Header Image: American Kestrel (Female)
The sun had been up for half an hour as we made our way along the crushed shell road. Summer. We miss the numbers of migrating birds which spend winter with us but relish the sights and sounds of our local avian residents as they go about the routine of courtship, mating, nest building and rearing a family. Northern Cardinals seem to be everywhere! Florida’s long warm season encourages them to have two or three broods each year. Eastern Towhees sing from the tall grass: “Drink-Your-Teeeeeeea“. An Osprey swoops low overhead with a fresh fish clutched in his talons and lands on a huge nest where he is greeted by Mom and Junior with open beaks. Spider webs spun during the night glisten in the morning sunshine as they have captured thousands of jewel-like dew drops. Raucous Blue Jays and Fish Crows try to chase a Red-shouldered Hawk out of the neighborhood.
A new day is underway.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is a Sunday-after-church visit to a local cafeteria style restaurant. Moving along the buffet line, I was mesmerized by the choices in front of me. I can still smell the roast beef and gravy! Unfortunately, my Mother would always insist my plate included “green stuff” or boiled carrots. Yuk. At the end of the line, the sheer volume of desserts available was almost too much for my undeveloped senses to handle. Cake? Pie? Pudding? Ice cream? Mother again: “Only one.” Sigh.
Today, Gini and I experience that sort of feeling each time we venture into Florida’s natural world. An additional benefit is Mother Nature allows us to enjoy as much as we can stand! No limits. We are so fortunate!
Highlights of our morning were a new family of Swallow-tailed Kites, a pair of unafraid Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, our largest hawk and our smallest falcon. Bonus: damsels, dragons and butterflies. (Oh, my!)
Grab a tray and go through the buffet line with us.
It is a joy to watch these graceful raptors hunt and often munch on their prey as they continue to fly. Habitat destruction has greatly reduced the Swallow-tailed Kites’ numbers over the years. We are very thankful they spend the summer with us.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are, like most wild things, skittish and take flight when we get close. This pair remained on their log and permitted a few photographs. It occurred to me they may have a nest nearby, so I backed off and thanked them for the opportunity.
An emerald green female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) contemplates whether to fly or attack. She remained for a moment.
Down the road, a slate blue male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) lies in wait for breakfast.
A young Osprey has fully fledged and we watched as he practiced his flight training for awhile. Mom was perched nearby clucking her approval.
It may be one of our more common butterflies, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is like a flying bundle of sunshine. Bright and beautiful!
Yet another new family. Biologists have concluded American Kestrels which breed in Florida are a sub-species (Southeastern American Kestrel – Falco sparverius paulus) of the northern species Falco sparverius sparverius. We were quite fortunate to find an adult male and female with two immature birds hunting insects in a large field. North America’s smallest falcons – it was a fascinating treat to watch them work!
At the other end of the field where we found the Kestrels, Florida’s largest resident hawk, the Red-tailed Hawk, kept watch atop a utility pole. Once we arrived, she didn’t hang around and went in search of a hunting spot without humans pointing and gawking.
A pair of Brown Thrashers were busy flying back and forth to and from a particular tree. We suspect nest-building was in progress but didn’t actually see them carrying construction material. Perhaps they were just shopping for a good location.
For me, more feared than toothy alligators are some of our large wasps. Painful memories! These are Ringed Paper Wasps (Polistes annularis).
Once in awhile, my photographic motto (“Better Lucky Than Good”) actually works. Today I found an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) and a Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) sharing the same reed.
Our dessert today came in the form of a Cicada exuvia. A few years ago, a female Cicada laid eggs at this location. The eggs hatched and the ant-sized nymphs fell and burrowed into the ground. They found a root of grass or tree to feed upon and remained underground for several years, undergoing a series of molts. The final molt causes the nymph to exit from the ground, climb a tree or weed and fasten itself securely. The adult Cicada emerges, sings its summer buzzy song, eats, mates and dies within a few weeks. The cycle begins again.
Our morning buffet was truly outstanding! Nature has a similar offering for you not too far away.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!