Crooked River: The Beginning
Header Image: Pine Flatwoods
It can be exhilarating to be prone in the damp grass early in the morning just after sunrise observing the waking moments of what is likely the smallest damselfly in the country. Rolling to the left provides a view of the nearby tree line just as a Red-shouldered Hawk lands atop an oak tree. Rolling on my back reveals a superbly clear morning of an impossibly blue sky. A roll to the right and I discover the observer is being observed. “Periscoping” is a term used to describe a snake raising its head above the grass line to see what’s in its territory.
A split-second hiccup in my little brain whispers: “Are we sure that was a Black Racer?”. Rolling away from the reptile, actually, about three rolls, began the process known (at my age) as “getting up from the ground“. The process continues by attempting to get one knee under me, then trying to get a foot on the ground and sort of rolling, stumbling upward – never mind. You’ll become familiar with the technique sooner than you would like.
Today, Gini and I are exploring a very small portion of central Florida’s Green Swamp. This precious ecological resource consists of almost 900 square miles and is the source for four of our state’s major rivers. The particular area we are in is within part of the Withlacoochee River State Forest. Over 155,000 acres make up this forest which is adjacent to its namesake river. “Withlacoochee” has been translated from the Creek Indian language as “Crooked River”. Very apt. Bubbling up from springs within the Green Swamp, the Withlacoochee is only one of two Florida rivers to flow northward. In this case, from the swamp it twists and turns about 160 miles to Yankeetown, where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The spot we are roaming around today is typical of the southernmost part of the Green Swamp. Habitats include: upland hardwoods, wet prairies, marshes, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps and floodplain swamps. An incredible diversity of flora and fauna calls this area home. We appreciate them allowing us in the door.
Once I was upright again, I strolled through a small wetland area. As I crossed a boardwalk, I gazed down upon dragonflies beginning the day’s hunt, purple Pickerelweed offering a buffet to bees and others and – uh, oh – a Water Moccasin. That hiccup moment returned with my tiny brain shouting: “Told you so!”. I still believe I saw a curious Black Racer.
Most of the morning was consumed by enjoying the incredible abundance of spring flowers. There were plenty of birds here, but most are busy with parenting duties and none were interested in posing for today’s blog. Blooms and bugs abound, however.
The rich green of the swamp and forest was punctuated with purple today. The Savanna Iris (Iris savannarum) rose above almost any bit of standing water.
At less than one inch (2.5 cm) in length, a Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata) can disappear if you take your eyes off him. Likely the smallest damselfly in the U.S., my old eyes are lucky to see them anymore.
Pretty in pink, the Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) decorated the place quite nicely. Even the bees think so.
Small and quick, the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) perches with wings forward ready to chase down any passing morsel.
Florida lists 30 species of Ludwigia and even the invasive ones are quite attractive. Peruvian Primrosewillow (Ludwigia peruviana) has large yellow blooms that make it hard to stay mad at its unwanted presence.
Turtle crossing! Well, in the swamp, pretty much anywhere is a likely turtle crossing. This little Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii) seldom exceeds eight inches (20 cm) in length and will be much more comfortable once she crosses this bright white road and slips back into the inky ooze a few feet away.
Call it Bluejacket or Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) or anything else you like. This is one beautiful bloom!
Who would think a swamp would be so colorful? Bright red sprinkled the landscape throughout our morning meander. Coralbean, Cherokee Bean, Redcardinal (Erythrina herbacea) reminds us we are, indeed, in a semi-tropical environment. Careful with the seeds. They are toxic.
The grass-skipper family of butterflies is aptly named as these tiny insects do seem to skip along the tops of the grass. One Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) took pity on me and landed for about two milliseconds.
The Green Swamp. So many hues other than green. So much area to explore. So much enjoyment added to our lives.
One of our larger butterflies, a Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) braves the prickly leaves to obtain the sweet nectar of a Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum).
One may be forgiven at thinking the Starrush Whitetop (Rhynchospora colorata) is an attractive flower. It’s actually a sedge that has a very flower-like top. It’s not just you. Even the insects help pollinate this grass when most less-attractive grasses have to rely on the wind.
