Posts Tagged With: dung beetle

Naturally Motivated

It’s hot outside. The “dog days” of summer are in full swing here in sub-tropical central Florida. Leave the air-conditioned coolness of home or auto and one is immediately enveloped in a steamy cloud of vapor which soaks through clothing and produces an instant soggy mess of a person. Did I mention it’s hot? Weather experts are issuing dire warnings that children and the elderly should remain indoors.

Gini fairly regularly refers to me as “child like”. According to my joints, hair, skin and driver’s license – there is a better than 50% chance that I am “elderly”. We should remain indoors.

The alarm screeched rudely and my beautiful (yes, even in the dark) bride gently rubbed my arm. “Time to get up.” A half-hour later, I put my feet on the floor and went through the ritual of “getting ready”. State parks in Florida, in a rare moment of sanity, decided the proper time to open to the public is 8:00 A.M. This meant we had time to gather our equipment, breakfast components, water tumblers packed with ice and leisurely drive about 20 minutes north to reach Colt Creek State Park precisely at — uhh — well, not too long after they opened the gate.

While Gini settled in to enjoy a good book in the car, I stomped along the edge of tall grass and small trees trying to find an opening into a swampy area. Yes, on purpose. The huge cypress trees thrust up from the green surface of the water and their thick branches allowed only a smattering of morning sun to filter through. It’s quiet in the swamp. After taking a few pictures we ambled along the park roads and found birds, bugs and blooms in profusion.

Breakfast by the lake. A walk through a thistle thicket proved to be a bug bonanza! Trees bordering open fields made great ambush perches for a variety of birds. White-tailed deer loafed along a road edge. A gopher tortoise can move surprisingly fast when it wants to! Shallow water was just deep enough for young alligators to submerge as I approached. A black racer (one of our most common snakes), true to its name, was across the path and gone before I could lift the camera.

Clearly, the inhabitants of the park had not seen the dire warnings of the weather experts.

Clearly, we were happy to have ignored the experts. Our motivation to enjoy what nature offers easily overcame our discomfort from heat and humidity.

Okay, it WAS nice to head home for lunch in a cool, air-conditioned car. Suspicions confirmed:  we’re human.

 

Chaos in the swamp. The cypress trees provide order and stability but everything else seems to grow in all directions with no plan whatsoever. The green covering over the water is an aquatic weed and offers shelter to myriad creatures.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Between the water of the swamp and the edge of the woods is a space where oak, pine and other tree species thrive. Among the detritus on the forest floor, a bright red mushroom asserts its presence.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The vertical, tear-drop pattern on the breast identifies this Red-shouldered Hawk as an immature bird. By this time next year, it will sport the horizontal rusty stripes of an adult.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A quick glance might result in thinking the bright red in the tree top is a Northern Cardinal instead of a Summer Tanager. This tanager’s mate, a subdued yellow-green color, flew overhead and he dutifully followed her into the forest.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In the middle of the road, a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) was probably trying to extract a bit of water from – whatever that glop might be. (Don’t want to know.)

Colt Creek State Park

 

More gloppy stuff in the road. This time, a gaggle of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) were having a party.

Colt Creek State Park

 

This industrious insect is working hard to clear the road of obstacles. Probably coyote scat. Aren’t you glad you asked? There are over 7,000 species of Dung Beetle (Fam. Geotrupidae) in the world (more if you count bureaucrats) and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It’s believed if they did not exist, we would soon be buried in excrement.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Off the beaten path, I wandered among a field of thistles. I was not alone.

One of my favorite butterflies, a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus), refused to come near so I resorted to a distant somewhat fuzzy image. Even blurry, it’s a beautiful bug!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes), one of the skippers, is frequently seen with a “short” tail as it’s a convenient place for predators to grab.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A loud hum and large profile is always a bit startling and at first it would be easy to think you’ve spotted a Hummingbird. But it’s actually the impressive Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Several Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) flitted past my head ignoring me as they sipped nectar from one blossom after another. These beauties have wingspans that can reach up to 7.5 inches (19 cm)!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The underside of this Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) appears green and may be immature, but if you can catch it with its wings spread you can readily see the yellow from which it gets its name.

Colt Creek State Park

 

An American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana), as you might suspect, is quick to sprout wings and fly away if you approach too closely.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Found in the southeastern United States and Bahamas, the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper  (Romalea microptera), is considered a pest in many parts of the country as they consume a very diverse assortment of plants. Their bright color warns predators they won’t like the taste and their body contains a toxin which will cause the consumer to throw up. But they ARE handsome!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Heat, humidity and enjoyment. Florida nature at its finest. Even if you don’t have our high temperatures and steamy air, we just know that nature has some wonderful things to show you when you have a little time.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Rejoicing In The Familiar

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a young man and his family began a journey that would return them to their native home. It had been over a thousand days and a thousand nights since they had last seen their homeland. Their excitement could not be contained and as they glimpsed the place they had missed so much, tears of joy welled in their eyes. Over the next few days and weeks, there was a lot of catching up to be done. Renewing acquaintances with the once familiar. Round door knobs, toilets with handles instead of overhead chains, pizza, blue sky, sandals, unreliable public transportation. It was good to be home!

