Free Roaming Bovine

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Obviously, we all need something to smile about these days and if this story doesn’t moove you then I don’t know what will! Apparently this speedy and wily girl has been roaming the streets since late January and as far as I can tell, she’s still on the lam(b). Run, cow, run!

This story brought to mind a fun song I was introduced to years ago when Dana Lyons held a concert in Tucson. It was a catchy tune filled with puns so, of course, I loved it! Believe it or not, Cows with Guns actually charted in England back in the 90s.

 

More Than Pretty

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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

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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.

 

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Snakebird

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.

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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.

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Look At That Spiral!

Unexpectedly Chromatic

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Peacock Body

I noticed a sign touting the significance of a spot across Boca Ciega Bay from me back in December but it wasn’t until this week that I finally explored it. While most people visit St. Petersburg’s Jungle Prada Park for the boat ramp, the small park is packed with history. It is purportedly the landing place of the Spanish Narváez expedition of 1528 and it protects the majority of a Tocobaga shell mound (the other section is owned by the Anderson family).

For my fellow history buffs: The Pánfilo de Narváez expedition left Spain in 1527 with the intent of establishing Spanish forts along the Florida Gulf Coast. To say it was ill-fated is an understatement. They lost two ships in a hurricane near Cuba and further storms forced them to land along Boca Ciega Bay.

Dispirited, Narváez declared the area most unsuitable for settlement (Ha, tell that to the 4.5 million people currently living here!) and pushed on, determined to cross the gulf over to Mexico. That attempt killed all but 80 (including Narváez), the remaining survivors were swept onto Galveston Island.

We know this because, amazingly, there were four men who made the trek on foot through Texas (and possibly into New Mexico and Arizona) before finally reaching Mexico City in 1537. The leader of that group, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, later wrote about his experience as the first European to travel that part of North America. His account is exceptional in that he focused on the native peoples and their customs, a boon to anthropologists and archaeologists.

I had hoped to take a guided tour of the private portion of the mound, however it was understandably closed due to COVID-19 concerns. I did follow a handsome fellow around for awhile, though for the life of me, I can’t figure out what peacocks are doing there! I enjoyed the show though.

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He’s Handsome and He Knows It!

 

 

Bright Spots

I stumbled across these treasures at two different parks this past week. The little decorated rock was stuck in the mud. A small splash of blue caught my eye, so I reached over and dug it out. After a quick wipe, I was pleasantly surprised by my find. I slid it in my pocket, and after a thorough cleaning, it now sits on my coffee table, offering a spot of cheer. I’ll return it to the wild someday so it can continue on its journey.

The second I discovered while getting lost in the woods. I had followed a bird call off trail and ended up in a fairly derelict corner of the park. As I waited for my elusive quarry to return (it didn’t), I spotted this graffiti. I don’t condone the hobby but I appreciate the craftsmanship, and in this case, the message.

Thank you to the artists and creatives who leave bits of magic in this world for us to find. These bright spots help in trying times…

Final Finale

Well, it finally happened (some say it was long overdue) the beaches here in my part of Florida will close tonight at midnight. I spent my last afternoon walking on the white sand and stayed for my last beach sunset (for the time being).

The closure will be nearly impossible for authorities to enforce but I don’t intend to be one of the rule breakers, no matter how much I’ll miss my beach. There are other outdoor places on my list to visit. And now, I will have plenty of time to explore them since restaurants are also closing (or switching to takeout only).

I am fortunate in that I have no debt, some savings, and I live simply – so I am not as anxious as others. And I will be spending more time in nature which has a way of soothing my worries. I hope we all stay healthy and safe during this challenging time!

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).