Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

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!


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).


Pause for Paw Cleaning, Dunedin, Florida March 2020

More Than Pretty


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


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.




Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) earned its nickname Snakebird for swimming with its entire body submerged, with only its sinuous neck and head showing. Like cormorants, they do not have waterproof feathers which is a boon for diving and swimming (waterproofing captures little air bubbles which make a bird more buoyant). However, it means a lot of time drying out in the sun since if they get too waterlogged, they can drown. A delicate balance, to be sure.

Oddly, the Anhinga is a waterbird with a penchant for heights. It often catches afternoon thermals and soars high in the sky in a distinctive cross shape. The name Anhinga comes from the Tupi language in Brazil and translates as “devil bird” – though I don’t know how it earned that moniker.


Heart-shaped Anhinga Wing, St. Petersburg, Florida March 2020

The Cuban Invasion

The Cuban or Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) is, as the name implies, native to that Caribbean island. This highly invasive lizard was first reported in the Keys in 1887. It remained largely relegated to southern Florida, until 2004 when it was documented all the way up in the Panhandle. It is now one of the most commonly seen lizards throughout the state.

The secret to their success? They reproduce rapidly and, as I read, they’ll eat “nearly anything that will fit in their mouths” (insects, fish, eggs, and even other lizards). Sadly, for the slightly smaller, native Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) that means they’re on the menu, too.

The relatively recent arrival of the Cubans in central and northern Florida has forced the natives to quickly adapt. Carolina Anoles have moved further up into the canopy and in just 15 years their footpads have increased in size to help them with their new, predominately arboreal lifestyle. Hopefully, this separation of territory will lead to a détente that will allow them to coexist.


Look At That Spiral!

Different Spatula

This Blue-winged Teal pair (Spatula discors) was so busy dabbling that they decided to tolerate my presence. Like our other two teal species, these small ducks have a low profile in the water.

While the female Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged can be challenging to differentiate, the half-moon face on the male BWTE makes him easily identifiable. Thankfully, they are often found in mated pairs, which is helpful for the casual birder.

These resourceful birds inhabit all of North America except far northwestern Canada and Alaska. They are the first ducks to migrate south in the fall and the last to return in the spring. Their binomial is Latin for spoon (or spatula) and different (though I’m unclear as to what about them is so different).