Posts Tagged With: variable dancer

Would You Prefer Your Woods Hydric Or Mesic? – Part Two

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Tall with bright purple flowers, Florida Ironweed (Vernonia blodgettii) is related to sunflowers.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

White-winged Dove are common throughout the area and are larger than their cousins, the Mourning Dove.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) is abundant in central Florida and the combination of purple and yellow blooms attracts all sorts of pollinators.

Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum)

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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!)

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

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!

 

Additional Information

Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Listen …

“Do you hear that?”

“What?”, Gini asked.

“Exactly!”

This may not be what Simon and Garfunkel had in mind when they composed one of my favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”, but I was certainly enjoying this particular melody. Standing in the middle of the road with eyes closed, there was no traffic noise, no wailing of emergency vehicle sirens, no incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog, no electric click as the air conditioner activated, no telephone ringing, no television talking head giving me bad news – no sound of “civilization” whatsoever.

Cicadas. The cry of a Red-shouldered Hawk. From my old Roger Tory Peterson “A Field Guide To The Birds”: “…a buzzy trill or rattle that climbs the scale and trips over at the top: zeeeeeeeee-up“, describing the song of a Northern Parula Warbler. The clear, pure sound etched in my dream world of childhood which even now causes my lips to reflexively purse and give a reply: “Bob-WHITE“.

Gini and I seem to have solidified our opinion that this is our newest favorite place. The Avon Park Air Force Range. Not a very appealing moniker. I don’t care what it’s named, this area of south-central Florida consists of 106,000 acres (42, 897 hectares) of wilderness to explore. We have been there three times and seldom encountered any other visitors. We have encountered lush growths of flowers, extensive pine forests, hardwood hammocks, a lake, a river, wetlands, vast grass prairies, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and rare endangered species. (If you plan to visit, check the link below and be sure to call the number listed FIRST for a recorded message on possible range closures. The area is only open to visitors Thursday at noon through Monday.)

Although we have entered the wet season here and have had periods of heavy rain, the couple of weeks prior to our visit were dry and made for dusty driving on the unimproved roads. By the way, be sure to get a map of the area from the very kind folks at the Outdoor Recreation Office (where you must check in anyway), and when the little map symbol indicates “Four-Wheel Drive Recommended”, change that last word to “Or Else”. There are some “challenging” driving opportunities! The recent rains produced a bumper crop of flora for us to enjoy.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride as we show you a very small bit of what this vast area has to offer.

 

This native Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) has quite a “rusty” plumage. My understanding is this is due to feeding in iron-rich soils. Normally, the bird is more gray overall.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas but were first reported in Florida as early as the late 1880’s. There has been concern they may be causing declines of the native Green Anole.

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

 

Male Eastern Pondhawks are powdery blue when mature and adult females are jade green. Immature males of this species begin adult life the same color as females and in about a week begin changing to blue. The process takes two-three weeks and those in transition sport both colors.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk - Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Along the southern boundary of the Air Force Range is beautiful Lake Arbuckle. There is little development around the lake and the fishing is reportedly quite good.

Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle

 

The Largeflower Primrosewillow is abundant in wet areas.

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

 

Patches of Yellow Milkwort brightened up several areas of the forest and roadside. Also known by locals as Batchelor’s Buttons, this beauty is endemic to Florida.

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

 

Bugs beware! The attractive Hooded Pitcher Plant is the final resting place for many insects as they become trapped in the plant and are digested.

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

 

The Cloudless Sulphur does a pretty good imitation of a leaf as it collects nectar from a Buttonbush bloom.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

 

Small white flowers extend above the fairly large pointed leaves of a Grassy Arrowhead plant found in very wet places.

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

 

Even more color variety is provided by the Largeflower Rosegentian. We came across large sections covered in these delicate pink blooms.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers left cattle they had brought from Europe in several areas of Florida. These hardy animals became wild, flourished and were eventually raised by Florida’s cowboys, called “Crackers” due to the cracking sound made by their long whips used to herd the cattle. This unique species is known as “Cracker” or “Florida” Cattle.

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

A Great Crested Flycatcher was not happy with our presence since he and the Missus were building a nest nearby.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

The Florida Scrub Jay has been endangered for several years due to habitat loss throughout its former range. Scientists have kept close watch over the jay families calling the Air Force Range their home and these birds have been doing quite well. (All the Scrub Jays here have been banded (ringed) and are routinely examined for health status.)

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

 

A Pale Meadowbeauty doesn’t seem all that pale as the bright purple and yellow was obvious from a great distance.

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Black-eyed Susans seemed to be alongside almost every road in some places. Which was just fine with us!

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

This petite damselfly is a Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) and has several different geographically specific variations. Our Florida version has an all black abdomen (except for the tip) and is also called a “Black Dancer”.

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

The leaflets of the Sensitive Brier will actually fold up toward each other when disturbed to expose the stem’s briers. The flower is kinda pretty, too!

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

 

In the late spring and early summer, the plains of central and south Florida exude a perfume no chemist can duplicate. The blooming Saw Palmetto produces a subtly sweet fragrance that, thankfully, can only be experienced if you are outside in the fresh air.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

 

Diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches breed in this area. You know they’re around when the tops of pine trees sound like a convention of “rubber duckies” as that’s what their squeaky calls sound like. These are pugnacious little birds and will challenge anything intruding on their territory.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

 

In addition to a variety of birds, the pine scrub habitat is attractive to all manner of animal life, including white-tailed deer, wild (feral) hogs, both Eastern Gray and endangered Sherman’s Fox Squirrels, bobcat, bear, fox and occasional birders.

Pine Scrub

Pine Scrub

 

Fittingly, as we were leaving the area for the day, a pair of Northern Bobwhite crossed the road in front of us, hopefully on their way to produce more of this handsome species.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

As we pulled onto the main highway, it was good to be heading home to rest in our familiar, “civilized” surroundings. We shall be returning soon, though, to once again experience a very special place where we know we can listen to our own “Sound of Silence”.

 

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

 

Additional Resources

Avon Park Air Force Range

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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