Header Image: Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata)
Early morning sunshine illuminated the forest’s shadowy places and dried the dampness left by last night’s dew. Insects roused from their torpor to start their daily routine of survival. Just above the bugs on the food chain, hungry birds also began their daily routine of survival. Slightly next in line on that food chain thing, a couple of humans raised binoculars in unison to watch the rufous bundle of feathers we call a Carolina Wren probe leaves, twigs and limbs for a bit of sustenance.
We are in awe of nature. (Does it show?) As we are privileged to observe our world’s diverse life forms during our explorations, it occurs to us how incredibly balanced things can be when left unmolested.
Most of us have been informed at different stages of life that “balance” is imperative. We must eat a “balanced” meal or bad things will happen to our health. (Gini and I are of an age where we remember being admonished that failing to clean our plates would somehow result in all the children in China starving.) Parents have been instructed to ensure their kids receive a “balanced” education. Everyone knows the importance of maintaining a “balanced” bank account. As adults, we enter the work force and employers advise us to be attuned to our “work and home balance”. We sign papers assuring the boss we know what that means.
To actually gain insight into the definition of “balance”, we need look no further than just beyond the walls of our cave. Watch the interaction of hunter and prey, the response of plants to water and light, the rising and falling of tides, the timing of insect proliferation and bird migration, the reliable changing of seasons. All of it is by design to maintain “balance”.
This trip was sort of an example of “balance”. It seems we saw nearly equal amounts of birds, blooms and bugs. Very satisfying indeed.
(A note. Apparently, we are simply making too many trips and enjoying ourselves way too much. This has caused our blogging efforts – not to mention many of our other responsibilities – to have been ignored lately. The trip described in this posting actually took place during the first week of September. We shall strive to catch up. Holding your breath is not advised at this time.)
A Carolina Wren seems to have found a cocoon of some sort to its liking. Must be like removing the wrapper from a sumptuous candy bar. (Or maybe it prefers wrapper and all?)
Who knew there were so many ‘hoppers? We parked on the side of the road for a minute and the hood became an instant photo studio (again). A new species for us! The Southern Green-Striped Grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) is mighty handsome and looks like he means business!
Gini with the laser-sharp eyesight spotted a big dragon zipping overhead and pointed to where it landed. A superb Royal River Cruiser (Macromia taeniolata)!
Florida’ s wild hogs all come from stock introduced by Spanish explorers over 500 years ago. These swine can grow to over six feet (1.8 meter) and reach 150 pounds (68 kilograms)! Typically, they travel in family groups called “sounders” consisting of multiple generations.
The most abundant butterfly of the day was definitely the Spicebush Swallowtail (Pterourus troilus). Butterflies will frequently gather at a spot of sand and rock to absorb salts and minerals. This process is called “puddling”, as the area of leached nutrients is often moist.
Our movements were of interest to a pair of young Eastern Bluebirds. Mom and Dad showed up to shoosh them away from the unsavory looking hunters. Well, one of them was pretty savory looking, actually.
Many species of dragonflies are sexually dimorphic. The difference between female and male Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is pretty startling!
Pretty but deadly. Showy Rattlebox (Crotalaria spectabilis) has wonderful yellow blooms that brighten the outdoors. This particular species of Crotalaria was introduced from Africa and Asia to take advantage of the nitrogen-fixing nature of the root system. Unfortunately, all parts of this plant proved toxic to livestock, especially horses. Fortunately, most animals avoid it unless they are really hungry.
Its appearance is similar to the female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), but the Great Pondhawk (Erythemis vesiculosa) is a bit larger, slimmer and both sexes are green. We have not seen very many of these dragons as opposed to the huge abundance of the Eastern Pondhawk. This individual is enjoying a healthy meal of White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae). Mmmm, butterfly, it’s what’s for dinner.
Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Ancient in appearance and fascinating to observe. These wonderful animals dig burrows about six feet (1.8 meter) deep which can reach up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in length or more. They spend about 80% of their time in these burrows and abandoned ones house an incredible diversity of creatures.
For water birds such as a Snowy Egret, preening is vital to maintain healthy and beautiful feathers.
Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) gets its common name from the aroma resulting from crushing the leaves. It’s a common plant across much of the United States and the bright yellow blooms attract a large variety of pollinators.
The largest butterfly in North America, the Giant Swallowtail (Heraclides cresphontes), has a wingspan which can reach almost 7 inches (18 cm). Both males and females are mostly dark above with yellow markings and mostly yellow underneath with dark markings. Impressive sight!
At the other end of the size spectrum for its species is the tiny Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) stretching the tape to about 0.8 inch (20 mm) in length. This one is a male which has very little marking on its golden wings. As a defense mechanism, this dragon dangles its feet as it flies in order to resemble a distasteful wasp to would-be predators. The small friend sharing a leaf with our dragon is a species of Longlegged Fly (Family Dolichopodidae).
Although fairly common, the Barred Yellow (Eurema daira) has a habit of staying down in the weeds and is easily overlooked. This species can be highly variable in coloration and during the winter months many can become quite dark, almost brick-red in appearance.
Foraging on the forest floor, scratching among the leaves and sporting a spotted/streaky breast, it is easy to see why many don’t immediately think of “warbler” when they see an Ovenbird. Its bright and loud song helps place it in that family.
Our birding patch has a large open field with tall grass and is bordered by hardwood trees. Summer rains keep parts of the field in standing water offering the perfect habitat for the striking Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata).
We happened to see a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) ambush a grasshopper and drag it under a bush for brunch.
We came across a sizeable section of Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata). Also called Dotted Horsemint, this is a very showy plant and when in bloom attracts a really incredible variety of pollinators. Especially, well, bees. Beebalm. Attracts bees. Who’d a thunk it?
Gini and I have done our best over the years to maintain a balance in our lives. Perhaps nature has been our role model without us even knowing.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!