Winter Prelude

A few weeks ago we had a chance to escape to our patch before the dire weather predictions came crashing down around us. Sunny skies and warm temperatures – the way a Florida winter should be!

For something a bit different, our trip began in mid-afternoon and we remained until sunset. We had a wonderful outing and saw more than we expected. We even spotted a few critters other than birds! When we first arrived, threatening clouds moved in but quickly scudded off to the east leaving us with bright blue skies overhead.

We typically see more birds in the mornings but we scared up a few migratory visitors as well as a couple of familiar residents. The calendar said it was December. For us, it could have been March. Our thoughts were with those in cold environments as snow and wind and ice certainly make life more challenging. Once that weather system reached us a few days later, our temperatures flirted with near freezing for three or four days and rain made being outside a bit uncomfortable. Not life-threatening as some have had to contend with.

At our final stop as the sun headed for the horizon we were treated to Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks overhead, wading birds hoping for a final frog feast, a curious mammal and a somewhat pleasant view of the sun through the lakeside cypress trees. A very nice afternoon.

The scene at our first stop was pretty dramatic. As thunder rolled in the distance, we wondered if we should head back to the house. Press on, she said. Good decision. (As usual.)

Adding to the local woodpecker population during migration. a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker probes a tree trunk for snacks.

Warm weather encourages many insects to breed in late fall. One result is that we get to enjoy adults such as this Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata).

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, may be very common, but he’s also very handsome. Or, she may be very beautiful.

An Anhinga and Great Blue Heron compare wing display techniques.

A warm sunny afternoon is not only welcoming to explorers, but a Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) thinks the road is just fine for soaking up the last rays of the day. I suspect he just had a meal as he didn’t move at all when I came a bit closer to get a photograph. Normally, they disappear very quickly.

Making hay while the sun is still shining. Mrs. Phoebe finds the top of this bale just perfect for spotting any movement in the field below.

Our patch does not contain much in the way of shallow wetlands or marshes, but a pair of Wilson’s Snipe decided a small drainage ditch by the side of the road to be quite suitable for foraging. These are also winter visitors.

There were not a lot of dragonflies flitting about, but a few got our attention. This bright male Hyacinth Glider (Miathyria marcella) even perched for us. They typically remain airborne forever it seems.

Yet another of our fall/winter tourists is the Savannah Sparrow. The light was beginning to wane but we could still enjoy the bird’s warm brown plumage and the bit of yellow in front of the eye. This bird was part of a group of six other sparrows which were part of a group of 20+ Palm Warblers. Fun!

A movement in a cypress tree turned out to be a Raccoon illuminated by the setting sun. We told her we meant no harm but I think she felt better once we departed.

As we reluctantly prepared to head home, the sun twinkled through the trees and a lone little cloud appeared above the lake. Was this the beginning of our cold front?

Autumn was ending. Winter was ravishing the lands to our far north. We appreciated a warm and rewarding calm afternoon before the storm.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

31 Comments on “Winter Prelude

  1. Outstanding captures for the trip! Especially liked the Gulf Fritillary as I have not come across that beauty yet. The snake made me shutter a bit as I recently had a rather …let’s go with startling .. encounter with an incredibly aggressive cottonmouth rattler – apparently still suffering from shell shock as it made my heart skip a bit when I scrolled down to your moccasin. Finally calmed down when I saw what it was – grew up with those so much more comfortable around them. Oh, and that bandit shot is cute (I can say that as it isn’t at my house ha).

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    • Thanks for stopping by!

      We’re blessed to have the Gulf Fritillary active almost year round. Brightens up the place in winter!

      Yep. I reflexively stop (walking and breathing) for a moment whenever I spot a snake. Then I calm down and try to appreciate what magnificent creatures they are.

      Raccoons are real crowd-pleasers until, as you mention, they take up residence in your attic.

      Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hesitate to describe any of these as “winners” because that somehow indicates the others are losers which not a single one is at all. But a couple did make me stop my scrolling. Of course the first is indeed dramatic and fortunate you were that those storm clouds hied in another direction. The Savannah Sparrow is an outstanding shot and the Raccoon equally appealing in that setting sunlight. I’ve never seen a water moccasin and guessed that the large midsection was possibly an indication of being recently well fed as you mentioned. I wonder if Ms. Phoebe has ever nested below our shed eaves? Would be quite a nice coincidence. Happy Florida winter!

