So Much – LIFE !

Are the drops on the leaves and blades of grass from dew or last night’s rainfall? It doesn’t matter. They reflect the morning sunlight as though a thousand prisms had been scattered about. Photographers are told the best time to experience the most favorable light outdoors is an hour before and after sunrise and sunset – “The Golden Hour”. This was more like “The Rainbow Hour”.

Gini said the landscape looked like it was wearing its finest diamonds. Just for us.

Bending down on a knee to get a lower angle on a butterfly resulted in a soaked pant leg. Sitting for a moment to focus on a damselfly resulted in – well, you know.

We had stopped at the Tenoroc Public Use Area Headquarters to sign in and get our permit for the day. Great staff! Always friendly and helpful. We almost have them trained, now. The majority of visitors here are fishermen. When they ask “What lake?” and I answer “We’re here birding today”, they look up with a momentary blank stare. “Oh, yeah! Just a second and I’ll print your pass.”

With over 7,000 acres (2800+ ha) as our playground, we try to follow a bit of a plan on each visit as it would be impossible to explore all of that area in a day, much less a morning. Do we go “birding” only or search for dragons and damsels? But butterflies and moths are abundant! Flora? Wild pigs, turtles, alligators – all with new babies in tow?

It’s a dilemma.

In which case, we just make (sorry about this) – “dilemmanade”!

My old Air Force comrades would refer to our situation something like: “Target is LIMPKIN. Exploit other Targets Of Opportunity to fullest extent.”

We had multiple Targets Of Opportunity to exploit.

Summer in sub-tropical Florida means rain. We have been getting regularly scheduled thunderstorms daily beginning in mid-afternoon. Early mornings are warm and humid but I happen to like that combination. (Native Floridian disease.) By around 10:00, even the rocks start wilting. We usually head for the house before high noon melts the tires off the vehicle.

There are actually a good number of birds to be found in the hot months. Many of them have finished breeding and are busy teaching youngsters how to fly, find bugs and avoid predators. Molting is in full swing for some species and the resulting hot mess of straggly feathers should not be photographed just out of simple courtesy. So, when possible, we strive to find birds to grace our image sensor. Otherwise, we are easily distracted by all the other goodies Mother Nature lays before us.

Our initial route took us to a horseshoe-shaped lake with a path around it. The sun began to dry the foliage and insects became active as they sought a spot from which they could dry themselves as quickly as possible. Small bugs know better than to remain in the open for very long or else they become a meal.

The normal cast of characters began to appear. Once again, we were amazed at the diversity of life all around us! From small flowers and damselflies, to hedgerows and butterflies, to 60-foot tall oak trees and raptors – truly marvelous!

A small sampling from the first half of the morning.

 

We had heard the characteristic calls of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and spotted one foraging along the lake shore. They always seem to have a “just groomed” appearance.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Just a little longer in the sunshine and this Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa) will be dry enough to fly efficiently and begin its day.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A Barred Yellow (Eurema daira) will take a little longer to lose its droplets but it has a more sheltered, and shaded, perch to keep it somewhat hidden.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Full sun has helped to thoroughly dry a Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes) and he’ll soon be flitting very quickly from bloom to bloom in the never-ending quest for nectar.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Somewhat unusual for a moth, the Ornate Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix) is active during daylight hours. Gini sees owl faces in the moth’s intricate wing pattern.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A couple of tips on identifying this female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needham) from the nearly identical Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis). The pale portion of the Needham’s thorax extends into the dark front area but does not in the Golden-winged. Also, the Golden-winged hind tibiae are black but are brown in Needham’s. Yes, there will be a test later.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A very striking wing pattern identifies the Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina).

Tenoroc FMA

 

Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) is one of our most common damselflies. The female has two color forms, a heteromorph with orange thorax and no blue at the end of the abdomen and an andromorph which is colored the same as the male. The andromorph female is the lower damsel in the image.

