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.
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!