Native Green Anole

Green anole after rain
Native Green anole after a rain

Everyone visiting Florida sees the anoles. The small brown lizards run everywhere. People don’t often see the Green Anoles, the native species. These green anoles do turn brown for camouflage when against a dark background, but I think remain lighter than the brown ones. We have also been told that the eyelids remain the bluish color even when they turn brown, but personally I never noticed that.

For years we heard that the brown invasive species was crowding out the native species. Then some naturalists theorized that the green anoles moved higher into the trees and canopy for less competition for resources. I don’t know if they have or not, but recently I saw several different green ones at different places along a walk. The one above I shot just after a rain and the green looks very light. The one below walk along a boardwalk, and began displaying with the dewlap under its neck.

Green anole display

Dragonflies

Blue Dasher

the dragonfly
can’t quite land
on that blade of grass.

Basho

A few years ago we attended a naturalist course on dragonflies. One of the attendees wore a dragonfly shirt, carried a notebook with a dragonfly outline on the cover, and dragonfly ear rings dangled from her ears. She and several other attendees spoke enthusiastically about how they loved dragonflies. Though smaller in number, they seemed more enthusiastic than avid birders we know seem about birds. In folklore, dragonflies represent change, joy, and adaptability. They appear often in poetry, especially Haiku. Four spotted pennant

While boating in the Okefenokee Swamp a few years ago, we sat still and quiet in the boat, listening and looking at the flora and fauna around us. As we sat, several dragonflies landed on us, happy to use us as a temporary resting place. They added to the serenity of the experience.

Dragonfly 3

This time of year in particular, we see them in our backyard and darting over the trees lining the creek. I enjoy them too and cannot resist stopping to photograph them whenever we hike.Amberwing

Summer Florida Wildlife

Karl and the spider web

We generally find the very hot and humid days of July and August in this part of Florida, often accompanied by thunderstorms either in the morning or afternoon, naturally limit our nature photography. We go out early morning for a short time, and possibly later toward the evening, depending on the weather forecast and a look at the sky. We avoid the direct hot sun, both for our health and the quality of the photograph. Summer in Florida still offers many wildlife subjects, quite a bit in the insect family including our many species of mosquitoes, but also alligators, lizards, and of course birds. Be prepared to sweat, there is no other way to put it.

So far this summer we also avoid any place that might be crowded due to the serious and continuing spike in Covid-19 cases in our area that started a little over a month ago. We hope it comes under control soon.

The web Karl observes in the photograph above likely belongs to one of the Golden Silk Orb Weavers. The builder of that web was not home as we passed by, though the web appeared in such good shape we doubt she abandoned it.TCHE eating fish

The Tri-color Heron above fished in this one spot for quite some time, with good luck, catching smaller fish like the one he is about to eat frequently.Baby Gator Head

This baby alligator shows just the top of his head and snout. The young ones are easy to miss, they blend so well. This one stayed very still near a patch of vegetation, and then moved slightly. My eye caught the movement or I would have missed him.Dragonfly on leaf

This dragonfly perched on a branch nearly at eye level so I managed a good look at the shiny emerald color. I photographed a lot of different dragonflies lately, and will be posting those soon.Beetle in the Flower

I originally set this up to photograph the flower, but the beetle came along and burrowed around, so I decided to shoot it instead.

A Fish Too Big

A Fish Too Big 2

Watching Cormorants over the years I witnessed a lot of fishing and catching. Many times the struggle to get the fish just right for swallowing involves a number of tries, and occasionally the fish gets away. I also saw a few swallow a fish I thought way too large, only to see it go down the slim neck, distending it all the way down. When this Cormorant landed this fish, I wondered again if the fish was just too big.A Fish too Big 1

After this brief struggle, the bird agreed with me for once, dropped the fish and immediately took off. Was it really too big, or just not worth the effort? Had the bird already feasted on so many appetizers of the smaller fish in the water that this main course, while maybe not too big to swallow, was too big as a main course?

 

Sweetwater Wetlands in Gainesville

limpkin
Karl took this shot of a Limpkin preening

During our recent stay at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, we hiked at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Our trips in this area always include at least one morning hiking at this park. I did confirm that they were open on their Facebook page before we traveled since places just started re-opening. The Facebook page told us that the usual $5 fee must be paid via a phone app as they removed the usual envelope and cash system for health reasons. Karl and I discussed it, and decided to buy a season pass instead. We camp in that area at least three times a year, and visit this park often. We wanted to have the pass not only for convenience, but to further support a park we enjoy so much. A special thanks to the Gainesville city employee who helped us. She was very helpful, very friendly, and very efficient.

COGA with chicks
Chick talking to mom

We started our hike on an overcast morning after three days of rain and more rain forecast for the afternoon. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the entrance moved from the usual place to an entrance near the overflow parking. Signs everywhere encouraged distancing ‘to help us keep open’. We completely understood the request. Upon arriving in the area two days before, we heard on our first local newscast that infections were up in the area. The boardwalk had the spur areas blocked, and arrows showing a one-way path.PUGA Sweetwater

We found ourselves thankful for the cloud cover. The trails are open with little shade, and the high humidity and temperature made it a very warm walk even without sunshine. For those who have never visited, this is a birder’s paradise.  We recommend it to all the birders we know, and some who come from out of state now make it a regular stop on their way to visit us.  Our list included both the Purple Gallinule and the Common Gallinule, herons including many Green Herons and Tri-color herons, Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere flying and calling, Limpkins, and many others. Of course we also saw alligators, turtles, and dragonflies everywhere.GRHE Sweetwater

The ability to stop and observe makes this park special among places we bird. The boardwalks keep people far enough away from the birds that they go on about their business. Watching them catch and eat fish, swim with their chicks, and interact with each other provides that added dimension that birders love. Those same things make it a challenging and fun place for nature photography.