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    • The sparrows get short shrift much of the time as they are not the most colorful birds in the field guides. We treasure them since most are only here during the winter months. Besides, it’s great fun trying to figure out which is which.

      It’s a good thing raccoons can look so adorable else their rascally habits would soon have them eradicated.

      Adult moccasins have that thick-in-the-middle look (like yours truly). The best hint it had just eaten was it didn’t race away from nor (more importantly) towards me.

      Radio trackers for Phoebes!

      Yep. It’s Florida. It’s winter. We’re happy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Wally: I just “subscribed by email” and received a message thanking me for subscribing and telling me that I would receive a confirming email – but no such email has been received. I tried a second time – same thing.

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  4. Hi Wally: I have no idea why, but I am still not getting notification of your posts. The Water Moccasin certainly looks like it has only recently swallowed a quite substantial meal. I suspect it is looking for a secluded spot to begin the process of digestion, and it won’t need to eat again for a week or two. That raccoon is looking at you very quizzically. I wonder what thoughts are going through it’s head.

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    • The best I’ve been able to determine, David, is that both Blogger and WordPress made some changes which for some folks (apparently that would be us) has resulted in issues making comments and following by email.

      On behalf of modern technology, I apologize.

      I have found a bit of a work around for your blog. If I open your site in a “private window”, I am permitted to sign in with my Google account which then allows me to comment.

      Sheesh. Pretty soon we shall need to return to those those thrilling days of yore and begin writing each other letters!

      Like

  5. I also noticed the unfamiliar Dione incarnata. As a biologist quipped during a field trip I was on some years ago, it’s getting to the point where the common name of increasingly many species is more stable than the scientific name.

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    • I will likely return to referring to the Gulf Fritillary as Agraulis vanillae. Most sources are still doing so. Or, since I am the opposite of an expert (on anything), perhaps I should just stick to common names only.

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  6. Good grief Wally, nearly minus. Join the club. But seriously and as you say we have been luckier than many. Here, I just went to the garage to retrieve stuff from the freezer and got soaked – again. What is wrong with our weather? Perhaps it’s the Russians?

    Your Savannah Sparrow is very reminiscent of our Reed Bunting, subtle markings and autumn colours. Soon I may be able to get out and catch a few. I agree, the Racoon seems to have a forlorn look that the perpetually hunted and persecuted display.

    All the best wishes to you and yours and to Gini for 2023. And please, don’t send the ginger whinger back here, we too are heartily sick of the (non) story.

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    • Immediately after the near-freezing couple of days, we had more Florida-like winter days. At the moment it is chilly at sunrise and mild by noon with incredibly blue skies. Horrible, but we try to suffer through it the best we can.

      Winter here brings migrating sparrows and by the time we figure out which species is which they all up and fly north again.

      So sad. Animals forced to wear a mask and constantly persecuted – oh, and you’re right about the Raccoon, too.

      Our brand new year is off to a rollicking start! Good health and good birding. Life is good.

      No worries about the ginger whinger. We need to keep them as he/she/them may one day be President Of The Colonies. We would be hard-pressed to do worse than the present. (Is Boris still available?)

      More coffee —> Cheers.

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  7. I tend to get out early in the day, too, but when I have other plans and don’t get out until the afternoon, I frequently have pleasant surprises, which sounds just like your experience. Maybe we need to switch it up a little more so we get to see more of those creatures who tend to sleep in.
    I loved your Gulf Fritillary on the purple flowers, and the Savanna and other sparrows mixed in with a group of Palm Warblers sound like a fun bunch to watch.
    If I were a snake and had a full tummy like the one in your photo, I wouldn’t want to move either!

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  8. Very nice collection of photos of a wide variety of critters. You must have had thousands of images to sort through to be able to select these beauties.

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  9. I have a photo of an unidentified snake lolling on a Brazoria refuge road in my files. I wasn’t able to ID it, but now I’m going to take a better look. Like your Water Moccasin, it had that strange shape: small head, fat middle, small tail. As has happened before, I may have identified-by-accident!

    Your header photo is glorious. As for the Gulf Fritillary, I see the taxonomists have been busy again. I learned to call them Agraulis vanillae. Then, I ran into Agraulis incarnata, and now we have Dione incarnata. All righty, then! At least I can remember the new name, since it reminds me of Dionne Warwick.