Fast-forward several hundred years. Birders are weird. Some of us are quite content to enjoy the view from the kitchen window of regular visitors to our garden feeders and bird bath. Others of us prefer the challenge of the chase, spending the equivalent of a small nation’s gross national product each year to answer rare bird alerts from Antarctica to Zanzibar. The vast majority of us fit somewhere in between these two extremes. We do. As much as we enjoy watching “yard birds”, we love exploring and finding birds in interesting new places or seeing new species or ones we see infrequently. As for the chasing around the world thing, we’re not much for that lifestyle (i.e., we’re poor!).

No matter how far afield we go or what exotic species we may have just checked off our list, it’s always a sheer joy to see the birds with which we are most familiar. It’s comfortable. The eminent birder, ringer and blogger, Phil S., recently opined: “… it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch.” (If you haven’t visited Phil’s blog, well, why not?? Go here: Another Bird Blog. Do it now. I’ll wait.)

It’s that element of familiarity, with a known place populated with known species, that continually draws us to it as surely as steel to a magnet.  It gives us that “buzz” which Phil mentioned. We relish seeing a “wild” Mockingbird just as much as his suburban counterpart who nests in our yard. A bright red Cardinal and his piercing whistle are immediately recognized in the scrub oak tree we drove three hours to get to just as is the sight and call of the father of our neighborhood Cardinal family. Sure, we love finding new birds or migrants or rarities. A day spent with birds we know well, however, is just – comfortable.

Although too far away to be called our “patch”, we find ourselves regularly pulled in the direction of Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. (See, Additional Information below.) Consisting of nearly 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) and located on the eastern side of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County, this vast area consists primarily of dry prairie, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, pineland and scrub. The diversity of flora and fauna is truly incredible. Our latest trip there was like visiting the home of an old friend. We encountered familiar birds and animals within a familiar environment. And we rejoiced.

 

Some images.

 

A distinctive black mask identifies the Common Yellowthroat male while his mate is more subdued in color but still sports the yellow throat for which the species was named.

Common Yellowthroat - Male

Common Yellowthroat – Male

 

Common Yellowthroat - Female

Common Yellowthroat – Female

 

Florida’s state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. Here he looks rather “stately” as he keeps a wary eye on us until we leave his domain.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

Native Green Tree Frogs have had a tough time holding their own against the invading horde of Cuban Tree Frogs. Once very common, these small amphibians are now quite scarce. This one was either napping or praying we wouldn’t spot him. These little guys are typically from 1-2.5 inches (2.5-6.4 cm) long.

Green Tree Frog  (Hyla cinerea)

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

 

Narrowleaf sunflowers were on display just about everywhere that day.

Narrowleaf Sunflower  (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

 

This is not a good photograph, but I had never seen this insect before. It flew into the truck and landed for a moment on the ceiling. Turns out it’s a Katydid Wasp and it’s clutching, yep, a Katydid.

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

 

We drove past what I thought was a long green palmetto leaf but it didn’t look right. Turns out it was a Florida Rough Green Snake. I estimated its length at about 30 inches (76.2 cm). It didn’t move as I lay prone in the middle of the road a few feet away.  One of its defensive mechanisms is to “freeze”. Of course, this fellow forgot that technique works best for him in the green canopy of a tree, not on the stark white of a sand road!

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 

A native Florida Box Turtle is quite handsome despite some serious wear and tear to its outer shell.

Florida Box Turtle  (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

 

AS SEEN ON TELEVISION!! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. The highlight of the trip was Gini spotting this Dung Beetle rolling its package across the road. I have only seen this on television documentaries. Who knew Florida had Dung Beetles?? I found it fascinating the bug uses its rear legs to do the rolling while it walks on its forelegs. I couldn’t figure out if the two flies on the beetle’s back were drivers, supervisors or government contractors.

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Occasional patches of Pale Meadowbeauty certainly brightened the prairie!

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

A curious White-eyed Vireo alternately sang and gave his alarm call. Guess he couldn’t make up his mind whether we were friend or foe.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Shortleaf Rosegentian offered yet another color dimension to Nature’s incredible display.

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

A small butterfly, the Whirlabout, perches atop a slim stalk of Blazing Star.

Whirlabout - Male  (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

Whirlabout – Male (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

 

Even more purple. This Cloudless Sulphur apparently likes the nectar from a Mexican Petunia.

Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia  (Ruellia brittoniana)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana)

 

We even found dragons. A Carolina Saddlebags hangs on to a stalk of grass.

Carolina Saddlebags - Female  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags – Female (Tramea Carolina)

 

I was almost on top of this Killdeer before he moved slightly and I saw him. Amazing camouflage provided by the subtle plumage matched the surrounding rocks.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Obligatory alligator photograph. State law. Can’t be helped. Move along.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Butcher Bird. The Loggerhead Shrike feeds mainly on insects which she will impale on a thorn, branch or barb of fence wire. This makes it easier for them to eat. They have been known to cache several insects for later consumption.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

As we left the area, one more familiar face bade us farewell. The lovely countenance of the Black Vulture with those chocolate brown eyes. One could almost discern a tear forming in his eye as we drove into the sunset.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

 

 

Our day was full of familiar sights, sounds and experiences. We will return. Again and again. If, at the end of the day, you find your checklist has only the same old species with a mark beside it – rejoice! You have discovered the buzz of birding!

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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