Posts Tagged With: eastern lubber grasshopper

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

Preserving Beauty

I am an awful person. It’s true. Perhaps, since I recognize the fact, there is hope for my eternal soul. When I visit my local birding “patch” or a wildlife preserve or city/state/national park, I thoroughly enjoy the experience for the benefits such places provide – for “ME“. I seldom give a thought to the monumental efforts it took to plan these venues, acquire the space and administer the parks, all just so I can have a good day.

Today, I thank a couple of folks I never met. Mary Ann and Ed. Holloway. These generous residents of Lakeland, Florida, USA, set up a foundation in 2010 to preserve in perpetuity (I love that word) 330 acres of land which was once used to extract phosphate from the ground. Over the years since mining operations ceased, this land now called Holloway Park has transformed into an oasis of natural beauty on the edge of a bustling city with over 100,000 inhabitants. As you exit your vehicle and gaze to the north, you think of two words: “urban sprawl”. From the south side of the park one can see commuters bustling along the toll road on their way to work. Entering from the east you travel through the heart of the city’s industrial base. Standing on a “hill” (left over from the days of mining) there is a magnificent vista to the west of two warehouse-type shopping centers with endless rows of parked cars.

However, once you wander a few yards from the parking area just at dawn, you become wrapped in a cocoon of tall trees, wildflowers, fluttering insects, singing birds, adrenaline-pumping bobcat tracks on the trail, the scream of a Bald Eagle from its nest in that tall pine — how did it get to be noon so soon?

On a recent morning at the park, we observed 33 species of birds. Not too bad for an urban location during one of the state’s hottest weeks on record. We found a few juvenile birds, lots of colorful butterflies, dragonflies, a honey bee nest, watched a Red-shouldered Hawk feed its offspring, marveled at the insect catching prowess of an adult Loggerhead Shrike, chuckled at the learning pains of an immature Shrike (more on that in a minute) and sat back to just plain enjoy a show put on by Eastern Meadowlarks all dressed in their bright yellow-and-black vests.

Here are a few images from our day to give you an idea what beautiful residents we found.

 

A Tricolored Heron is a patient hunter. Just after I took his portrait, he stabbed at the water and flew away with a small fish. It all happened too fast for me to react with the camera!

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

The Downy is North America’s smallest woodpecker. This male was unperturbed by my presence as he probed around and around several small trees. He found what he was looking for and proceeded to gorge on his buggy breakfast.

Downy Woodpecker - Male

Downy Woodpecker – Male

 

Blue Jays harassed this young Red-bellied Woodpecker and he was continually looking up to try and thwart their attacks. Mom and Dad showed up and drove the blue bullies away.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Juvenile)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Juvenile)

 

Immature Northern Mockingbirds don’t yet have the “neat” appearance of the adults and sport lots of speckles on their breast. They do, however, have that ‘mocker attitude and don’t seem to be afraid of anything.

Northern Mockingbird (Immature)

Northern Mockingbird (Immature)

 

Mushrooms. Fungi. Nothing further to tell. I like ’em.

Mushroom

Mushroom

Mushroom

Mushroom

 

The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper is an imposing insect. Adults reach lengths up to three inches (8 cm). Their bright coloration is a warning to predators that their bodies contain a toxin which can cause sickness or death. Good thing, too (for the Lubber), since this big ‘hopper can’t fly.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

 

This very small critter is the nymph of the American Grasshopper (also called American Bird Grasshopper). At this stage, it can be bright green, brown or yellow. Coloration may be dependent upon what it’s eating, population density of its species and/or pollution levels.

American Grasshopper Nymph (Schistocerca americana)

American Grasshopper Nymph (Schistocerca Americana)

 

One of my favorite moths is the Bella. I like it because it’s one of the few moths out and about in daylight. And it’s kinda pretty.

Bella Moth  (Utetheisa ornatrix))

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix))

 

The Spicebush Swallowtail is one of Florida’s five “black” Swallowtail species. I love that touch of “powder blue” on this big butterfly.

Spicebush Swallowtail  (Papilio troilus)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio Troilus)

 

Bright orange fluttering along the path brings attention to the Gulf Fritillary. His close relative, the Variegated Fritillary isn’t as bright but that complex design is certainly just as attractive.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla)

 

Variegated Fritillary  (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta Claudia)

 

Florida’s state butterfly, the Zebra (Heliconian), is always a show-stopper.

Zebra (Heliconian) - (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra (Heliconian) – (Heliconius charitonius)

 

Not as big as the above specimens, the diminutive Sleepy Orange is still beautiful as it flits among the low-growing vegetation.

Sleepy Orange  (Abaeis nicippe)

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

 

Horace’s Duskywing may not be as colorful as many butterflies, but the subtle markings have a beauty all their own. Many of these skipper butterflies are named for Roman poets, as is this one.

Horace's Duskywing  (Erynnis horatius)

Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)

 

Tiger racing stripes, powder blue paint, aggressive speedster. No, not a racing car. A dragon. The Blue Dasher.

Blue Dasher  (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

Needham’s Skimmer can vary from a dull brown seen in immature and female dragons to the male’s bright orange. This species is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer.

Needham's Skimmer   (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

It’s hard to miss the neon lavender of the adult Roseate Skimmer. Females and immature males are much more subdued in coloration.

Roseate Skimmer - Immature  (Orthemis ferruginea)

Roseate Skimmer – Immature (Orthemis ferruginea)

Roseate Skimmer - Male(Orthemis ferruginea)

Roseate Skimmer – Male(Orthemis ferruginea)

 

One of the largest skimmers in the country, the Great Blue Skimmer likes to hang around forest ponds and streams to ambush unsuspecting prey. This is a female. The male is overall blue.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

We watched this young Loggerhead Shrike attempt to impale a caterpillar onto a fence barb just like he saw Dad do it. He tried just laying the caterpillar on the barb, then tried to drag it across the point and almost got it right when he dragged it over the barb and then pulled upward to impale his dinner. Unfortunately, by then the caterpillar was a little too “tenderized”, broke in half and fell to the ground. Sigh. Dad makes it look so easy.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

 

We had a wonderful morning at Holloway Park. One of the neat things (here I go being selfish again) is that this place hasn’t yet been “discovered” and each time we’ve visited have only seen one other human visitor. The next time you’re in your favorite park, stop and give a bit of thanks that someone had enough vision to set aside such a place of beauty – just for YOU!

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

 

 

Additional Information

Holloway Park

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

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