Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Don’t Mess With Momma!

A few weeks ago I spent a lovely, sunny afternoon strolling around John S. Taylor Park in nearby Largo. It wasn’t very birdy out but I still found creatures to interest me, namely several alligators.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across three young ones. While I can’t promise that the first photo is of mom, there were too many gators to keep track of, she was definitely that size. The opposite of a helicopter parent, mom was floating out near the center of the pond. That aloof demeanor, however, belied her fierce protective nature.

Which became apparent as soon as another gator mistakenly swam too close. A slow speed chase ensued, with the intruder wisely opting for the other side of the pond.

No wonder they have all those no swimming signs posted!

The Wailing Bird

The Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is a really unusual bird. Though it is the only living member of its genus, it shares habits, and even resembles, a large rail but structurally it is built more like a crane. I’ve shared photos of limpkins recently, if you’d like more information about them.

While those oddities are enough to make this bird standout, its loud, piteous call is what earns it the nickname, wailing bird. The limpkin making all this noise is standing in the pickerelweed where the shade ends, though I dare say, it will be hard to find.

And here’s a challenge to my fellow birders, what bird is calling in the distance?

Flutterbies

For years I’ve been on a mission to change the name for these delicate, aerial masters from butterflies to flutterbies. I have two simple reasons: they actually flutter by when navigating from flower to flower and they are not, in fact, made of butter.

These are a few of the flitting beauties that I’ve encountered over the past few weeks, roughly in size order from largest to smallest. Left to right, top to bottom: Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia), Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), Dorantes Longtail Skipper (Urbanus dorantes), Tropical Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus oileus), Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole), Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus).

Last but not least, this brightly-colored caterpillar, and while not technically a flutterby, it does represent one life stage that all flutterbies must pass through.

White-marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar

White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) Caterpillar, Clearwater, Florida April 2020

Patterned Terrapin

I came across this shy Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) last week. As the name implies, it is endemic to this state (and the southeast corner of Georgia). This species is far less tolerant of cold weather than other box turtles. Apparently, we have that in common.

The yellow dashes on the carapace are distinctive. To be honest, I think it looks like a Common Gallinule walked over the turtle’s shell after stepping in yellow paint.

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Common Gallinule Toes, Largo, Florida March 2020

The “Marshan”

As the common name implies, I discovered this Florida Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris paludicola) in a riparian area the other day. The second part of the binomial also references its preferential habitat as palustris is Latin for “of the marsh”.

These strong swimmers live in the marshes and swamps of coastal regions of the southeast. I had hoped to see it swim but no such luck. Though, now that I know where it lives I will be on the lookout during my next visit.

Please forgive my partially obscured photos, this was a secretive animal and I feel fortunate to have seen it during the day as they tend to be more active at night.

Compared to the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) I photographed a couple weeks ago, it is easy to discern the Marsh Rabbit’s smaller ears and darker, more rufous, overall coloration.

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Eastern Cottontail, Dunedin, Florida March 2020

Pretty Predators

I snapped this collection of photos from a couple local parks over the past few weeks. I am always pleased to see so many of these ravenous beauties around – if not we’d be swarmed with multitudes of mosquitoes and no-see-ums! They are ferocious predators, in both their aquatic larval stage and as aerial adults.

I do wish I had better shots of a few but I still included them to show some of the diversity. Granted, this is only a small smattering of the 150+ species that have been documented in Florida. Note the colorful differences between the males and females.

Occasionally, if the light is just right, I can capture the metallic sheen of their wings glinting in the sun.

Top to bottom, left to right: Great Pondhawk (Erythemis vesiculosa), Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) Female and Male, Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) Male and Female, Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera), Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida), Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina), Female and Male.

 

 

Go, Speed Racer, Go!

While roaming Walsingham County Park last week I saw six Southern Black Racers (Coluber constrictor priapus), though I’m sure I missed many others. Since this species is active during the day it is the most commonly seen snake in Florida. I think I saw more than usual since they are in the midst of their breeding season (March through May).

As their common name implies, their first defense is to flee and man, are they fast! It was a definite challenge to get a few good shots of these speed demons.

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!

 

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