Late Summer Swelter
Header Image: Black-crowned Night Heron
Florida has a unique combination of heat and humidity which can wilt the best of us at times. Late August typically provides us with afternoon thunderstorms which can help cool us down a bit, but at the expense of maintaining very high humidity. Wiping optics lenses for half an hour each morning becomes a reflex. In our area of central Florida, we average 115 days a year with some rain which results in 55 inches (1392 mm) of water falling from the sky each year.
The sub-tropical climate offers ideal conditions for an incredible number of life forms to thrive. Some of the most productive are insects. Species which consume insects as a main part of their diet are happy with this detail. Birders are happy that birds form a large portion of those critters which eat bugs.
So, it may be hot and it may be steamy out there, but the potential for nature watchers is almost infinite!
We keep visiting venues which are close to home because, well, they’re close to home. We can sleep in a bit since we only have to drive ten minutes to reach Tenoroc Fish Management Area near Lakeland, Polk County, Florida. (The fact that it offers outstanding birding doesn’t hurt.)
The eastern sky was turning pink as we made our way along the dirt road. Just inside the entrance gate, Gini spotted a flurry of activity which begged further investigation. A gang of Great Crested Flycatchers were playing tag among the tree tops. Half a dozen Blue-gray Gnatcatchers ignored them as they did their vacuum-cleaner imitation along every twig and leaf. A Red-bellied Woodpecker landed on the trunk of an oak tree about ten feet away and took off immediately when she spotted me. I have that effect on many creatures, great and small.
Gini-the-wildlife-magnet. Leave her alone for a few minutes and something will find her and try to convince her to adopt it. Thus, the find of the day! A diminutive damselfly flew in her open car window and crawled around the windshield and ceiling for awhile. Eventually, it moved to the window sill and posed for a few (dozen) candid photos. It turned out to be our first observation of a Seepage Dancer (Argia bipunctulata). Further, it is only one of two occurrences of the species this far south. Awesome start to the day!
More words and a couple of images coming up.
“Snake!” We often encounter snakes crossing the road and I simultaneously try to shift into park, jump out of the car with camera flailing and attempt to focus and click. Wait. That’s a weird-looking snake. Oh, cool! NOT a snake. A legless lizard! The Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis). Florida has four species of glass lizard and one species of worm lizard, all “legless lizards”. The glass lizards can reach about 43 inches (108 cm) and this one was around three feet long.
Gini’s new playmate, the Seepage Dancer (Argia bipunctulata). She is still mad I wouldn’t let her take it home.
Time for breakfast. Ours was boiled eggs and fruit. The male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) seems to have selected the butterfly burrito, possibly a Great Southern White (Ascia monuste).
Walking along the shore of a lake, I disturbed a Black-crowned Night heron. He flew away squawking loudly, made a big circle and returned to the same spot after I had moved away a bit.
We saw several Northern Mockingbirds during the morning. These are not shy birds and often challenge our presence.
On the road, windows open, driving slowly. Gini hears the thin whistling of Swallow-tailed Kites. Most of these sleek raptors have already departed for South America. Driving among the pine trees our vision was limited. Suddenly, a trio appeared overhead. I jumped out of the car (see notes above for snakes in the road) and became dizzy as the three circled low above the trees. The lead kite had snagged a frog and the other two seemed determined to take it away. They were so low and I only had seconds to focus as they zipped across the road that most of the images were unusable. In the second shot, I’m not sure if those menacing talons were for me or the frog-bearer.
(Note to self: Do NOT leave Gini at home if at all possible.) “Stop! Back up!” Yes, Ma’am. She spotted the lime green body and bright blue eyes of a Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) hanging from a twig. Not common in N. America outside central/south Florida. Some have been reported in far south Texas.
Nothing like a colorful Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) to brighten up a morning!
Although the Brown Pelican is typically a coastal bird, we have an inland population that breeds locally and remains here year round.
A male Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) seems to be warning me to back off. Just one more shot and I will.
I couldn’t make out what the prey was for this Ringed Paper Wasp (Polistes annularis). They make some very large and impressive nests.
More breakfast images. This time it’s a Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) with what is some type of grilled sausage. Or perhaps a larva of some sort?
A side view would have been instructional to show the namesake feature of this big dragon. Unfortunately, the Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha) was on patrol and didn’t have time to take requests.
As mentioned earlier, Florida’s sub-tropical weather means a longer and often more frequent mating season for many species. Here is one now. Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii).
Dragon leading dragon. A Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) helps his somewhat larger cousin navigate the lake.
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” No, agriculture managers hate you because you are an invasive who uproots the natives. Still, she is kind of pretty. Peruvian Primrosewillow (Ludwigia peruviana).
All dark from face to tail, a male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) is one of three overall dark skimmers in our area.
The very small Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) has learned to fly with its legs dangling down like a wasp. A would-be predator may think twice before gulping her down.
There are about 3500 species of orb weaver spiders worldwide. In North America, around 180 live north of Mexico. They are a very diverse group! Here are two we found today.
When you visit Florida and wander the trails enjoying our vast array of natural wonders, you may have a feeling you are being watched.
Our late summer is wet and hot and incredibly productive for those who love Nature! We put up with these horrible conditions in Paradise – so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!