Hydric: Of an environment or habitat containing plenty of moisture; very wet.
Mesic: Of an environment or habitat containing a moderate amount of moisture.
So, as we explored the vast Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, which in the brochure describes the ecology as a mix of hydric and mesic pine flatwoods, it was challenging to find any area to hike too far without being at least ankle deep in water. To be fair, the area has received a lot of rain recently. The strict definitions above became blurred, to say the least.
A lunch of cold chicken beside a lake surrounded by pine trees, dragonflies hovering above the shoreline, Osprey and Bald Eagles crash-diving into the water for lunch of their own, flowers blooming in every direction – all that and the immeasurable bonus of sharing it with someone I love more than the air I breathe. Life is good.
It was tempting to head home after lunch in order to get ahead of the traffic we would invariably face as folks left work. Tough decision.
We were seeing some flowers we couldn’t identify and I was trying to figure out a way to get images of dragonflies without having to wade into waist-deep water inhabited by Florida’s representatives of the Chamber of Commerce. The ‘gators here are very healthy looking. Ahead of us, a Northern Bobwhite family rushed across the road. Typically, these skittish quail would keep going until they felt safe in the underbrush. However, as we pulled even with the spot they crossed, they were all still there! We spent the next half-hour being thoroughly entertained by this large (14!) family of birds as they clucked and cooed, chased bugs, jostled each other for a shady log, took dust baths and generally behaved like wild birds.
With all the slash pines here, the habitat is perfect for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. They used to number in the tens of thousands in the southeastern United States. Then, lumbering. A staggering and rapid loss of habitat nearly decimated their population. Finally, more intelligent management practices of timberland combined with some innovative wildlife biologists helped the species recover somewhat. We were quite fortunate to see a half-dozen adults flying to nest cavities with food for hungry youngsters. It bodes well for the future.
Late afternoon. Staggering heat and humidity. Insects galore – the type which want you to donate blood. All of it is part of the experience which is made worthwhile by glimpsing a rare woodpecker or nodding flower we’ve never seen before or the glistening golden wings of the smallest dragonfly on the continent.
The drive home was relaxing, since we had remained so long that by now all the people with jobs were already home having dinner. Oh, and that 85% chance of thunderstorms mentioned in the last post? Never materialized.
If you would care to review them, we included a few images of our afternoon adventure.
The Northern Bobwhite family was amazing! The first image is a male which dug a depression in the sand, nestled down and used his feet to throw up sand all over his feathers. The second shot shows a few youngsters trying to find the shadiest spot and the last pic is a young male who claimed that log as his.
Tall with bright purple flowers, Florida Ironweed (Vernonia blodgettii) is related to sunflowers.
White-winged Dove are common throughout the area and are larger than their cousins, the Mourning Dove.
Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) is abundant in central Florida and the combination of purple and yellow blooms attracts all sorts of pollinators.
Two small “hairs” on the hindwing give the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) part of its name. This small butterfly is the most common of the hairstreaks in North America.
The smallest dove in our area is the Common Ground-Dove. They have a very monotonous call, a single “coo-coo-coo” which prompts some of us to wish they had an on/off switch.
One of our more colorful dragons is Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). An immature male will initially look similar to a female, mostly brown/light orange. This young male is turning bright orange and will eventually be almost all red.
Baldwin’s Milkwort (Polygala balduinii) is one of only a few white milkworts found in Florida and was a new species for us. It’s scientific name comes from the Greek polys, meaning “many”, and gala, meaning “milk”. It was once thought the presence of milkworts in pastures would increase milk production in cows.
One of our most plentiful dragonflies is the Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida). They are fast fliers and like to perch on taller weed tips or bare twigs.
Over 160 oils within the species likely contribute to the aroma of the Rosy Camphorweed (Pluchea baccharis). Anecdotally, a tea made from the plant has some health benefits. (Do NOT try this at home!)
The Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) is always a joy to spot in the field! It’s orange color and black wing marks make it readily identifiable. This mating pair didn’t really care that I was documenting their union.
Endemic to Florida, the Pine-Hyacinth (Clematis baldwinii) bloom begins as pale pink/white, turns deeper lavender and ends, as the one we found, white at the end of the season.
The smallest dragonfly in North America, the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) is often mistaken for a wasp. That’s not a mistake, it’s by natural design to help ward off potential predators. Golden wings shining in the late afternoon sun got my attention and this male posed for about a millisecond before flitting across the lake.
Although I couldn’t manage a good photograph, I so seldom capture a damselfly I thought I’d share it anyway. The Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) is one of the most widespread damsels in the country and can be quite, well, “variable” in appearance depending on location.
We had a long day. We’re tired. We’re happy. It just doesn’t matter if your woods are hydric, mesic or something altogether different. Visit them. Often.
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!