Slipping Into Spring
Header Image: Clouds In The Marsh
“Should I wear my sweatshirt?”
It’s that time of year here in sub-tropical central Florida. Important fashion decisions are made difficult by seasonal ambiguities. Yesterday, it was humid and at sunrise it was a pleasant 70 F/21 C. Today, it is somewhat chilly at 50 F/10 C. Will it warm up quickly? What will the wind be like? Wear the sweatshirt or just throw it in the car in case it’s needed?
See what I mean? How are we supposed to cope with these incredibly harsh conditions? Sigh. The life of nature explorers is one challenge after another.
The winter doldrums are rapidly yielding to Nature’s annual renewal. Bright green leaves are clothing the bare limbs of hardwood trees, new growth is forming “candles” at the ends of pine tree branches, wildflowers are peeking above the brown detritus under foot, bird migration is in full swing, resident birds are selecting mates, insects are beginning to fill the air – what a wonderful time to be outdoors!
Our morning was filled with discovery! This might be the last views we have of some of our migrants until next fall. The year’s first wildflower blooms are like opening a present each year. A butterfly which will be commonplace in a few weeks, today causes us to chase it through brambles and mud hoping for a photograph. The sky is too blue. It will cause me to “desaturate” it during processing the images else face accusations of “photoshop”!
Wish you had been with us to share the experience.
Here, take a look.
Soon now, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker will wing its way northward. They breed in the northernmost part of the U.S. and in Canada.
A few weeks prior to hitting the air corridors, Gray Catbirds form groups of up to a couple dozen birds. Safety in numbers, perhaps? This one was with six birds feeding on the fruit of Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia).
Only three sparrow species (four if you count the old world House Sparrow) breed in Florida so this Swamp Sparrow is another visitor we’ll soon be bidding farewell.
American White Pelicans can be found in our area in small numbers year around. During the winter, large groups (over a thousand in some years) will settle in to roost around some of our many lakes.
A couple of years ago, this oak tree was felled by a wind storm. I like the appearance of the branches reaching outward as one approaches.
Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) is a vine which has an attractive green fern-like foliage and bright red and black seeds within a brown pod. It’s an invasive plant introduced from Asia. Be careful around this one as it produces a toxin called Abrin. Studies have shown that as little as 0.00015% of toxin per body weight will cause fatality in humans (a single seed). Birds and other wildlife are not affected by the toxin, so they happily disperse the plant wherever they go. (Oh, and fire helps spread the plant, too.)
As the first rains of the year begin to rake across the state, one of the first blooms we encounter is the attractive Rain Lily. In central Florida, the most common species is the Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca). There is a lot of discussion about various species, scientific names, common names, etc. but I just like the beauty of the plant! (So, three taxonomists discussed going to a bar/pub/ale house/saloon/taproom – but just went home instead.)
With singing skills which rival any Mockingbird, a Brown Thrasher will soon be building a nest. They are very aggressive in the Spring and that large curved beak can be quite a weapon.
Pine Warblers breed in our area but during the winter we see hundreds of these colorful birds throughout the forests. In a few weeks, only resident birds will remain and they will be scurrying to complete nest building and begin producing more beautiful warblers.
Singing incessantly from low in the bushes, White-eyed Vireos are quick to hop out when we approach. They try to figure out if we’re a threat and then they disappear. They don’t go far, though, as they immediately start their singing again.
Small, sleek Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seem to never stop in their quest for one more bug. Their large eyes scan every millimeter of branches and leaves. These nervous hunters are also residents in this area.
Where there is water and reeds there are Common Yellowthroats. The masked males will soon begin singing “witchety-witchety-witchety” non-stop until a female decides he’s the one.
Bugs! In addition to slapping the first mosquitoes of the year, we are seeing early dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. This Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes) posed in the sunshine briefly and we look forward to more insect investigation in the coming weeks.
The Cypress Trees in this bog have yet to begin sprouting new foliage and this scene looks wintry, despite a bright sun breaking through the dimness.
We crossed the edge of Winter into the bright light of a new Spring. Each day is a glorious gift which we hope to use to live our best life. Our hope is for each of you to do the same.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!