Butterflies have a tough life. They start out as an egg about the size of a pinhead, turn into a larva whose job is to eat non-stop until it’s full, change into a pupa for several weeks when the adult finally emerges. The adult butterfly, after all that, only lives a couple of weeks during which it is chased by every creature on the planet looking for a snack. This Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) has had some nips taken from its wings but is sipping as much nectar as possible until it can find a suitable mate to begin the cycle all over again. Metamorphosis! Nature’s miracle.
A section of Carolina Wild Petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) with its pale blue beauty caught our eye just off the road. The closer we looked, the more beautiful these flowers seemed!
Fighting off the invaders from nearby tropical islands, Florida’s native Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) appears to be holding its own. It’s always great to come across this bright lizard in our travels.
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that after taking the previous photograph we found an extensive area of Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus).
Small and nervous, trying to keep up with a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) causes perspiration, frustration and dizziness. The rewards are worth it all!
The headwaters of the Withlacoochee River, or Crooked River, is a breathtakingly beautiful space to spend a morning. Flora, fauna and us. We think it’s a great combination!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Such diversity in this wander, Wally. You shot of the Ohio Spiderwort is very much as we see our Virginia Spiderworts along the driveway here. Usually the only way my old eyes espy a tiny damselfly is if it is moving and lands somewhere. And if I look down at my camera for a moment it seems to disappear until several seconds of frantic searching shows that it didn’t move at all, just blended in.
I know I recently shared this old image taken by an acquaintance many years ago in a comment but not sure if I shared it with you or not. If I am repeating it I apologize. He was on the ground photographing flowers when he looked up and “SURPRISE!”.
Thank you, Steve.
In addition to our sunshine, we are, indeed, blessed with a bit of diverse Nature.
I am in the same boat concerning damsels. They DO tend to disappear!
Okay, that wildflower photographer did not have a surprise. He had “communion with nature” which will make your soul stronger. Assuming your heart survives the shock!
Fortunately he was young and healthy so withstood the shock. Us on the other hand….
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I love that tiny Crescent butterfly and always stop to look at them and try to get photos. I think we saw a mud turtle this week and I KNOW we saw those yellow flowers. I spotted one on a trail and thought it might be rare. But yesterday we were in a different area and saw hundreds of them. At least now I know what they are. We stood on a bridge in Dunnellon and looked down at the Withlacoochee River this week. It starts to feel like a small world that we live it! But if I got down on the ground, the chiggers would feast on me! lol Enjoy your Sunday afternoon!
Thank you so much, Diane, for the very gracious comments! We really appreciate you stopping by to visit.
Chasing those really small grass skippers can make one dizzy! Now that our rains have begun, there seems to be flowers everywhere we go.
We may live in a small world, but it certainly is a beautiful one!
Sorry for the late reply. Our Sunday afternoon turned out to be more enjoyable than most. A visit to the swamp resulted in over 500 images! Still sifting through them.
Have a great week!
Sounds promising! I can’t wait to hear more about where you went and what you saw. I keep thinking I’ll have ‘extra’ photos to share when we can’t get out as much in the heat. But so far…so good!
That’s a beautiful macro of the coral bean. I found large stands of that plant on Galveston Island this year, for the first time. I’ve seen one or two in the past, but nothing like this year’s production. Oddly (or perhaps not) the first time I encountered the plant was in the fall, long after seeds had formed. Where did I find it? In east Texas, in an area very much like your pine flatwoods.
That’s an interesting Ludwigia species. I’ve found two native species here, but so far not that one. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d been roaming my area: the Lizard Tail, Anole, Starrush Whitetop, wild petunia, and thistle all are common here. It’s almost physically painful to see such beauties. My car went in for a small repair requiring a $50 part — 10 days ago. “They” say it may be another two or three weeks before they get the part. Or four. Getting to work has been difficult, and getting to a natural place impossible. Grrrrrrrr!
Much of our respective natural communities are quite similar. When we lived in Texas, we often visited friends in east Texas and felt right at home in those woods.
