Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Not a R.O.U.S.

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Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida July 2020

This Hispid Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus) was so intently feasting on greens that I was able to get a few good shots.

Measuring about 10 inches long (with tail) this is an average-sized member of the vast rodent family. My fellow Princess Bride enthusiasts will understand the title of this post. For those of you who haven’t seen (and memorized) the movie, I suggest you do so forthwith!

I’ll leave you with this PSA:

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Eat your veggies. They’re good for you!

 

Tender Terrapin

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Turtle Snout, Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida June 2020

I recently spotted this distinctive snorkel-shaped snout poking out of duckweed on a freshwater pond. A quick internet search pointed me to a Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox). The species name derives from Greek and means tender, in reference to the leathery carapace.

I would’ve liked to have seen the rest of its body but it used the age-old strategy of freezing in place and outwaited me. Yeah, for those of you who know me I’m sure this comes as no surprise, patience is a virtue. It’s just not one of mine.

Bird for the Win!

This scene was quieter than I would have expected but the dancing and flashing of the Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) certainly caught my attention. The coiled up object near the center of the frame is a snake.

Based on the brief glimpse I caught of it quickly slithering away later, I am guessing the bird was harassing a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).

In case anyone is keeping score: Thrasher 1, Racer 0. And yes, I know, I need to work on my videography skills!

Lacking Red Eye

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Eastern Towhee, Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida June 2020

I was fortunate to watch this Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) for quite a bit of time the other day. The common name is onomatopoeic, based on one of the common calls. The species name is Greek for red eye (distinctive on birds that live in the northern part of the east coast but lacking on southern residents, like this one).

They spend most of their time on the ground, very busily shuffling through leaf litter looking for seeds and insects. This quick hopping and scratching behavior made it difficult to capture a decent photo. Many of them turned out like the one below.

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Minerals Matter

The peaceful afternoon I was sharing with an Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) was short-lived. A second butterfly swooped in and forced off the first one. Apparently, a good mud puddle is hard to find.

Puddling is usually practiced by the males of the species to gather sodium, minerals, and amino acids which are not found in nectar. They store these necessary supplements in their sperm and pass this nutritious bundle to the female during mating.

This, in turn, helps the female with egg production. So in essence, though the male has no contact with his offspring, he’s actually being a good dad.

My difficulty with this experience is, that as best I can determine, these butterflies are not males. I’m basing this on the white coloration of the two rows of spots as well as the iridescent blue scaling on the upper side of the hind wings, which are both female characteristics.

Then again, nature doesn’t have to follow the book, its not like these butterflies can read…

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Storm Damage

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Turtle Nest, Treasure Island, Florida June 2020

I took advantage of a break in the storm late yesterday morning to walk the beach. Though it was windy and the surf was up, I was happy to have the sand between my toes. I was surprised by the changes on my beach.

Typically, there’s about a football field of sand to cross before reaching the water. But that wasn’t the case, in most places there wasn’t any dry sand as the waves were touching the dunes.

Sadly, most of the sea turtle nests that were recorded here along the Florida Gulf Coast last month are washing away. Including the one here on my stretch of beach. I snapped this shot about an hour before high tide yesterday afternoon, so I fully expect it to be completely destroyed by now.

Though tropical storm Cristobal is making landfall over in Louisiana, the storm surge combined with the full moon exacerbated the coastal impact. In fact, I just learned there’s term for it; storm tide.

For your edification: A storm surge is an increase in water pushed onshore by the rotating winds associated with hurricanes and lesser systems. While a storm tide is the combination of a storm surge with an astronomical tide. These are the ones that can cause the most flood-related issues.

I admit, I am trepidatious about this hurricane season. Especially since NOAA is predicting an above normal one with an estimated 13-19 named storms. I take some comfort in knowing that the last major hurricane hit Tampa in 1920. Though there’s another way of looking at that, the area may be long overdue…

Tropical Storm and Hurricane Trajectories Since Recordkeeping Began in 1842, Courtesy of NOAA

Not WYSIWYG

The diversity in coloration and even facial markings of Blue Jays is quite remarkable. There aren’t any plumage or size differences between the sexes, nor do they dress up for breeding season like other species. But each individual is slightly unique. I suppose as a communal bird that helps them tell each other apart?

As you may already know, their feathers are not actually blue. The blue we see is the result of light refracting through special structures on the feather barbs. The intensity of the blue is controlled by the amount of melanin, which is actually a brown pigment.

Apparently, Nature does not adhere to the What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) principle.

 

Rodent Reflection

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Close-up, Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida June 2020

This Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) decided its best course of action was to pretend to be a statue, “Nothing to see here, folks, I’m just a branch!”

If you look closely you can see my silhouette in its eye. Now don’t fret, my zoom lens afforded me that opportunity while I still maintained proper social distancing. I didn’t linger long before slowly backing away and allowing the squirrel to resume its busy lifestyle.

Look Out Mice!

Remember the poor beleaguered owlet that was taught a very powerful lesson about the daytime pecking order? Well, I was fortunate last week to stumble across the whole family.

Since the daytime temps and the humidity have been rising I’ve adopted a more crepuscular lifestyle; on the beach before noon, back to my house for lunch, then some sort of outdoor activity in the two hours before dusk.

The benefit to a nature stroll at that time of day is that wildlife viewing opportunities double: the diurnal animals are making the best of the remaining daylight before going home to rest, while the nocturnal ones are emerging and preparing for their night.

From right to left: I first located and spent time admiring one of the parents. I can’t be 100% positive but it seemed like the smaller of the two parents, so I’m going to call him Dad. Several soft chirps let me know there were other owls nearby. Then I spotted an owlet alone on a limb in the next tree over. Dad spooked when people walked by and I followed him to the top of a nearby pine where he settled next to another owlet. As I returned to the trail, I found Mom in a tree near the first owlet. Unlike the other day, this time the parents were keeping a good eye on their babies.

All I can say is, look out mice!