Header Image: Anhinga
Miles and miles of miles and miles. That was the description of west Texas landscape we heard from more than one Texan as we settled into our new neighborhood. Exploration of the area confirmed the truth of the statement. Most of those miles, at first glance, appeared completely inhospitable. Upon closer examination, we discovered the most incredible array of life forms which had learned to adapt to what, for us, was an extremely harsh environment.
That was in the early 1970’s and once we learned how and where to look, our time in west-central Texas remains among our most cherished memories of finding a fascinating natural place.
Meanwhile, 1400 miles to the east.
“Look at that butterfly!” Gini directed me to the dull orange Variegated Fritillary resting next to a brown leaf on the ground. Fritillaries, swallowtails, skippers, crescents – the grass edges of the road were alive with color! Today we’re ambling through the Bridgewater Tract of the larger Tenoroc Fish Management Area a few miles away. There are eight lakes in this area and included are wetlands, sandhill pines and a bit of oak/hickory/bay woodlands.
As we enjoyed our fresh tangerines and bananas at the edge of one of the lakes, Brown Pelicans and Ospreys crashed the water’s surface to retrieve their own breakfast. On either side of us, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Northern Parula warblers scoured tree limbs for anything that moved. At one of the boat ramps, our first fall Belted Kingfisher acknowledged our presence by abruptly flying away with her loud rattle of irritation. Terns are normally associated with salt water, but we have a small colony of Caspian and Royal Terns which remain inland here all year. We watched a Royal Tern demonstrate its aerobatic prowess over one of the lakes.
A combination of plentiful clean water, wetlands, forest and some open fields produces a favorable habitat for many species of life here. Nature tries to ensure equilibrium and, as long as humans don’t interfere too much, this place is a wonderful spot to explore. Often.
A Northern Mockingbird has not quite completed its seasonal molt. Even when ragged looking we think it’s a handsome bird.
The Royal Tern can be distinguished from its slightly larger relative, the Caspian Tern, by a more orange bill with no dusky tip and a cleaner white forehead.
Most areas visited recently have large numbers of Spicebush Swallowtails (Papilio troilus) actively feeding. This is a female, showing a blue swash at the base of her wings. Males display a more greenish color.
Very likely a fall migrant, this female Belted Kingfisher made it be known very loudly she didn’t appreciate us interrupting her morning fishing session.
It would be easy to pass by this Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) as it almost blends in with the brown oak leaves littering the ground. Unless your companion happens to be Gini with the keen brown eyes.
All the lakes in the area attract a large number of fishermen. And fisherwomen. And fisher-children. Not to mention fisher-birds, such as a gorgeous Tricolored Heron.
Even the bugs like it here. Near the water’s edge at this time of year we usually find good numbers of Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii). The field guide describes this species as a “large” damselfly. They have a different definition of “large” than what I thought it meant.
Throughout Florida one of the most ubiquitous water birds is the Anhinga. Unlike many water birds, their feathers are not waterproof, and they must spend a lot of time drying their wings. We grew up calling these “water turkeys” due to the shape of their head and broad tail.
Red Bull Assassin Bug (Repipta taurus). Sounds scary. I love it. Any bug which dines on aphids, flies and mosquitoes is a true friend!
Reluctantly, we headed to the house. Near the exit gate we bade farewell to one of nature’s centurions, a Red-shouldered Hawk.
Whether it’s semi-arid west Texas or semi-tropical central Florida, nature provides a suitable habitat for a startling array of living things. Discovering it all is a happy hobby.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!