“Clouds of insects danced and buzzed in the golden autumn light, and the air was full of the piping of the song-birds. Long, glinting dragonflies shot across the path, or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
“That alligator came up almost completely out of the water chasing that fish!” Gini was filling me in on what I had missed when I took a short walk under the oak trees, searching in vain for small, colorful migrating warblers. After about an hour’s drive from home and another hour poking along looking at flowers, birds and bugs we were taking care of granola bars and tangerines. A late, but satisfying, breakfast.
The scene before us was a tranquil lake bordered by tall cypress trees mixed with bay and willow. A small island was decorated with the white, black and brown of dozens of egrets, herons, anhinga and cormorants. In a couple of months the population will swell as raucous courtship, mating and nesting occurs. This annual cycle of renewal is not unknown to other creatures as well. Such as birders, like us. Oh, and we counted well over two dozen alligators chasing fish, watching us, watching the birds, disappearing into the depths of the lake.
Some days it’s nice to just drive with no specific destination in mind. Explore side roads. Decide to unexpectedly turn left instead of right. Today was such a day.
We were in the southwest corner of Polk County, Florida. The Peace River flows a few miles to the east and the area is dotted with deep lakes, former phosphate mining pits which have been reclaimed and the surrounding land restored to something resembling its former state. There is a robust agriculture industry here as well as several large cattle ranches. The mix of farming, pasture land and lakes provides an excellent environment for diverse flora and fauna.
We didn’t find any migrating warblers today and most of the birds we did see were very camera shy. One migrant, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, took pity on us and posed for a moment. Distant woodpeckers, high-flying hawks, the aforementioned water birds – all good to see but none came near enough for photos. The day was beautiful, so was my partner, and we just kept driving.
Off the main road, we followed a path along a fence line. On one side, a pasture with curious cattle. On the other side, a pair of lakes with tall hardwood trees and dense undergrowth. A very nice combination!
The strands of barbed wire were quite popular for all sorts of insects, mostly dragonflies. Perching, eating, obelisking. And what a nice collection of different species! The water and trees attracted a whole separate set of specimens. It was well past lunch time and getting hot when we reluctantly headed home.
Our trip to nowhere in particular had been spectacular.
I almost walked into this awesome creature! Both me and the spider, a Spiny Orb-weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis), were happy no web was harmed in the making of this picture.
A new dragonfly for us! The Twilight Darner (Gynacantha nervosa) is quite plain and blends in with twigs as it hangs around waiting for – twilight. Then it will fly along the bank of the lake dining on some of the pesky mosquitoes we’ve been swatting all day.
It’s a bird! Eastern Wood-Pewees are not residents here and we see a few of these small flycatchers each fall as they head for South America.
A female Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) has smudges on her wings whereas the male displays large black spots.
The facial pattern of a Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) is quite menacing. Reminds me of a hockey player.
One characteristic of the darner family is they like to hang vertically. They are strong flyers and can fly for long periods without landing. I got lucky and found a Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) taking a break.
On about every other fence post, a lizard was waiting in ambush on the shady side. Most were Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei).
Native to Asia, the Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia) was introduced to southern Florida in 1975. It has spread throughout the southern part of the peninsula since. The male is distinctive as it is all bright red. The female is golden.
Dragonflies aren’t the only fence-sitters in these parts. A Whirlabout (Polites vibex), one of the small grass-skipper butterflies, thinks the view is just fine from up here.
Another one of those hanging jewels, the Common Green Darner (Anax junius) can really blend with the leaves of certain trees – like this one!
Small but aggressive. A Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) is “obelisking”, holding its abdomen vertically, which is thought to help with heat dispersion.
The male Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is hard to miss all dressed in purple. The female may not be as brightly colored, but she is still quite the looker. This one is finishing up a meal.
A large grasshopper along the trail got our attention. It’s a new one for us, called an Obscure Birdwing Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura).
Yet another large dragonfly, the Regal Darner (Coryphaeschna ingens). This female is ovipositing on lily pads near the lake shore.
Having a goal is always a good thing. Once in awhile, though, wandering aimlessly about the countryside can be very rewarding. Try it!
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!