    My affection for raccoons makes it hard not to say “Favorite!” for that photo, but the Phoebe on the hay bale is just as appealing. It’s good that you two are out and about again — we certainly profit from your explorations.

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    • It’s good to get a positive i.d. on the snakes so you know which ones you can have your companion hold in her hands while you snap a few candid pics without too much danger of having to take her to the ER later.

      We spotted the spoonbills on the way home from shooting some uncommon sparrows. They were feeding along a flooded creek and it was more than 30 minutes after sunset. Just enough light left for the camera to do its thing.

      Okay. About the Gulf Fritillary.

      From bugguide.net: “Synonyms and other taxonomic changes:
      Núñez et al. (2022) (1) used molecular and morphological data to split up Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus) into eight species. The species in the United States, Mexico, and much of Central America is Agraulis incarnata (Riley). True Agraulis vanillae is found in northern South America, Panama, and the southern Lesser Antilles.”

      From mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/ :

      “Taxonomic Notes: Agraulis incarnata (Riley, 1926), n. status, previously treated as a synonym of [4413] Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus, 1758), is raised to full species status with nigrior Michener as a subspecies in Zhang et al. (2020). True vanillae is now treated as extralimital north of Mexico.

      The name Agraulis is treated as a subgenus of Dione in Zhang et al. (2019). However, Núñez, et al. (2022) treats Agraulis as a full genus.”

      At inaturalist.org they changed the entry:
      “Agraulis vanillae incarnata”

      to:
      “Dione vanillae incarnata”

      Me? I shall call it a Gulf Fritillary and enter “DIY” for the scientific nomenclature.

      We are definitely out and about and hope to continue to be so throughout the new year!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Once again, Wally, I found it difficult to get past your wonderful header image.

    That Water Moccasin certainly looks well fed. Not knowing anything about that species I am undecided as to weather they are naturally obese in appearance or whether it has just swallowed something long and thin – or maybe even a few short fat things !?

    It’s good to be reminded that there are still dragons and butterflies on the wing – if you are in the right place!

    Best wishes to you both from a dull grey, but not too cold, Central England. Take good care – – – Richard

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    • Good Morning, Richard!

      It is thundering outside the window at the moment and the coffee is extra strong.

      In the header, the two Roseate Spoonbills with white-feathered heads are juveniles and the two in the center with no feathers on the head are adults. This is likely a family group. Thirty minutes after the sun had set, so I was pleased the camera did a fair job.

      Regarding the snake, see my comments to Elephant’s Child.

      Gini and I send our New Year’s best wishes to you and Lindsay.

      Like

  11. They probably are not but that Raccoon looks kind of cute, great capture that one.
    I guess that cold blast came as something of a shock to the system, I reckon a fair few butterflies and dragonflies weren’t at all happy.

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    • Those raccoons are like humans. We can be really cute until someone doesn’t feed us on time. Then the world turns nasty!

      (One big hint nature gives us – the cute raccoon wears a mask for a reason.)

      We spent a l-o-n-g day in the swamp on January 2 and were happily surprised to spot several butterflies and few dragons. I guess they found some warm spots under a log.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It really was a very nice day, EC!

      Hard to tell with that snake. The Water Moccasin has a small head and tail and thick body, so, to me, this one looks “normal”. But if he ate something small it might not be obvious.

      I use the same theory when I eat shrimp. Small food, so it won’t ruin my boyish figure. Only problem is, I usually eat about six dozen and, well, it shows.

      Gini and I hope you are enjoying each day of this brand new year!

      Like

  12. Great that you had this extended outing before the front reached you. The photos show a really lovely light. Glad you got the clear shot of the Wilson’s Snipe! I got a fuzzy shot last week from very far away. They have such a wonderfully detailed coloring. Wishing you and Gini a Happy New Year full of rewarding places!

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    • Thanks, Sam.

      The light at that time of day is pretty special. Fuzzy snipe are better than no snipe at all!

      Our New Year is off to a great start!

      Looking forward to keeping up with your adventures as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ed.

      I can send you some cottonmouths if you would like to see them up close and personal.

      Trying to make plans for a trip to MINWR. Life keeps interfering!

      Like

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