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!
Stunning shots, Wally! I enjoyed your post very much, including the chuckles!! 🙂
Thank you, Donna!
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Kalimera. I could do with some help from Gini. It’s been so hot here that all the migrant birds moved elsewhere to find water. Like you say, she has picked up some unusual things along the way. Just off for our Greek brekky and than hit the dusty tracks.
And good morning to you, too!
We hope your trip is going well. It’s unfortunate most of the birds heard you were coming.
Enjoy your breakfast. I’ll put some feta on my porridge in solidarity.
Ah, yes. “Wiping optics lenses…” I’m always the last to know about such things, so you may be carrying these in your kit already. A photographer friend in Massachusetts told me about KimWipes:Delicate Task Wipers from Kimtech Science. They’re lint-free, absorb tremendous amounts of moisture, and don’t scratch delicate optics. They’re cheap, disposable, reusable, and do the job. Here ends the unsolicited review!
While I was thinking of you running helter-skelter through the summer swelter, I couldn’t help wondering if you took a Chevy to the levee. Probably not, but you surely did find some treasure. I smiled at the Black-Crowned Night Heron. After a few months’ absence, mine is back. I found his ‘calling card’ on my car yesterday morning. I also realized I haven’t seen a mockingbird in weeks. I miss them. I wonder if they all went to Florida?
That legless lizard is something else. I had no idea such a thing existed — at least, I don’t recall reading about them. It’s such a pretty thing. I’d not be averse to taking it home with me, except I’m sure it would much prefer to stay where it is.
There’s just such a feast here! I like insect-on-barbed wire photos, and it was fun to recognize the Orchard Orb-weaver. We have a native Ludwigia I’ll be showing in the medium future; they’re just lovely.
Thank you for the details on Kimwipes. I’ll check it out.
Yep, Mr. McLean’s Pie had been an earworm for a couple of days so a bit spilled out onto the title.
We used to catch those lizards after a summer rain when we were kids. Often, a Great Blue Heron can be seen enjoying one for brunch.
Looking forward to the post on your Ludwigia. (Oh, great. Now his 5th is in my head …)
Enjoy the new weekend!
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Soooo many dragons of so many different species, Wally, and such variety in their size and appearance too! Wonderful images for us to drool over.
I was also interested to see that you have legless lizards too, but you have five species and we have just the one – the Slow Worm. However, I have not seen one for many years and that was in mainland Europe. I trhink that I could get quite interested in ‘herps’ if they were a little easier to find in these parts.
Thank you for the ‘dragon leading dragon’ image, which made me smile.
All is good here. Best wishes to you both – – – Richard
We are definitely spoiled with our abundance of odonates! Happy to send you a box of herps any time.
Our rain schedule is beginning to move earlier as the wet season comes to a close. We now can get out really early for maybe an hour and then hope for a break late in the day.
We’re doing great here and happy to hear you and Lindsay are well.
What an outstanding outing, Wally – thanks for sharing it with us. That Eastern Glass Lizard was definitely giving you the ‘side eye’!
Thank you, Ed!
Yes, when I lay down in the middle of the road for a better angle, the critter became a tad nervous!
Have a great weekend!
“She is still mad that I wouldn’t let her take it home.” You are a brave man, Wally. A comment like that about Miriam would guarantee hot tongue and cold shoulder for dinner for a week – maybe forever!
For over 50 years, Saint Gini has put up with my “unique” sense of humor. Hopefully, she will continue to do so and I won’t have to experience any chilly shoulders.
Those temperatures teemed with humidity would do me in. Thank you sooooo much (both of you) for sharing the beauty, the wonder, and the joy.
For all its faults, the internet can do a good thing once in awhile!
Sharing our local natural history is one of them.
Hope all is well with you, EC!
Think I would risk the heat to see all those beautiful dragons!
Funny. Once I start taking photos, I don’t even think about the weather.
Thanks for dropping by, Brian!
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