Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” – Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Posted in Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

From The Back Yard To The Back Of Beyond

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries. —A.A. Milne

 

Since my recent discovery of digital photography, I have been a bit reckless in the number of images produced during a typical outing. Then came the revelation that my camera has a magic setting, which, when selected, allows me to simply depress a shiny little button to take hundreds of images in less than a second! Well, maybe it’s only nine or ten images, but let’s not get too technical. The result of all this magnificent science is a “virtual” cardboard box full of photographs which no one is ever likely to see, government agencies and the 12-year old hacker down the street notwithstanding.

I planned to be diligent in deleting images of less than perfect quality, but that strategy would leave me with no images at all. Clearly, there needs to be a middle ground. Accordingly, “spring cleaning” of photograph folders buried deep within my computer’s closet resulted in tens of thousands of images being sent to their final resting place in image heaven. (There seems to be a trend developing in this post whereby data is apparently exaggerated. Suffice it to say, I got rid of a bunch of dark, out of focus, uninteresting and just plain lousy pictures! It felt good to “lighten the load”!)

However, there were still photos I didn’t want to let go. I liked them. For whatever reason, they were never used in a blog post. Until now. The pictures below were all taken within the past three months or so and range from back yard butterflies to a deep swamp Barred Owl. A few bugs may have crawled in amongst the photos in the box as well.

Herewith are the results of my first ever “photographic spring cleaning of images left in the computer after the others were either already used or tossed out” extravaganza. In no particular sense of order whatsoever.

 

In my humble opinion, the Zebra Swallowtail is one of the most attractive butterflies I’ve ever seen.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

 

When we first spotted this male Wild Turkey (“gobbler”), he was holding court with three hens. The hens ducked under the fence as soon as they spotted me but the “Tom” remained behind to ensure I was no threat to his harem.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

The only Anole lizard native to the United States is the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis).  They average 5-8 inches (12.7-20.3 cm) in length and can change coloration to greenish-brown or dark brown (they are no relation to the Chameleon, however). In the past several years, Florida has seen several non-native Anoles, especially the Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei), spread throughout the state and there is some evidence they may be displacing the native Green Anole. Hope not.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

These are most likely eggs of a Softshell Turtle. The female turtle excavates a burrow and lays up to as many as two dozen eggs then covers the burrow to incubate the eggs. From this point, the eggs (and eventually baby turtles) are on their own. They face a dizzying array of threats. This nest was likely discovered by a Raccoon and we found no viable eggs remaining. (In the same area, we observed six female Softshell Turtles in the process of laying eggs, so Nature provides for the species.)

Turtle Eggs

Turtle Eggs

 

An Eastern Towhee prefers the very top of a bush or tree to keep a look out for threats or potential mates. Most Florida species have a light-colored eye whereas those further north have reddish eyes.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

 

The small and very fast Viola’s Wood-Satyr is not all that common and there is apparently a question if it and the similar Little Wood-Satyr are the same species. In spite of this buggy brouhaha, I think it’s pretty.

Viola's Wood-Satyr (Megisto viola)

Viola’s Wood-Satyr (Megisto viola)

 

Our area usually enjoys an influx of wintering Pied-billed Grebes, but only a few remain during summer and breed here. I was happy to find one recently sporting breeding plumage instead of the drab winter colors normally encountered. Now, if I can just locate those babies…..

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

I don’t know what kind of prey this Eastern Bluebird has, but I counted 15 times that the bird slammed it onto the top of that fence post. Suitably tenderized, he swallowed the morsel in one gulp.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

After attempting to follow the fast, zig-zag flight of this bright butterfly through the camera, I had to sit down due to dizziness. I wanted to find the genius who named it “Sleepy Orange” and throttle him/her! Then I discovered it was so named due to the upper wing pattern resembling a closed eye. I couldn’t see that, either.

Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

 

While I was preparing morning coffee recently, a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers appeared outside the kitchen window. Although both were about the same size, it was apparent one was a juvenile male and I watched as the adult male drilled into our oak tree and found many worms/grubs for Junior to enjoy.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

 

After examining a Leaf-footed Bug, I decided that science fiction animators/film makers must employ entomologists to give them ideas on how alien life might appear.

Leaf-footed Bug (Acanthocephala sp.)

Leaf-footed Bug (Acanthocephala sp.)

 

Gini and I found a very young Red-shouldered Hawk last week who wouldn’t stop screeching. Not too far away, we heard one of his parents calling back, probably trying to encourage the youngster to fly home. He would climb up and down the tree limb but didn’t attempt to become airborne while we were watching. His extended crop indicates he just ate well.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

 

This attractive small butterfly is a Cassius Blue. The blue/violet is visible on the upper wings, which, of course, is seldom displayed. I’ll keep trying!

Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius)

Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius)

 

Walking down a sandy path in a deep woods adjacent to a wetland, I was startled by a White-tailed Deer springing across the path. It happened too fast to get a picture. I bent down to examine the foot prints she left. As I stood up, I looked into the deep, dark eyes of a Barred Owl. I’m sure she was amused by how I jumped when the deer bolted in front of me.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

 

 

So, spring cleaning of the computer’s closet yielded a few images I thought I’d share. Please, whatever you do, don’t tell Gini I engaged in spring cleaning!! Going into the garage is a frightening thought …..

 

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

 

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

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