Forest In Summer

Header Image: Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis)

The sun has barely managed to get out of bed and already the cicadas are buzzing their raspy chorus in glorious surround-sound. Walking into a meadow requires slogging through a small ditch where the weeds hide six inches of water under bright green tangles. No matter. The dew is so heavy my feet were wet before I made it to the ditch. The humidity is thick enough that everything above my feet is also pretty damp.

Ahhh. Florida in summer!

Clouds of gnats hover just above the expanse of Saw Palmetto where enterprising dragonflies ambush them from nearby twig perches. We have two species of mosquitoes here: big and bigger. Yellow Flies and Deer Flies (members of the Tabanidae family of flies) are most active at this time of year just after sunrise and just before sunset. Good news! They don’t sting! Bad news! They bite! The bite of a deer or yellow fly is painful. Here is how the bug experts at the University of Florida describe it: “Tabanids inflict deep wounds that cause a flow of blood. The mandibles and maxillae penetrate the skin in a scissor-like action. Anticoagulants in the saliva are pumped into the wound and the blood is ingested through the sponging labella.” Nice.

Don’t forget to check yourself (or have a loved one help) for ticks once you get home.

Did I mention the snakes?

For anyone who has made it this far, congratulations on your bravery! (Or are you one of those who loves to read about the suffering of others?)

In spite of all the things out there which might cause one to be uncomfortable, we find the rewards are overwhelmingly worth it! The scent of the pine trees, rays of the early morning sun scattered by the tree branches, the same dew which causes wet feet forms amazing droplets on flower petals, birds calling, the seemingly infinite diversity of insect life (even some which don’t want our blood) and unexpected encounters – all of this and more remind us how good our lives can be. By embracing the less pleasant aspects of nature along with her charms, we seem less likely to take it all for granted. Sort of like friends and family, we accept that all of us have inherently good and not-so-good qualities but do our best to exist together. After all, if we don’t look out for each other, who will?

As is usual for us, we ambled through this forested part of the swamp like a couple of kids in a toy store. Pointing, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, wondering about this or that. Our breakfast was fresh fruit by the side of a big mud puddle in the shade of Long-leaf Pine Trees. The mud around the puddle attracted a half-dozen species of dragonflies and damselflies. A Great Horned Owl called from a distant perch. A refreshing breeze advised us the morning was almost over.

Pulling onto the main road, hands touching, a heavy sigh in unison. We know we are not normal. And we are content.

Rubber ducky!” I immediately knew Gini was referring to the squeaky call of a diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatch. They inhabit older growth pine woods and typically travel in extended family groups. Breeding quite early, in late February, members of this years’ brood are out and about scouring for food and perhaps likely nesting spots for next year.

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) males are distinctive in their overall dark appearance.

The flowers of the Wand Loosestrife (Lythrum lineare) appear to be made of paper mache with their wrinkled petals.

The forest holds an occasional surprise. A Wild Turkey appeared along the side of the road.

Then, two adults and a poult materialized.

More poults!

Then, things just got crazy! We eventually counted over two dozen turkeys at this spot including poults, “teenagers” and adults. They chased each other, engaged in aerial “fights” and took their time enjoying the morning. Just like us.

The wing edges of a Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis) are reminiscent of fine filigree.

One of our larger butterflies, the Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) has distinctive stripes on its body as opposed to spots seen on other dark swallowtails. (The plant here is Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliana), extremely attractive to pollinators.)

I’m not certain which of these dragons was attempting to capture which, but it was fun to watch them for awhile. The first image is a Gray-green Clubtail (Arigomphus pallidus) and his worthy opponent is a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis).

The Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades) is a dark skipper we’ve only seen once before, about a mile from this spot.

We saw a few female Bar-winged Skimmers (Libellula axilena) during our visit but none of the dark-colored males. Next time.

Another large butterfly, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Pterourus troilus), is distinctive for a minimal pattern on its dorsal side. Females (such as this one) have a dusting of blue on the median areas of the hind wing while males have a more greenish swash.

The forest in summer, especially here in Florida, is like our morning mug of coffee. Hot and steamy. If you’re willing to endure a little discomfort, there is a good chance the rewards will be more than worth the effort.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

24 Comments on “Forest In Summer

  1. Even though I love the floral and faunal products of your Floridian summer, I favor a foray to your home state when it’s not quite as hot and humid. Does that sound very whiny?

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  2. And you saw HOW many turkeys! AMAZING! I get excited to see one and if I see young ones I go crazy! That would have made my day for sure. This evening we have dragonflies all in front of our house, hope they get their fill of bugs! It’s so hot but I am itching to get out. Maybe itching isn’t the best word to use. But you know what I mean! Enjoy your week and thanks for sharing your beautiful photos!

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    • We always delight in seeing Wild Turkeys. When they are in family groups like these, it’s really fun!

      Yes, the dragons need to eat more!

      Yes, I think we can confirm from personal experience: Summer Is Hot!

      Take care out there.

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  3. You left our horse flies (maybe they are not in FL) and those that gave me the worst bites I’ve ever felt…greenheads. They are huuuge and I am pretty sure that at night they hone their teeth. We just have the one size of mosquito…small, I guess compared to your giants. Lots of deerflies too but mosquito repellent seems to keep them at bay too. BUt whatever is out there, I agree that the rewards outweigh their bites.

    The spicebush swallowtail is a beauty. So far this summer I’ve just seen the Eastern Tiger and Black. Happy to see yours.

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    • The lovely horse fly! How could I omit these large beauties? We haven’t encountered many greenheads in Florida but they certainly were pests when we explored the eastern shore of Maryland many years ago.

