The Sunshine State. It was meant to be a marketing slogan. A lure for those who too recently tried to wrestle a breath of air from the icy atmosphere as they heaved one more shovelful of dirty brown snow to the side of the driveway. It worked. Snowbirds flocked to the warm-all-year peninsula and many never took flight northward again.
When Gini The Eternally Beautiful agreed to be my bride oh so many years ago which seems like only yesterday, we travelled from our perpetually warm cocoon to “upstate” New York where I attended Syracuse University. We soon realized “upstate” was a euphemism for “anywhere other than New York City” with a secret secondary definition of “always cold and wet except for three days in August”. That poor girl. Her only footwear consisted of sneakers and flip-flops. After all, we arrived in town during late March and it was 90F when we left Florida. Snow. It was snowing as we were apartment hunting. I stopped at a Sears and Roebuck and found some outlandish fur-lined boots for her feet which were meant to run unadorned in the damp sand of the beach instead of sludging through half-melted ice.
We survived. The ensuing years took us to many different environments around the country and around the world. We continued to survive. We are better for the experience. But, as Dorothy observed, there’s no place like home.
It’s July. Near midnight, as I open the back door, a wall of hot, humid air engulfs my entire body. It almost takes extra physical effort to step outside, the atmosphere is so thick. Crickets. Music of the summer night accompanied by the monotone buzz of the cicada. Earlier, I had turned on the porch light in the hope of attracting moths to the yard. I was amply rewarded.
Recent birding efforts have concentrated on wrapping up a five year project attempting to catalogue species of breeding birds in Florida. This project will be compared with the previous breeding bird atlas conducted in 1986. Scientists will be able to access the data and hopefully provide ideas for future management of human development to better protect our bird population.
We have not been able to do much exploring for the past few months for several reasons and this blog has been on an unscheduled hiatus. My apologies for our absence. Following are a few images from our forays into the local area trying to find breeding bird evidence, backyard images of night creatures and some miscellaneous encounters along the way.
While surveying a very densely wooded section of swamp, we were somewhat surprised to find a Snail Kite. These endangered raptors are normally associated with more open areas, typically a lake or river shoreline, where they hover over vegetation as they hunt for apple snails. We observed a very large number of snail shells in the shallow water so this bird knew where to look.
Barred Owls are fairly common in our area and prefer the swamps and adjacent woods. Their prey consists of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. It’s not unusual to find them active during daylight hours and this one was preening on a branch well after sunrise.
Not far from the above owl were a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks in a pine forest. The adults have a distinctive horizontal reddish/orange banding on their chest whereas immature birds display a vertical pattern of heart-shaped feathers.
A stagnant pond is a favorite hunting spot for the Green Heron.
Travelling through a swampy area provides many opportunities for wildlife spotting. I think this is a Striped Mud Turtle. Total length was about six to eight inches. Any correction would be very much appreciated.
Summer brings out the bugs. Such as this Slaty Skimmer, one of our larger dragonflies. It can be distinguished from the Great Blue Skimmer by its dark face. (The Great Blue has a white face.)
A Gulf Fritillary is a common sight here. It’s bright orange above and has large silver spots underneath making quite a contrast of beauty.
One of the most common skippers in Florida is Horace’s Duskywing. This one is feeding on Loosestrife.
During our hot summer nights, a light can attract an amazing variety of life forms. I think this is an Indo-Pacific Gecko (mostly based on the saw-tooth appearance of the edge of the tail). Again, if anyone has a correction, please let me know. I think the only gecko native to Florida is a Reef Gecko and it’s limited to the extreme southern part of the state, mostly in Key West. Non-natives have been arriving for several years, likely hidden in landscape plants from Asia.
Another non-native invader, the Cuban Tree Frog, has been displacing native Florida tree frogs for many years. They can be a challenge to identify at times, but generally, if you find a tree frog over 2.5 inches long, it will likely be a non-native. Also, they will normally be covered in bumps or “warts”.
The Banded Sphinx Moth is pretty striking with its geometric design and impressive with its three to four inch wingspan.
Even larger, with a wingspan over six inches, the Polyphemus Moth is named for the cyclops of Greek mythology.
Smaller than the two giants above, the Southern Emerald makes up for size with color and grace. Who knew moths were so colorful?
Providing tonight’s summertime lullaby is the Olympic Cicada. Enjoy. (Song: http://ifasgallery.ifas.ufl.edu/entnem/walker/buzz/797sl.wav)
Yep, it’s summer in Florida. Heat. Humidity. Daily thunderstorms. Ferocious lightning strikes. In a word: GLORIOUS!
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!