Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Moth Eater

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Male Northern Parula, Little Manatee River State Park, Wimauma, Florida July 2020

If you ever come across a tall, blonde woman holding a camera, looking up into a tree and muttering, “Hold still, for just one second, please.” feel free to say hello, because it’s probably me.

Not only was this Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) a tiny target, measuring just under 5 inches, but he was an extremely busy one! Hopping from branch to branch and at times even doing quick loop-de-loops in the air while in search of insects for lunch.

Males sport a chestnut breast band during the summer though the rest of the year they’re less colorful and more closely resemble females. The genus name is Ancient Greek and means moth eater, but it appears that caterpillars and spiders actually make up a larger part of their diet.

Active Aerator

I am still weirdly fascinated by these armored mammals. This evening at the park I had my first close encounter with a Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) since moving to Florida.

It was a similar interaction to one I had in Texas last summer. In both instances the animals were entirely too focused on foraging to even notice me. They are known for having poor eyesight, relying instead on their keen sense of smell. This one stood up to have a “sniff” around before returning to digging. Speaking of which, note the length of those claws on the forelimbs.

Based on the diminutive size of this one, it’s safe to say it was a juvenile. It certainly was energetic in its search for food! I am particularly taken with the almost floral pattern on this one’s forehead.

First noted in the state in the 1920s, armadillos are now considered naturalized here (and other parts of the south).

Speed Demon

Sadly, my photos don’t do this handsome male Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus) justice. In my defense, he definitely lived up to his name! I followed him along the trail at Little Manatee State Park for about ten minutes before he finally paused long enough for me to snap a few photos.

To be honest, it seemed that we were equally curious about each other. I think he stopped to look at me – probably wondering what the heck I was doing out there in the middle of a hot, humid afternoon. I’m pretty sure he’s giving me the side-eye in that second photo!

Turns out racerunners are exceptional, unlike other species that take shelter during the hottest part of the day, this is their preferred time for activity. I suppose there is a lot less competition and even less chance of predation if everyone else is sweltering in place.

Redhead

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Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida July 2020

Talk about showy! It is easy to see how this large shrub earned a couple of its common names. The orange-red flowers of Firebush or Redhead (Hamelia patens) are clearly spectacular.

Native to the American subtropics (including Florida), it blooms for months at a time, making it quite popular with pollinators. I also learned that the red-black berries are edible, though not on the sweet side. I’ll be looking for some to try next time.

Turtle-y Awesome!

I was fortunate during the beach cleanup yesterday morning to come across this  nesting Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta). Earlier, on my way up the beach, I was pleased to note that two new nests had been staked out, but I didn’t expect to see one in progress.

Some caring people had already drawn a boundary for her in the sand and a police officer was keeping a protective eye on her until the turtle monitoring volunteers could arrive and stake out the nest.

Though Loggerheads roam the world’s oceans, Florida appears to be the preferred nesting area with over 67,000 nests recorded in a recent survey. Keep in mind, that does not equate to that many females coming ashore since each female can produce up to four clutches. That’s still a sizable number!

And in a fitting tribute, I found this sand sculpture nearby:

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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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