      Our search for more butterfly diversity continues!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I experienced them at Bombay Hook in Delaware. Once was enough to leave lasting impressions…and scars.

        This is what usually happens…I complain about something, in this case the dearth of butterflies…and almost as soon as I hit “Post Comment” I see some as was the case yesterday afternoon One or two will show up in a post soon. I should employ that as a strategy more regularly. Much success in your next butterfly hunt.

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  4. I’ve never seen young wild turkeys, and I’d never come across the word ‘poult.’ The word kept nagging at me until I finally came to consciousness and thought, “Poult. Poultry! They have to be related.” And they are — at least etymologically. I’ll spare you the details.

    This was the year I made the acquaintance of deer flies, and I hardly could believe how painful their bites are. Mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and gnats can be annoying, but those flies? I’ll pass, thank you very much. I did enjoy seeing your different species of loosestrife, and that Palamedes Swallowtail is a beauty. I think I might once have seen a flight of Golden-winged Skimmers, but I’m not sure. Despite their numbers, I never saw one come to rest: hence, no photo. What I saw seemed fairly small to me, and just now I read that they’re about 2″ in length, so maybe I did see them.

    I’ll say this. I’ll take your swamp over Disney any day of the week: mosquitoes, humidity, heat, gators, snakes, and all. Nature’s easier to get to, cheaper, and far more enjoyable.

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    • Good Morning, Texan!

      Both sets of grandparents had turkeys around their farms so using the word “poult” for the chicks has hung around in my vocabulary closet for more than a few years. An extra helping of turkey trivia to gobble up: young male/female turkeys are “jakes/jennies”.

      Deer and Yellow Flies have been called “flying teeth”, for good reason. Like skeeters, only the female bites. There may be a life lesson here, but that’s deeper water than I care to tread.

      Your description of possible Golden Skimmers appearing smaller and flying in numbers brings to mind Wandering Gliders. Cool dragons – which seem to seldom land.

      Amen to sensible swamp versus daft Disney!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good Morning Wally. Here it is raining – all day if the forecast is to be believed. It seems that BBC “forecasters” are receiving via Twitter hundreds of “trolling” and abusive messages because their every forecast good or bad includes the words “climate change”. Not me. Honest.

    Reading your post I have a great idea to make you both famous and rich. You and Gini should make a film in the style of a Hitchcock thriller. A fine young couple of birdwatcher/naturalists shun the high life of Disney and set out for the day from their luxurious Florida home for a sunny day in which to explore the innocuous landscape of pine forest, meadow and muddy margins.

    Before long they are subjected to intense heat, sudden downpours of tropical rain and attacks from biting, stinging and smelly insects. Missing a marked path they are then surrounded by alligators, snakes, giant owls and huge eagles that snatch their lunch and carry off their water bottles. Our young lovers get hopelessly lost in the terror to which they are subjected and are close to giving up the fight.

    Luckily for them a climatologist appears through the swamp and promises to save them from the ordeal but only if they recant the strange beliefs and abandon for good their strange pursuits. They agree whereby the scientist leads them back to civilisation, the young lovers join The Disney Club and everyone lives happily ever after.

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    • Our lives sound pretty exciting when told by someone else.

      And it is eerily uncanny how accurate you have been!

      Well, except for the “young couple” part. And the “luxurious” home. Other than that, you have described a routine day for us.

      The ending would, alas, turn this into a tragedy rather than a Disney fairy tale.

      We would refuse the terms of the climatologist who would subsequently be devoured by an alligator.

      You see, even reptiles know how to “follow the science”.

      Happy you are getting some rain to keep the fabled Forest of Bowland green! Sad you are not out ringing.

      No worries. I understand from the telly your climate is in for a change……..

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  6. Once again your blog is a masterclass in biology with stunning illustrations! Now if I could only remember all the things you point out!

    And as for our weather here in Florida – it may just be me, but it seems to be getting even hotter and steamier

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    • You are too kind, Ed.

      It can’t really be called a class, though, since we have so much fun doing it!

      Every time I go out the door, I swear it’s hotter than ever before. A review of actual records, however, shows we are about average ever since they started keeping records. (Doesn’t change the fact I’m still hot!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like we have very similar mini-fauna down here in the Gulf Coast of Texas, but I’m not nearly so brave as you when it comes to venturing out among them. Thanks for bringing back such wonderful photos of your discoveries. And wild turkeys!! What a wonderful encounter! Best to you both in your excursions!

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    • You’re right, Sam. Some areas of the Texas coast have habitat and residents very much like we have here.

      Big groups of turkeys are always fun to encounter. They entertained us for quite awhile!

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  8. Thank you so much for braving all those hazards, and for sharing the rewards with us, Wally. I shall probably be having sweet dreams about those exquisite dragons and butterflies. The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a little charmer too!

    Mentions of ticks make me shudder after being rather ill for a couple of months after an encounter with them at Machu Picchu. When I got a few on me in Scotland a few years back, after being in a ditch in a high Lyme’s disease area, I was straight onto antibiotics without any messing!

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – take good care – – – Richard

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    • Good Morning, Richard!

      We like that area as there are loads of nectar-producing plants blooming at present. Hopefully, we’ll find a few more willing subjects before all the blooms wilt.

      I’m with you on ticks. Rather face a ‘gator.

      Gini and I send peace and love for you and Lindsay.

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  9. Another super selection. The header picture is superb!
    Some nippers and biters I can put up with but ticks? No way, hate them sneaky things.

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    • No worries, EC. We brave the heat so you don’t have to!

      We feel the same about you sharing the beauty of your wintry wonderland, too!

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