Go For The Birds, Enjoy The Rest
Header Image: Immature White Ibis
Why does food taste better in the forest? I mean, a boiled egg is a boiled egg. Eaten at the dining table in comfortably conditioned air and protected from natural elements, it is satisfying. Taking a bite of that same hen fruit under a canopy of pine boughs, surrounded by yellow blooms, purple berries, hammering woodpeckers, yammering jays, brown-eyed deer and with a background of a cacophonous cicada chorus – well, the lowly egg has become a veritable feast for the memory.
Our early morning foray into the forest at the edge of central Florida’s Green Swamp began in fog. Stillness. Silence. Wonderful.
Blue sky was visible above the grayness and within an hour after sunrise, the mist had dissipated. Nature awoke. The sounds of the day greeted us from all sides. Against a green brushy backdrop, Gini spotted the delicate form of a String Lily. Stepping closer to the bright white bloom, a large bright yellow Lubber Grasshopper inched lower on a plant stalk, just in case we were potential predators.
With “autumn”* just around the bend, we were hoping to spot early bird migrants. Excitement rose when a Belted Kingfisher flushed from a small pool, perched in a pine tree and chattered her disapproval of our presence. Other likely migratory birds we saw during the morning included a large number of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a few Red-eyed Vireos and a couple of American Redstarts. This, in addition to almost 40 additional (resident) species made the morning a very respectable birding effort.
(*Autumn in the middle of Florida is a term associated with a calendar. The only noticeable difference for us is the appearance of migrating birds. Florida’s autumn is an extension of Florida’s “green” season and a prelude to our “brown” season.)
Over the years we have made a significant scientific observation. As we busied ourselves searching for birds, we discovered a whole bunch of other stuff Nature has to offer! In the same habitat which supports bird life, there is an amazing variety of plants, insects and other animals. Who knew?
Increasingly, we find ourselves so fascinated by a flower or a bug that we almost forget we are bird watchers. Almost.
A small sampling of Nature’s diversity coming right up.
The Belted Kingfisher does breed in parts of Florida, although we are at the southern limit of that range. We visit this area frequently and don’t typically see one during the summer, so this young lady is almost certainly a migrant.
A delicate String Lily (Crinum americanum) brightened up the otherwise green landscape. Also known as Swamp Lily, this aromatic beauty is similar to the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis spp.) but the flower does not have the staminal cup connecting petals like the Spider Lily.
Adding a bit of technicolor to the woods is a large Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera). One day we’ll talk about their spitting habits.
A very common plant in wet areas is the Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia). Long green leaves supporting tall stalks of white flowers around the lake attract a diverse group of life forms. Sometimes, those life forms remain almost hidden. Like a small crab spider which I didn’t see until processing the image.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose – By any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps Juliet could have excused the aroma of the Skunkvine (Paederia foetida) and between her and Mr. Shakespeare come up with a more pleasant-sounding moniker. It’s a vine with attractive flowers, but in addition to a foul odor, is also quite noxious in its growing habits, an invasive plant which overcomes native flora.
Gini noticed a group of pretty-in-pink Apple Snail eggs had attracted a Horse Fly (Tabanus atratus). We aren’t sure why the big insect was attracted to the egg cluster, although male Horse Flies are known to feed on nectar.
One of our favorite spiders, the Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) is fairly common in our area. Still, spotting one among green foliage can be challenging. Or, you can use my tried and true method: l-u-c-k.
A bee! On Beebalm! Who’d a thunk it? Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) and Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.). This plant is also known as Dotted Horsemint. We did not see an actual horse on one today.
There are nearly 30 species of plants belonging to the genus Ludwigia in Florida which can make identification of some quite a challenge. The Narrowleaf Primrosewillow (Ludwigia linearis) simplifies things a bit by having very narrow leaves, rather sparse growth and usually remaining less than a couple of feet tall. The yellow blooms are just as attractive as any in the family!
This small Downy Woodpecker gave me only one chance at a photograph and it is not a good one. The quality of the image does not subtract from the actual beauty of the little bug hunter.
Growing to over three feet tall, Gini thinks the pretty blooms of the Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum lanceolatum) could use an iron. (If you didn’t have to look up “iron” in this context, welcome to pretty-near-to-senior-citizenry.)
Even though I don’t care for the face full of web I often get due to their habit of stringing them across a path, I admire the beauty of the large Golden Silk Spider (Trichonephila clavipes). This lady has invited a friend for breakfast.
We began bird watching many years ago. With each trip we took, it became clear we enjoyed much more than just seeing birds. Nature is so diverse! Hopefully, no matter your specific interest, you will find new and wondrous gifts each time you venture out.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!