Ups and Downs of Nature
Header Image: Prairie Warbler
Autumn. In many parts of the world, seasons are marked by distinct, often visible changes. Green in spring, white in winter, bright warm days of summer and colorful leaves in autumn. In our sub-tropical environment here in central Florida, we had to invent the calendar in order to keep up with what season we were experiencing. It is now (looking over at the wall calendar) “autumn”.
Gini and I were born and raised in Florida. Immediately after signing a marriage certificate, I bundled her into a car and whisked her out of the state in case she came to her senses and changed her mind. Second thoughts may, indeed, have entered her conscience when we arrived at our first new home in Syracuse, New York. March in Florida was already hot. March in upstate New York – stuff on the ground called “snow“. Our very first encounter.
A fresh blanket of snow in a forest was a new and amazing adventure. Small birds hopped along a branch and caused a mini blizzard. Tracks on the white forest floor told the story of who passed this way. Deer, raccoons, fox, mice. Exploring nature in this environment was actually quite similar to our efforts in Florida, albeit cooler. In addition to New York, we have been fortunate to live in Maryland, west and south Texas and three different areas of Germany. The climates and habitats differed in each but the method of exploring remained the same.
Birders are afflicted with a physical phenomenon during each spring and fall migration season. “Warbler Neck”. Constantly scanning the tops of trees for visiting birds uses muscles we don’t exercise as much during the rest of the year. Evolving from “just a birder” to becoming a more all-around observer of nature means our necks are getting an even more strenuous work-out. Now we look up high for birds and scan the ground at our feet for insects, plants and evidence of nature’s life cycles.
A recent visit to our local patch at Tenoroc Public Use Area provided a perfect example of our approach to investigating nature. Birds and insects were very active at near eye level, raptors soared high above us, flowers lured us close for a better look which resulted in discovering insects on the plants which led to finding more insects on the ground and then a hawk screamed from above and a lizard scrambled from underneath my foot and … you get the idea.
We will never be quick enough nor sufficiently observant to document all of nature’s wonders, but today was a good day. Migratory birds beginning to arrive, resident birds forming into groups in preparation for heading south, insects going about their business of survival. Enjoy it with us.
Normally, a hawk will fly away screaming as soon as we’re spotted. This Red-shouldered Hawk remained in place as if challenging us to explain our presence.
About the same size as a House Sparrow, a Common Ground Dove surveys a field from atop a gate.
Small and hyperactive describes the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. In preparation for migration, they form into groups along with other species which helps provide a bit of protection from predators.
One of the gang members the Gnatcatcher hangs around with is the Tufted Titmouse. They make a good show of being fierce and aggressive.
Male Northern Parula warblers have a distinct band separating a bright yellow throat and breast. They have two white wing bars and a lovely yellow-green patch on their back.
Don’t forget to look down. A blade of grass covered in droplets of dew is a perfect perch for a small Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus).
Remember to look up again. A flash of bright yellow in the top of a tree reveals a Prairie Warbler.
Down again. Partially hidden, the blue eyes of a Barred Yellow (Eurema daira) stare back at us.
Changing from breeding to non-breeding plumage is not always an attractive affair. This male Indigo Bunting was a bit of a surprise in this area.
An uncooperative model. Most of the time, we have to be satisfied with what’s offered. I followed this Hyacinth Glider (Miathyria marcella) for quite a while hoping for a better angle. Sigh. At least from the rear you can see the dark “saddle” spots on the hindwings and the golden wing veins.
It seems most areas we visit lately have an abundance of Spicebush Swallowtail (Pterourus troilus) butterflies. That’s okay with us! The bluish wash on the wings indicates this is a female. The male wash is more greenish.
A colorful dragon with blue eyes and striped face, the Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) is always a treat to find.
That bright green could be part of the plant, or it could be the Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) spinning her web around a stem to form a nest. She will then produce an egg sac containing hundreds of bright orange eggs. Fairly large for a spider, the female body can reach about an inch (26 mm) in length and a total with leg span up to 2.75 inches (70 mm).
No matter where you may live on this beautiful planet, when you understand that Nature has its ups and downs, you will know exactly where to look for her treasures. Oh, don’t forget eye level. And behind you. And over there, too!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!