Tenoroc FMA

 

It’s neat to get a photograph of more than one species in a single photograph. Here, a Limpkin shares a bit of shoreline weeds with a White Ibis.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Pretty small at 7/16 inch (11 mm), this Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) is easy to overlook as my big feet tromp through the weeds. Luckily, it was high enough on a piece of grass to be seen before being stomped. One day, I’ll get a shot of its beautiful dark blue upper side. One day …

Tenoroc FMA

 

A new species! Hooray! Twenty-two species of Hairstreak (Theclinae) occur in Florida. Most of these we have NOT yet seen. Today, we found a White M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m album). Typical of this species, it was active about 20 feet up in the tree canopy.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Grass-skippers have been described as the LBJ’s of the butterfly world. (Little Brown Jobs) Here, an orange-colored male Whirlabout (Polites vibex) posed nicely. The female is darker brown/gray.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Another grass-skipper, the Clouded Skipper (Lerema accius) male and female are similar in appearance.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Slim abdomen, dark thorax and characteristic wing spots identify a male Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida).

Tenoroc FMA

 

So geographically diverse, the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) is the only North American odonate to be given subspecies common names. This specimen, Argia fumipennis atra, occurring in the Florida peninsula, is also known as the Black Dancer.

Tenoroc FMA

 

 

The sun is well and truly up and droplets are vaporizing, much to the delight of the insect world. As the insects become more active, there are some happy birds in nearby trees. While they contemplate what to have for breakfast, Gini and I shall pause and enjoy our own repast. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may be plebeian, but right now they sure will taste good!

Stay tuned for the remainder of our morning visit where we find even more LIFE!

(Header image is a Tricolored Heron at dawn.)

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

Babylon! Blood! Beauty!

A review of last year’s records began as a search for early fall migration arrival dates. It soon devolved into a tragic tale of ancient Babylon, unfulfilled love and blood-soaked —

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The data indicated a few early American Redstarts might begin arriving as early as the last week of July. Where would be the most likely place to search for them? Several choices presented themselves. Wait. What’s this? About this time last year, we found Hummingbird Clearwing Moths (Hemaris thysbe) at Colt Creek State Park. They were feeding on thistles. Hey, thistles are blooming now. This species feeds in the daytime. Hey, that would make taking pictures a bit easier. That settles it. Set the clock early.

Hemaris thysbe. You DO, of course, remember the tale that old Roman Ovid spun about Pyramus and Thisbe, don’t you? What? You DON’T??

Ancient Babylon. The most handsome lad in the city, Pyramus, lived next door to the most desirable girl in the city, Thisbe. Their homes were connected by an adjoining wall but their parents forbid them to associate with one another. A crack in the wall allowed them to communicate and words of love grew more intense as time passed. One day, they agreed to meet under a mulberry tree at the edge of town. Thisbe arrived first but a lioness appeared, blood covering her muzzle as she had just dined on an ox. Thisbe was terrified and ran to a nearby cave, dropping her scarf under the tree. The lioness shredded the scarf, leaving blood stains from the ox on it. Pyramus showed up, saw the lioness, which ran away and discovered the blood-stained scarf. Distraught at what he thought was the demise of the fair Thisbe, he thrust his sword into his heart. Thisbe returned to find Pyramus breathing his last, took his sword and fell on it herself. Ovid tells us the blood of the ill-fated pair splashed on the ripening mulberries, which had, heretofore, been white. From then on, ripe mulberries turn dark red to symbolize the deaths of the Babylonian would-be lovers.

Now you remember!

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) was given its Latin name by Danish entomologist, Johan Christian Fabricius, in the 18th century. He apparently was a fan of Ovid. Hemaris may be from the Greek “hema” meaning blood and “thysbe” refers to Thisbe from our story. The color of the body and wing borders of the moth reminded Fabricius of the blood spilled by the lovers.

Who says science is boring?

 

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) among the thistles. This moth averages about 1.5 inches (38 mm) in length and about the same in wingspan. (Most actual hummingbirds are nearly twice as large.)

