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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
More gloppy stuff in the road. This time, a gaggle of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) were having a party.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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)!
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.
An American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana), as you might suspect, is quick to sprout wings and fly away if you approach too closely.
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!
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!