With the rains beginning for the summer, some of our spots are really becoming lush. Have to get out early to beat the steamy heat.
Hope your car part arrives soon. On the other hand, think of all that gas money you’re saving! 🙂
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At this point, I’d pay up and smile!
Wally: what a extraordinary demonstration of observation, photography,, and writing! I very much enjoyed it – thank you!
You are way too kind, Ed.
But thank you! It’s a great time to be out and about, especially with a camera.
You got some great shots of the little critters!
Getting pretty steamy out there!
Reading this, I was all oooh’s and aaah’s – as usual, I thoroughly enjoy your wanderings and photos. I’m interested in the iris you found. At a small wetlands park here, I thought I’d found iris hexagona (the oldest Louisiana iris) and it looks very like your savannarum… but the perported hexagona was blooming in January and February here. Is early summer the normal bloom time for your savannarum?
Thank you, Sam.
Until recently, I. hexagona and I. savannarum, in Florida, were considered the same species. I. hexagona is now recognized as occurring primarily in the northern and panhandle parts of Florida.
Blooming for I. savannarum is through the spring, which we are still enjoying.
My pal Wally, I know the methods you describe to regain the perpendicular, sober or otherwise. It’s so bad that in Greece we have beach chairs that we leave at our now two places of repose for collection the next time we visit. All for the reason that if we used beach sunbeds we would have to spend the overnight on them in the hope of rescue the next morning.
I do hope that little turtle does not get squashed by a speeding 4×4 but instead grows to be a huge Florida Turtle.
By the way, pal Andy who plans a family trip to Florida in September tells me of the huge cost of tickets to enjoy the delights of Disney. £10,000+ for the overall holiday, £2,000+ for tickets to enjoy the sights and sounds of Disneyland, rockets that travel to the moon & back, plus Movieworld or suchlike.
In view of the extortionate costs I have advised him to contact Wally and Gini’s Bed and Breakfast for a better deal that includes free birdwatching tours.
Gini’s most-often uttered phrase the past couple of years: “Getting old is not for the faint-hearted.”
That little turtle is as big as she’s going to get. She’s fairly safe on that road as we were probably the only vehicle to pass that way in weeks.
Tell Andy there is good news and bad news. The birding tours remain free! However, Gini’s rates for breakfast without a bed are twice what Comrade Disney charges. And the closest we can provide to “The Disney Experience” would be me acting Goofy.
Thundering outside now but hopefully the dawn will be clear enough to catch birdies doing what birdies do.
I’m sure your heart must have skipped a beat when you saw that periscoping snake, Wally! And yes, I can equate with the process required to get into the vertical position, and not something that can be done in a hurry without its own jeopardy, even if it’s not performed under threat!
Beautiful descriptions and photos to brighten a less than ideal day – thank you!
Stay safe – – – Richard
Danger is my middle name!
Well, to be fair, any time an old geezer like me makes it out of the bed in the morning, life is dangerous!
GO! Take care of your bride.
You live in, and appreciate a beautiful part of the world.
Sadly that ‘getting up’ thing has me firmly in its grasp. If I get down, getting up again is major effort, not fast, and definitely not graceful.
We each have so much to be thankful for in our own little corners of the planet. How wonderful it is that technology has enabled us to share a bit of it with others.
“Graceful” was not part of my vocabulary even when I was young! 🙂
To someone living in a semi-arid high desert, the lushness and variety of Florida’s flora and fauna never cease to amaze. I held my breath for a few seconds when I read about you being prone on the ground, though, with a snake nearby. Where are the alligators, was one thought going through my mind. I’m glad you were able to get up again, albeit it with some difficulty. 😊
Ahhh, the alligators.
There were so many in the swamp we used them as stepping-stones in order to keep our feet dry. Who wants to see pictures of stepping-stones?
As long as I can get up again, it is a good day.
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Instead of Wally or Indiana Jones, you might be calling yourself Florida Alligator Jones. I’m impressed with your daring feats and look forward to seeing you step on those stepping stones. 😀