Hot, Sweet Summer

The Sunshine State. It was meant to be a marketing slogan. A lure for those who too recently tried to wrestle a breath of air from the icy atmosphere as they heaved one more shovelful of dirty brown snow to the side of the driveway. It worked. Snowbirds flocked to the warm-all-year peninsula and many never took flight northward again.

When Gini The Eternally Beautiful agreed to be my bride oh so many years ago which seems like only yesterday, we travelled from our perpetually warm cocoon to “upstate” New York where I attended Syracuse University. We soon realized “upstate” was a euphemism for “anywhere other than New York City” with a secret secondary definition of “always cold and wet except for three days in August”. That poor girl. Her only footwear consisted of sneakers and flip-flops. After all, we arrived in town during late March and it was 90F when we left Florida. Snow. It was snowing as we were apartment hunting. I stopped at a Sears and Roebuck and found some outlandish fur-lined boots for her feet which were meant to run unadorned in the damp sand of the beach instead of sludging through half-melted ice.

We survived. The ensuing years took us to many different environments around the country and around the world. We continued to survive. We are better for the experience. But, as Dorothy observed, there’s no place like home.

It’s July. Near midnight, as I open the back door, a wall of hot, humid air engulfs my entire body. It almost takes extra physical effort to step outside, the atmosphere is so thick. Crickets. Music of the summer night accompanied by the monotone buzz of the cicada. Earlier, I had turned on the porch light in the hope of attracting moths to the yard. I was amply rewarded.

Recent birding efforts have concentrated on wrapping up a five year project attempting to catalogue species of breeding birds in Florida. This project will be compared with the previous breeding bird atlas conducted in 1986. Scientists will be able to access the data and hopefully provide ideas for future management of human development to better protect our bird population.

We have not been able to do much exploring for the past few months for several reasons and this blog has been on an unscheduled hiatus. My apologies for our absence. Following are a few images from our forays into the local area trying to find breeding bird evidence, backyard images of night creatures and some miscellaneous encounters along the way.

 

While surveying a very densely wooded section of swamp, we were somewhat surprised to find a Snail Kite. These endangered raptors are normally associated with more open areas, typically a lake or river shoreline, where they hover over vegetation as they hunt for apple snails. We observed a very large number of snail shells in the shallow water so this bird knew where to look.

20160701 BBA Polk County 00024

 

Cone Road

Snail Kite

 

Barred Owls are fairly common in our area and prefer the swamps and adjacent woods. Their prey consists of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. It’s not unusual to find them active during daylight hours and this one was preening on a branch well after sunrise.

Colt Creek State Park

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Colt Creek State Park

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

 

 

Not far from the above owl were a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks in a pine forest. The adults have a distinctive horizontal reddish/orange banding on their chest whereas immature birds display a vertical pattern of heart-shaped feathers.

Colt Creek State Park

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

A stagnant pond is a favorite hunting spot for the Green Heron.

Lake Parker Park

Green Heron

 

Travelling through a swampy area provides many opportunities for wildlife spotting. I think this is a Striped Mud Turtle. Total length was about six to eight inches. Any correction would be very much appreciated.

Cone Road

Striped Mud Turtle Kinosternon baurii)

 

Summer brings out the bugs. Such as this Slaty Skimmer, one of our larger dragonflies. It can be distinguished from the Great Blue Skimmer by its dark face. (The Great Blue has a white face.)

Moore Road

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incest)

 

A Gulf Fritillary is a common sight here. It’s bright orange above and has large silver spots underneath making quite a contrast of beauty.

Colt Creek State Park

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

One of the most common skippers in Florida is Horace’s Duskywing. This one is feeding on Loosestrife.

Carlton Road

Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) on Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum)

 

During our hot summer nights, a light can attract an amazing variety of life forms. I think this is an Indo-Pacific Gecko (mostly based on the saw-tooth appearance of the edge of the tail). Again, if anyone has a correction, please let me know. I think the only gecko native to Florida is a Reef Gecko and it’s limited to the extreme southern part of the state, mostly in Key West. Non-natives have been arriving for several years, likely hidden in landscape plants from Asia.

Yard

Indo-Pacific Gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii)

 

Another non-native invader, the Cuban Tree Frog, has been displacing native Florida tree frogs for many years. They can be a challenge to identify at times, but generally, if you find a tree frog over 2.5 inches long, it will likely be a non-native. Also, they will normally be covered in bumps or “warts”.

Yard

Cuban Tree Frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

 

The Banded Sphinx Moth is pretty striking with its geometric design and impressive with its three to four inch wingspan.

