Inhaling The Rain
Header Image: Great Egret
Our current summer has caused childhood memories to flood my conscience lately. It is hot. I walk barefooted to the mailbox and as I cross the concrete driveway, my pace quickens as it seems I’m walking in a frying pan. As a kid, my feet were tough enough to walk on sandspurs without ill effect. A dish of ice cream last night (yes, I know, apparently verboten at my age) conjured up long-ago Sunday drives to the dairy, where petting calves, holding our noses and a free ice cream cone made the day special. Regular rains helped maintain lake levels, irrigated crops and filled drainage ditches. Gini vividly recalls wading in those freshly filled depressions, marveling at wiggletails (mosquito larvae), chasing frogs and catching tadpoles for “show-and-tell” at school.
The smell of impending rain has not changed over time.*
Summer moves forward. The temperature is declared to be the “hottest on record”. Television no longer has a “weatherman”. Nor do they have anything called a “meteorologist” anymore. Prognosticators of sky and clouds and fronts are now all “Climate Specialists”. In Florida, it is hurricane season. Local “Climate Specialists” breathlessly advise this will be the worst storm season ever, as hurricanes are becoming more numerous and stronger than anything we have previously experienced.
The rain during the night cleansed the air. Early morning skies are bright, cloudless and without haze. Wet fields glisten with myriad gossamer webs displaying thousands of minute prisms bending the rays of the sun. Treading softly on wet pathways we hear the guttural murmuring of a flock of White Ibises as they move from their nighttime roost to fields where they will forage most of the day. Northern Cardinals and Mourning Dove always seem to be the first birds we hear in the woods. A White-eyed Vireo sings its name from the underbrush. Our movement has alerted a Red-shouldered Hawk and she loudly screeches a warning to the natural world.
Leaves and grass begin to dry under the glare of the sun. Insects go about their endless tasks of eating, mating and surviving. Larger insects attempt to interrupt the survival of their smaller kin. More potential predators appear in the form of spiders, lizards, snakes, birds.
Nature. A seemingly infinite amount of activity occurs every day whether we are there to observe or not. Today, we are privileged to be there.
Here is a small sampling of our experience on this day. Wish you had been with us.
Common Gallinules are, well, common in Florida wherever there is fresh water. That means there are a LOT of gallinules around here!
It seems almost rare lately to find a Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes) with both “tails” intact. They evidently make good grabbing points for predators.
Shiny red seeds of the Balsampear (Momordica charantia) are very pretty but, unfortunately, this plant is one of those very successful invasive weeds which choke out native species.
Although not related to a chameleon, Florida’s native Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) does have the ability to change from green to brown to help it blend in. Hard for the male to hide that strawberry-colored dewlap, though.
Rain means healthy plant growth. Healthy plants mean flowers. Flowers mean butterflies! One of our prettiest, as well as most common, is the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae).
The raised crest of a Green Heron is the result of a Red-shouldered Hawk flying by a little too close for comfort.
An open field adjacent to a wooded area with water nearby is a great potential location to scout for dragonflies. Add a fence for perching and before you know it, you’re looking at a Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida).
Regular rain produces wet places for all sorts of creatures. We didn’t expect to see this Water Moccasin in a spot which is normally dry and grassy. Thankfully, we saw him on the road, not under our feet!
A good example of sexual dimorphism in dragonflies. The female Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is brownish/orange with a distinctive thorax pattern, while the male exhibits its namesake coloration. Even the male thorax shows the same pattern as the female if you look closely.
Snails! We rounded a bend and scattered around were “dead” looking twigs of brush, two to three feet tall, with light-colored snails on almost every branch! We have never seen anything quite like this. We found the same phenomenon here and there for the next half mile. There were easily over a hundred snails.
Flitting among green weeds and sand, a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) stands out with its bright colors.
The very small Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) mimics a wasp’s flight characteristics in the hope of thwarting predators.
One of our larger butterflies, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Pterourus troilus) is missing a “tail”, likely due to an encounter with a predator.
This female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) glows in the morning light.
At nearly three inches, the Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) is one of our largest and most common sulphurs. This one is nectaring at a Wild Bushbean (Macroptilium lathyroides).
Small. Handsome. Fast. With racing stripes. That’s the male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).
A small falcon, this female American Kestrel made quick work of her breakfast. We could not figure out what the prey was. She said it was “delicious”.
Parts of the planet are in need of rain while other areas suffer with flooding. Humans attempt to “tame” nature. Life on earth endures.
*(For the scientifically curious: the smell of rain is known as “petrichor” and the causes of that smell are “geosmins”. Have fun with your research.)
An American poet of the late 19th century captured how I feel about summer rain and nature.
Summer In The South
The Oriole sings in the greening grove
As if he were half-way waiting,
The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
Timid, and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
And the nights smell warm and piney,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
And the woods run mad with riot.
(Paul Laurence Dunbar)
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!