“Are you sure you feel like going out this morning?”
I got one of those looks that needed no words.
It was a logical question. Gini and I are emerging from over two weeks’ worth of some sort of flu. Not quite back to 100% yet, I was concerned she might still be a bit too weak to go chasing birds. Her common sense self advised that sunshine and fresh air would likely accomplish much more than some pill. Again, I point to my genius as evidenced by my choice in a life partner.
Some years, it is difficult to tell if Florida is in “autumn” or just an extended summer. There are hints. We actually have a few species of deciduous trees which drop their leaves beginning in October. Morning temperatures may decline a couple of degrees. Relative humidity has been known to ease below 50%. Then there are our seasonal visitors.
We begin seeing three times as many out-of-state license plates as usual. “Snowbirds” arriving en masse present challenges in driving and downtown parking. The economy is replenished.
In addition to the annual migration of snowbirds, the fields and forests and lakes become more colorful and noisy as a steady stream of actual birds escape the cold temperatures of their breeding grounds. Most of the avian travelers stop for a rest and a bite to eat and press on to sunny summer in Argentina. Some will choose to remain in our area all winter. In a few days, they will question the wisdom of that decision as we are scheduled for near-freezing temperatures. Good news, feathered friends! This is Florida! The cold will only last a short while. Honest.
Our morning was purposefully short, despite the
whining objection about heading home. She knows I had her best interest at heart. Maybe.
Most of today’s sightings were from the vehicle. I got out a few times to try and get better photos but we had a really pleasant drive. Fresh tangerines were tasty and added a bit of Vitamin C to our systems.
Once upon a time, this season was known in the English vocabulary as “harvest”. As humans began to leave farms for cities, someone (probably a poet) began referring to this time as “autumn”. It wasn’t long after that someone else (probably another poet) talked about the “falling” leaves and we lazy humans shortened that reference to the “fall”. At some point, a bunch of folks thought it would be great fun to get in some wooden boats and see if they could find a new neighborhood. They did. Eventually, these “Americans” either couldn’t pronounce the word “autumn” (what’s the deal with that “n”?) or we/they just wanted to be contrary and have mostly referred to this time of year as “fall” while our erudite cousins in the very Great Britain preferred “autumn”. There you go. The complete and no doubt accurate etymology of our seasonal linguistic divide.
Herewith a few of Florida’s “fall” flourishes.
The Blue Jay is one of our most common birds and we all too often overlook its beauty. This one found a fresh acorn and may locate a crevice in a tree trunk to keep it in place while it hammers through the shell.
A bit larger than the Blue Jay and not nearly as common, the Brown Thrasher is surprisingly versatile in the song department. It has been reported the thrasher can sing over 1,000 different songs and may be a better mimic than the Northern Mockingbird. All I know is its rich brown plumage is a pleasant addition to the landscape.
It may be autumn in Florida but we still enjoy our status as a sub-tropical habitat. We’re therefore able to enjoy late season insects such as mosquitoes and – more importantly – what we as kids called “skeeter hawks”. We encouraged this female Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) to get busy and devour as many of the blood-suckers as possible!
One of the migratory visitors which remain with us in fair numbers all winter is the Gray Catbird. We counted a dozen this morning calling from all sides of the road giving us the impression someone had abandoned several felines during the night.
We were entertained by this Blue-headed Vireo as it grabbed a caterpillar and smacked it on the limb several times to make sure it was adequately tenderized.
The colors and patterns on this Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) indicate it is a female.
Another very common local bird we tend to look past (to our shame) is the Northern Cardinal. This female does not have the solid bright red appearance of the male but is very attractive in her own right.
The highlight of the day for us was finding not one, but two Yellow-billed Cuckoos! This species breeds here but we also have migrants in the area during the fall. Normally they are quite shy and secretive. We found one feeding in the open and another quietly hanging about in a small tree.
More dragons! A bright male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) on the lookout for breakfast. Hopefully, it will include tons of mosquitoes.
One of the most abundant migratory songbirds we see is the Palm Warbler. They are easy to identify even at a distance by their constantly pumping tails.
Not content with finding dragons, we came across several butterfly species. One which was kind enough to pose for a moment was the small Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius). Their wingspan is about 3/4-15/16 inches (20-33 mm) and they don’t hold still for long.
Another very common migrant which stays with us all winter is the Eastern Phoebe. Not only do they consume a lot of insects, they obligingly yell out their name for us. “Pheee-Beee“!
One more bug hunter was kind enough to allow a picture. The male Hyacinth Glider (Miathyria marcella) doesn’t perch often and when they do it is usually at a 45 degree angle as opposed to 90 degrees preferred by others in the skimmer family.
A quick fly-by of a Bald Eagle concluded our abbreviated morning outing. We appreciated it.
Call it autumn or fall or harvest. It is a good time to be outdoors. Migration brings diverse visitors. The landscape undergoes changes. Fresh air and sunshine provide healing for the body and the soul.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!