Yard

Banded Sphinx (Eumorpha fasciata)

 

Even larger, with a wingspan over six inches, the Polyphemus Moth is named for the cyclops of Greek mythology.

Yard

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea Polyphemus)

Yard

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

 

Smaller than the two giants above, the Southern Emerald makes up for size with color and grace. Who knew moths were so colorful? 

Yard

Southern Emerald Moth (Synchlora frondaria)

 

Providing tonight’s summertime lullaby is the Olympic Cicada.  Enjoy.  (Song:  http://ifasgallery.ifas.ufl.edu/entnem/walker/buzz/797sl.wav)

Yard

Olympic Cicada (Diceroprocta olympusa)

 

Yep, it’s summer in Florida. Heat. Humidity. Daily thunderstorms. Ferocious lightning strikes. In a word:  GLORIOUS!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Downtown

“You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares –

So go downtown” (Tony Hatch, sung by Petula Clark)

 

In America, we enjoy two types of migration each year. Birds travel thousands of miles south to escape severe winters which they could not survive. Here in Florida, we have an opportunity to observe birds we would not otherwise be able to see without traveling to their breeding areas. Most migrants fly to Central and South America for the winter but a few remain in our area all winter.

The second type of migration involves what have become endearingly known as “snow birds”. Although they do not sport feathers and may not face actual extinction if they remained in their northerly abodes, we welcome them each year just as warmly as we do our avian guests. Some have even evolved over time and adapted to our summer heat and humidity and have not returned to their ancestral breeding territory. I have not been able to locate a decent field guide for identifying individual snow birds and must rely on attempting to catch them in their traveling apparatuses which are conveniently marked with their geographic origin.

Winter visitors as well as year ’round residents enjoy our downtown area. It offers unique architecture, diverse dining, an open market, art venues, parks and lakes. The officials of our fair city, in their infinite wisdom and never-ending search for methods to lure folks to local businesses, have purchased exotic waterfowl over the years to populate a couple of downtown lakes. Because Florida doesn’t have enough attractive native waterfowl of its own for folks to enjoy dont’cha know. Sigh.

Most bodies of water will encourage a variety of wildlife to visit, even if the lake is located in a bustling city’s downtown business district. And once the critters discover the two-legged animals are quick and generous with tossing them stale bread and bits of hamburger bun, well, that’s a hard thing to keep secret in the animal world! As a result, our downtown lakes are usually very active with waterfowl of all types. In the winter, several hundred ducks enjoy the shallow water, warm weather, the company of other birds and the aforementioned abundance of free food. It also doesn’t hurt that the city keeps the lakes cleared of alligators and other would-be predators.

This past winter, we had a couple of visitors which, although not rare, are not seen every year. The diminutive Bufflehead can look quite small next to a resident Mute Swan, but three females evidently felt secure all winter. The much larger Redhead quickly learned successful panhandling techniques and also remained with us all season. The usual large numbers of Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks were represented and most have now departed northward to make more ducks.

Our snow bird population has also diminished but we know they, too, will return come fall. Snow to shovel and ice to scrape – or a bit of sun and moisturizing humidity? No contest.

 

The Redhead surely is one of the most handsome ducks I’ve ever seen. In the right light, it’s easy to see how it came by its name.

Lake Morton

Redhead

Lake Morton

Redhead

 

I still have not been able to produce a decent photograph of a male Bufflehead, but the ladies are quite beautiful and I was happy to see them.

Lake Morton

Bufflehead

Lake Morton

Bufflehead

 

You can be forgiven for calling the Ring-necked Duck a Ring-billed Duck (as I have done) because the ring around its neck is not nearly as obvious as the one around the bill.

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck

Lake Morton

Ring-necked Duck-Female

 

A stiff, fan-shaped tail makes it easy to identify the small Ruddy Duck. Soon the males’ bodies will turn deep chestnut and their bills bright blue as they change to breeding plumage.

Lake Morton

Ruddy Duck

Lake Morton

Ruddy Duck

 

Our locally abundant White Pelicans like to roost along the walls around the lake. In the background, a Mute Swan looks longingly at the pelicans, wishing she could be as lovely.

Lake Morton

American White Pelican

 

 

Now that Spring is here, we’re trying to run around and locate migrating warblers, returning Swallow-tailed Kites, nesting Crested Caracara and such things. But we know that when the snow birds begin to fill the hotels again in November, it will be time to make another trip -downtown.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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