Colt Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park

 

 

After all the drama, the remainder of our morning exploring Colt Creek State Park was rather calm. We didn’t locate any early bird migrants, but we certainly enjoyed spotting a Northern Parula singing his heart out, a gorgeous Red-shouldered Hawk, a diverse selection of insects and for a grand finale we were treated to a fishing exposition by a young River Otter.

Our tangerine breakfast was delicious but small. Time to head home for leftover okra, tomatoes and rice. Mmmmm!

 

Some additional Beauty! from the morning’s adventure.

 

A male Northern Parula wouldn’t give me a clear shot but he certainly belted out his wonderful ascending song for us!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Patrolling near a lake shoreline, a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) shows off his unique wing pattern.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The large Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera) averages around two inches (55 mm) in length for males and 2.75 inches (70 mm) for females with some up to 3.5 inches (90 mm) not unusual. If nothing else, they are colorful!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The thistles (Cirsium horridulum) attract all sorts of pollinators in addition to the Hummingbird Moth. Here, a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) retrieves a bit of nectar.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Gini spotted a Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) atop a spent thistle. No nectar for this lady dragon, but she has a great perch to spot potential breakfast bugs.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A Bumble Bee transports his cargo of pollen from one thistle to another. A quick drink for his efforts and he’s off to take a load to a different flower.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Measuring about an inch (25 mm) in length, the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) is a colorful spider who usually includes a “zig-zag” design near the center of her web.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Hoping to spot a frog or a lizard, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk didn’t pay us much attention as we admired one of our most common raptors.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes) has forsaken the sweet nectar of the thistles and gone over to the dark side of sampling the forbidden fruits of an invasive Brazilian Vervain (Verbena brasiliensis). No worries. He’ll be back.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Averaging 1.5-2 inches (45-55 mm), the American Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana) is sometimes referred to as the American Bird Grasshopper due to its strong flying abilities. This insect causes significant agricultural damage each year. It certainly is handsome, though!

Colt Creek State Park

 

It’s hard to miss a male adult Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea)! There isn’t much in nature with that color.

Colt Creek State Park

 

One of the smallest of the grass skippers, a Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan), has few markings and usually stays hidden near the ground. This one crawled onto a blade of grass for a moment – and a picture.

Colt Creek State Park

 

It’s natural to try and post nice, clear photographs of a subject in its natural environment. As a birder, I can attest that it is far more normal to see only bits and pieces of a bird most of the time! Such is the case with this Red-bellied Woodpecker who remained behind foliage and simply would not allow a decent, clear photo.

Colt Creek State Park

 

One of a half-dozen dark-colored butterflies in our area, the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) also enjoys visiting, guess what – thistles!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The morning dew highlighted the golden glow of the wings of Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami).

Colt Creek State Park

 

We watched this young River Otter fishing in Colt Creek for a few minutes until he realized we were there. Sploosh! A disappearing otter.

Colt Creek State Park

 

 

Okay, so I may have started a little over the top with dramatic license, but it was a great morning to be out in nature! Pretty neat to review old notes, make a plan to see if history would repeat and, ultimately, to enjoy success. Take a look at your own notes or photographs from this time in past years. Perhaps it will lead you to your very own Babylon! Blood! and Beauty!

 

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

Scratching An Itch

It is 0645. Sunrise.

Not a hint of a breeze.

The grass path is wet from last night’s rain. Or morning dew. Both.

In the distance, Limpkins call from opposite ends of the wetlands.

Overhead, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks whisper about their breakfast  plans.

Sandhill Cranes trumpet loudly from an adjacent pasture where they spent the night.

Morning has begun in the marsh as it does every day. The difference today is – I am privileged to be a witness.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands was engineered a few years ago as a method to prevent annual flooding of Itchepackesassa and Blackwater Creeks. The project included digging the wetlands to varying depths to mitigate flooding and potential erosion. A planned side benefit is to offer diverse habitat for waterfowl and other life forms by having sections of deeper, mid-level and shallow water. Care was taken to include plants with filtering properties to help cleanse water as it flows through the wetlands.

A raised berm around the marsh allows for easy walking. The area is bordered on the south and east by stands of hardwood trees which attract a great variety of migrating passerines as well as resident nesting birds.

