Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Pollinator Party

Spent part of a hot and humid day roaming the trails at Lake Chautauqua Park last week. No surprise, very few creatures were stirring; I only saw two other humans and no wildlife.

Unless you count pollinators; the bees, ants, and flies were very busy! Considering it is the height of summer they had a nice variety of flowers to choose from. As proof of their hard work, there were also lots of berries.

The least showy of the blooms was easily the most fragrant. It took me a moment of searching to find the source for the pleasant floral scent that hung over the trail. I ended up following the buzz of bees to an unimposing bush in the back of a thicket (and I am sad to admit, I still do not know the name of the shrub).

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Oh, Sh*t!

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Manatee Manure, Treasure Island, Florida July 2020

I occasionally glimpse Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) in the shallows as I stroll along my beach. Even if I don’t get a good visual I know they are nearby since I often find their feces on the sand. Fun fact: their poop floats!

If you have ever been out on a nature walk with me, you know I find animal excrement fascinating. There’s a whole story packed into fecal material, just waiting to be “read”.

So, I was thrilled to find this video about Manatee dung. As a self-professed “scatologist” I think Betsy Stoner and I would get along really well!

Head Shot

It was incredibly hot and humid that afternoon, in other words, it was a typical summer day in Florida. I pulled into a convenience store to purchase a refreshing iced beverage and, strangely enough, parked next to a Sandhill Crane.

Smartly standing in the shade of a small tree, the bird had no interest in leaving so I was able to snap a few photos. In lieu of sweating, the crane was gular fluttering (like panting) in an effort to cool down.

A bit of research and I learned that this is actually a subspecies, known as the Florida Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis pratensis). If it had been during the winter I would not have been able to differentiate this crane from the migratory Greater Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis tabida).

Burrower

I spent a few moments with this Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Little Manatee River State Park last week. I felt fortunate to have that opportunity since this terrapin is considered threatened in Florida.

Consummate diggers, Gopher Tortoises are considered a keystone species as their extensive holes are often appropriated by others. Biologists have noted at least 360 other species (burrowing owls, mice, snakes, rabbits, frogs, etc) seeking shelter in their burrows.

Last note, of the five tortoises in North America, four of them live west of the Mississippi River.

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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