efforts.
Fortunately, we found this fellow crossing a nice white road. The Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) is well-camouflaged for his typical habitat on the pine forest floor. This is an immature snake. Soon, the yellow tail will evolve into the namesake “rattles” which will allow him to “buzz” and warn us of his proximity when we pass by here next year.
With our rainy season comes abundant new life. Insects of all types flourish during this season. A particularly beautiful example is a Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon), a small butterfly with a wonderful wing design.
Splashes of color greeted us all throughout the morning. We found a small bed of Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii) providing a bit of sunshine among the dull green palmetto fronds. Beautiful from a distance, a close-up of a flower seemed like a completely different world.
Perhaps not as showy as the milkwort above, a Rosy Camphorweed (Pluchea baccharis) still has an attractive quality all its own. This is actually a member of the sunflower family and they are sometimes referred to as “stinkworts”. When crushed, the leaves give off a unique odor.
At one time, the Tarflower (Bejaria racemosa) was thought to be an insectivorous plant due to the sticky nature of its stems and flower parts. Instead, this turns out to be a defensive strategy used to prevent physical damage from some insects. This woody evergreen shrub can grow to ten feet tall and provides a load of beautiful blooms throughout the summer.
A new plant for us! The Clustered Bushmint (Hyptis alata) is pretty unique looking. The four stamens of the flower remain hidden until a pollinator lands on the bloom. As one can tell from the name, this member of the mint family emits a slight aroma when crushed which is reflected in its alternate name, “Musky Mint”. Whatever you call it, insects love it.
Gini’s outstanding hearing skill led us to a section of older pine trees where we found what was likely a couple of family groups of Brown-headed Nuthatches (eight individuals). Typical of small birds, this species has an extremely aggressive nature and they wasted no time letting us know we were trespassing!
It’s possible one must be a native to tolerate our hot, humid weather. Having said that, we give thanks to the inventor of modern air-conditioning! If you can stand to be warm and damp, find a road through a swamp to explore!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!