From an entirely selfish standpoint, one of the best features of the site is on almost any weekday, I can spend a morning here and seldom encounter another human. Especially when it’s 78 F (26 C) with 90% humidity at dawn. Within an hour, it will be 85 F (29 C) and by the time the car is in sight, 94 F (34 C). One must be either crazy or a birder to be out for a two-mile stroll in such conditions! Ahhh, the Sunshine State at its best!

A thin mist clung near the surface of the marsh as I began my slow trek around the berm. Common Gallinules cackled their displeasure as I interrupted their morning routine. Pugnacious Common Green Darners stopped patrolling long enough to challenge my presence, hovering in front of my face, daring me to take one more step. Egrets, herons, ibises – flying singly and in groups, slowly gathered around the marsh to go about the daily business of survival. Beautiful flowers abound in the wetlands, which, in turn, attract pollinators of all types. River otters live here as well as Bobcats. Bald Eagles and Osprey nest nearby and today I saw an American Kestrel family. Very encouraging to see the falcons breeding here! In the woods, I searched in vain for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I saw last year. My consolation prize was finding two adult and two immature Black-crowned Night Herons perched along the creek.

It’s hot now. Back to the car and a drink of cool water.

Called Gini to see if she needs anything. Home is only ten miles from here. “Cream for my coffee.” Happily. Lox and bagel brunch awaits.

 

(Header image: A Great Blue Heron wings her way across the wetlands against a backdrop of large oak trees draped in Spanish moss.)

 

Steamy wetlands at sunrise.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

A Great Egret greets the day atop a Wood Duck nesting box.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

On patrol, a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) stops long enough to confront me.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have become quite common over the last couple of decades. These large tree ducks have a high, thin whistle which is unmistakable.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

The marsh is home to a variety of blooming plants which don’t mind wet feet at all.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia)

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Bandana-of-the-Everglades (Canna flaccida)

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

String Lily (Crinum americanum)

 

One of the small grass skippers, a Whirlabout (Polites vibex) clings to a dew-covered leaf.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

A Great Egret spotted a flock of White Ibises feeding and performed an abrupt aerial maneuver to descend quickly and join them.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

I counted 12 Long-tailed Skippers (Urbanus proteus) in this one area. The nectar must be sweeter here for some reason.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

The uniquely-shaped bill of the White Ibis is designed for probing deep into soft mud and those blue eyes don’t miss much, including a suspicious character on the edge of his marsh.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

There are not that many all-dark dragonflies in our area and the unusually thin abdomen where it joins the thorax helps identify this individual as a male Pin-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis plebja).

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

The Black-crowned Night Heron family of four was a nice find. Three of them flew away as soon as I rounded a corner, but one youngster remained to gawk at me gawking at her.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Discovering a new species makes a day special! Today, I found my first Hyacinth Glider (Miathyria marcella)!

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Salad for breakfast is okay, if you’re a Common Gallinule.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

The bluish wash of color on the wings indicates this is a female Spicebush Swallowtail  (Papilio troilus). The male has a more greenish tint.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

 

Hot – yes. Humid – yes. Beautiful – undeniable! Beginning the day exploring the marsh was extremely pleasant and rewarding. Do you have such an area near where you live?

 

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

Metamorphosis

I was recently reminded of a series of books developed for children which explained various aspects of science. That was a v-e-r-y long time ago, but one in particular stuck with me. It showed the life cycle of the butterfly. The fact that a caterpillar could turn into a beautiful butterfly was utterly fascinating. Still is.

We have been blessed with an abundance of butterflies where we live and a few weeks ago had a chance to observe the life cycle of butterflies up close and in person. Gini spotted a larva of the Gulf Fritillary on its host plant, the Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Later that morning, she forced me to photograph a pair of fritillaries mating. Later still, we found a newly emerged butterfly drying its wings beside the chrysalis it had been encased in for the past week.

The miracle of transformation.

