Under My Lone Palm

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My Siesta View, St. Petersburg, Florida March 2020

Until I received clarification from the sheriff about the county-wide beach closure I avoided my beach for an entire week. Considering that the beach was the main reason I moved here and that I only live two blocks from it, it was quite a challenge.*

On the plus side, the rule forced me to explore some nearby areas that I had been ignoring. Thankfully, I discovered a sweet little spot on Boca Ciega Bay where I could hang my hammock and relax (while practicing safe social distancing). My view of the sky reminded me of a Jimmy Buffett song…

“From under my lone palm I can look out on the day,

Where no bird flies by my window,

No ship is tied to my tree…”

 

* Please note, I am not making light of COVID-19. And I sincerely hope that you and all your loved ones are well.

Watch What You Say to Squirrels

Since I’m avoiding humans (per social distancing guidelines) I’ve begun chatting with the local wildlife. Met a squirrel the other day, our conversation went something like this:

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Me: Hey, Squirrel. What’s up with you?

Squirrel: Nuthin’, just hanging out. I’m bored.

Me: There’s a lot of that going around. This stay at home stuff is driving people nuts.

Squirrel: Nuts?! You haf nuts? Gimme des nuts!

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Me (backing away slowly): No, no. Not edible nuts, it was a figure of speech…

Lesson learned. Hey, I didn’t promise it would be scintillating.

Limpkin Biopic

An afternoon at Walsingham County Park in Largo provided me with an interesting view into the life of a Limpkin (Aramus guarauna). As usual, I snapped pictures of things that caught my eye as I strolled around. It wasn’t until I returned home and did a bit of research that all the pieces slotted together.

There were empty shells of the non-native Channeled Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata) littering the edges of the pond. Since they measure in at roughly three inches and are colorful I had to risk the muck in order to photograph them. In a rare positive twist when dealing with invasive species, the native Limpkin loves to dine upon them.

Their preferred food source, the endemic Florida Apple Snail, is a bit smaller and in decline (for a wide variety of reasons). I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I caught one of their egg masses with my camera that day. Here’s hoping they all hatch and survive!

Later I was able to watch a Limpkin up close for few minutes. I was hoping to catch the snail-eating action but instead a jogger flushed my bird. I followed at a respectful distance and was rewarded with a view of shift-change at the nest. The newcomer (not sure it is possible to identify gender, no apparent sexual dimorphism that I could discern) settled in after making a few decorative changes to the foliage.

I plan to check back soon (if quarantine restrictions allow) and see if there are any hatchlings. I just never know what show nature will have in store for me!

 

Relaxing View

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Gulf of Mexico, Treasure Island, Florida March 2020

I don’t know about you but I’m happy to close the door on March. Here’s hoping that April is kinder to us all. Stay safe and healthy, my friends!

Note: While our beaches closed to the public ten days ago, they are allowing local residents access to the beach with one important caveat, we must stay on the wet sand. As a very nice officer explained to me, the ocean is not closed so anything that the water touches is fair game. Just as long as I observe social distancing rules.

Dappled Beauty

Last week, I was so busy looking up at the trees that I almost stepped on this striking Eastern Cornsnake (Pantherophis guttatus). Before I was even consciously aware that anything was in the trail, my brain forced my body to take two giant steps backwards.

I suppose my conditioned response was the result of growing up in the Sonoran Desert where my encounters with rattlesnakes far outnumbered my meetings with non-venomous serpents. Knock on wood, but I’ve never been bitten or even struck at, though that distinctive rattling sound kicks my heart rate up every time.

Sadly, this snake is often confused with the venomous Eastern Copperhead and killed. One of the traits that differentiates the two is the eyes. If you get close enough (or, may I suggest a zoom lens) look for round pupils versus the cat-like eyes of the copperhead.

By the way, guttatus is Latin for spotted or dappled. What an attractive snake!

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Colorful Eastern Cornsnake, Largo, Florida March 2020

Florida Forest Hare

While touring yet another new-to-me park I came across this dainty Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). There are two rabbit species found in Florida, the other being the smaller darker, Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) which, as the name implies, lives in wet areas and is a surprisingly good swimmer.

Confusingly, even though the Eastern Cottontail is a rabbit, the genus name is Latin for “forest hare”. While both rabbits and hares are in the order Lagomorpha there are significant differences between them. Hares are born with sight and fur (or hair, if it helps you remember) while rabbits are born blind and naked. Hares also tend to be larger (like the jackrabbits I grew up with in the Sonoran Desert).

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Pause for Paw Cleaning, Dunedin, Florida March 2020

Free Roaming Bovine

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Obviously, we all need something to smile about these days and if this story doesn’t moove you then I don’t know what will! Apparently this speedy and wily girl has been roaming the streets since late January and as far as I can tell, she’s still on the lam(b). Run, cow, run!

This story brought to mind a fun song I was introduced to years ago when Dana Lyons held a concert in Tucson. It was a catchy tune filled with puns so, of course, I loved it! Believe it or not, Cows with Guns actually charted in England back in the 90s.

 

More Than Pretty

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Bee Attracted to Pickerelweed Flower, Largo, Florida March 2020

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic plant, native to North America, that can be found from coast to coast, south to north, primarily in areas with quiet waters. Sources say it is supposed to flower in late summer (June through October) but these were already blooming. I know its been warm down here (in the mid 80s) but late March is nowhere near summer!

This is not just another pretty flower, it is also a good nectar provider for pollinators and their leaves offer shelter to small fish. On top of that, the nut-like seeds are edible as are the tender young leaves. Most sources recommend cooking the latter like greens* and serving them with butter. Because butter makes everything better, no?

*Greens, for those of you not knowin’ no better, is the southern term used for collard greens.

 

 

Social Distancing Fail

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I stumbled across these Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera) nymphs yesterday while wandering a local park. The adults measure about three inches long, making this one of the largest species of grasshopper in North America.

As for this horde, females lay hundreds of eggs in clusters in the soil. After hatching the nymphs huddle together as they are a desired food source for spiders, other insects, and birds (who have ravenous youngsters to feed this time of year).

Since the species is unable to fly (would be defying the laws of physics at their adult size) they have devised some creative mechanisms of self-defense: they dine on toxic vegetation which provides them a venom they can spit, they also hiss, and assume an attack position when threatened. Yeah, I’d leave them the heck alone!

As a result, the adults are very rarely predated upon. Excepting the Loggerhead Shrike, which is just a badass bird in every way – we should all be glad they aren’t any bigger than they are or we’d all be in trouble!

By the way, lubber derives from old English which means lazy or slow moving. They are fascinating creatures which have mastered some excellent techniques for survival. However, at social distancing? Epic. Fail.

 

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