 

Adult Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)  2-4 Weeks

Tenoroc-Bridgewater

 

Mating

Tenoroc FMA

 

Larval Stage  2-3 Weeks

Tenoroc FMA

 

 

Chrysalis Stage  5-10 Days

Colt Creek State Park

 

 

As we all go through changes in our lives, it can be challenging to maintain a positive outlook. Especially these days, negative forces seem almost overwhelming.

Embrace change as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. Live your best life every day!

 

Tenoroc FMA

 

 

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

Diversity Training

Once upon a time (stop me if you’ve heard this one), our primary consideration in planning an excursion into the Great Outdoors was limited to researching what birds might be found at a particular location. Was fall or spring migration in progress? Could we hope for wintering birds? Perhaps new bird families would offer an opportunity to observe chicks pestering parents for food or practicing flight lessons.

As time progressed, so did we. It turns out there are more things in nature than just birds! (Do NOT tell birders this. They will not accept your premise.) My Very Best Friend, who is incredibly intelligent, has always been blessed with an open mind and has avoided the curse of tunnel vision with which I am often afflicted. I might be focused on a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and how best to frame it within the camera’s viewfinder and my VBF will pipe up: “Oooh, what a pretty dragonfly she has caught!”

Evolution. Bird watchers are typically naturalists at heart. Those feathered creations live amongst majestic trees, gorgeous flowers and vast fields all of which also provide homes for hordes of other life forms. It is just not possible to ignore all that nature offers. So, we just try to embrace it.

This poor excuse for a “blog” has been changing somewhat to reflect our interests beyond birds. It is difficult to predict if that trend will continue or if there will be a step back into what has been a “comfort zone”. We’ll see.

Our local state park is 22 minutes from here and provides a pretty good example of how diverse nature can be. Colt Creek State Park contains over 5,000 acres (2,000 Ha) and consists of native long-leaf pine flatwoods, lakes, streams, open vistas, cypress domes and an incredible variety of life which calls it home.

Herewith, a small sampling of what a morning of observation recently produced.

 

Small clouds of gold hovered above the path along the lake. Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) patrol the area to defend their territory.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A pair of Northern Parula tirelessly hunted for insects and delivered their bounty to hungry new mouths unseen in the nearby oak trees.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Although their nests are common around human habitation, we don’t often notice the Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) in the wild. Capable of delivering a sting, they are seldom aggressive. They pack the cells of their nests with spiders, so that may be a mark in their favor for some.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Guardian of the facilities! This Squirrel Treefrog (Hyla squirella) was perched on a door hinge to the restroom. Small but colorful.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The “calico” plumage of a Little Blue Heron lets us know she’s likely less than two years old. I interrupted her preening and you can see a feather remnant in her beak.

Colt Creek State Park

 

I sometimes think film-makers use nature to inspire their on-screen alien creations. A Leaf-footed Bug (Acanthocephala femorata) would make a good movie star!

Colt Creek State Park

 

A New Species! It’s always exciting to come across something new. Gini saw a large butterfly that turned out to be just that. At first, we thought it was one of our dark-colored swallowtail varieties. But wait – no “tails”! Turns out it is a Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) and this area is probably pretty much the southern limit of its range.

Colt Creek State ParkColt Creek State Park

 

One of the few flycatcher species to breed within Florida, the Great Crested Flycatcher, has beautiful lemon-yellow, rich brown and gray plumage. Their loud, clear whistling call rings out through the forest at this time of year.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Sports model. The Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) with his racing stripe thorax and dusty blue abdomen looks ready to dash off on a moment’s notice.

Colt Creek State ParkColt Creek State Park

 

Blackberries are ripening and Wild Turkeys are quick to take advantage of the harvest!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Here are a few examples of the parks floral selection, which explains why so many pollinators love it here. Us, too!

 

Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii). (Don’t know the insect.)

Colt Creek State Park

 

Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).

Colt Creek State Park

 

 

We love birds and birding. We love the fact that birding opened our eyes to so much more to discover. Hopefully, you, too, have a love for Nature’s diversity and places to go to see it all.

 

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