Horses at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

0235
Cracker Horse at Paynes Prairie

The wild Cracker horses we saw near the visitor center at Paynes Prairie descended from the original horses brought to Florida by the Spanish.  Left here by the Spanish, the Seminoles caught and rode these wild horses, as did the Florida cattleman. The horse breed became known by several names including Seminole ponies, Florida Cracker horse, and marsh tackie.  Eventually other horses replaced them where needed, and the breed nearly died out. Kept alive by a few farms in Florida, eventually Paynes Prairie became the home for this herd. The Florida cattlemen at that time were called Crackers, and  we use the name Florida Cracker horse today. However, read some early novels or history of Florida, and the names Seminole pony and marsh tackie come up.

Why were the cattleman called Crackers? We heard a variety of explanations over the years, but the one most commonly used is that they had a specific type of cow whip that they cracked to drive the cattle. The men became known as Crackers because of the sound of the whip. A few years ago we attended Rural Days at Stephen Foster Park in Florida. We saw the making of one of these leather cow whips by a man who preserved the tradition. He explained the cow whip is shorter than the better known bull whip. He and Karl talked for some time on the making of the whip and the traditions, and Karl took several photographs.

whip maker
Craftsman making the traditional Florida Cow Whip

Karl and I both took photographs of the wild Cracker horses grazing near the Visitor Center at Paynes Prairie. Using his Sony A73 with the Canon 24 – 105 mm Karl captured both of these beautifully framed shots of the peaceful scene.0241

The horse lying down was sitting there when we arrived. He obviously decided we were no trouble and lay down to take his nap. The others stood quietly, watched us as we came into sight but then went back to grazing. We have seen the wild horses several times over the years, whereas the bison we saw only the once. The horses are used to people being around, but are wild and should be given their space.

The Blue Jay and the Twig

Blue Jay sitting

This Blue Jay squawked and circled the trees before landing on a specific branch. Several birds called from the trees, including a fly catcher and a woodpecker, so fortunately I had my camera set up and trained on the clump of trees already. I watched as the Jay landed, looked around, and then chose a small twig to its left and started biting it. I saw no bugs, berries, or other potential food. As I watched the bird grabbed, twisted, and pulled on the on the twig, finally snapping it off. At first I had no idea why, so I just photographed, observed, and waited. In spite of the nice looking twig on the other side, it kept working that one. After a few minutes, it took off triumphant. It took me a minute to realize that the twig remained in its beak as it flew, likely to help build or repair a current nest.

Blue Jay 1

Blue Jay getting twig

Why that specific twig, who knows? Sticks covered the ground, why not the easy pickings on one already detached? Then again, why do we choose the house we choose and each decorate in our own way? I realize this seems a bit anthropomorphic, but after years of observing birds for my own interest and for scientific and citizen science reasons, I often have more questions than answers.

Camping at Paynes Prairie State Park

Paynes Prairie from Vistor Center
View of the Prairie from the Tower. Two deer graze in the middle ground.

Driving US 441 either into or out of Gainesville involves driving through Paynes Prairie. This prairie basin stretches across nearly 16,000 acres, and at times in history fills with water and becomes Lake Alachua. The prairie itself is mostly wetland, especially after heavy rains, and absolutely beautiful. Paynes Prairie State Park consists of the prairie basin and another 6,000 acres of upland. We camp here frequently. The camping in most Florida state parks feature vegetation and plenty of spacing between the campsites, and this campground is particularly generous in that area.

Last week we arrived just as several days of rain ended, so some of the trails we hoped to hike remained partially closed due to high water. The weather stayed hot and humid all week, so we rose early, and hiked a different area each day. We returned by lunch, had a nice cook-out, and by early afternoon as the temperatures and humidity soared, and/or the rain started we sat under the awning or in the RV reading, playing board games, on the computer working on the photographs taken that day, or even watching a DVD.

Viewing Tour from Hiking Trail
View of the tower from the trail

We started our first morning at the Visitor’s Center parking lot; the center itself remained closed due to COVID, and walked the trail toward the tower. We noticed as we rounded one curve that the wild horses grazed directly in front of us, so stopped to watch them then continued to the tower. We took photographs, but also just absorbed the view.

Horses 1
Wild horses on the Prairie. We hiked the trail seen in the background the next day

Karl and I are happy the parks re-opened to camping. Distancing is no problem with the large amount of space between each site. We did not see the casual socializing and talking between us campers that normally occurs, we all maintained a friendly distance. Even those walking dogs smiled and reined in the dog as they kept walking. Usually we stop at least briefly to exchange pleasantries and of course give the dog some attention, but understandably we are all maintaining respectful distances as requested.

Photography in the Florida Summer

Tree Fungus light and darkSummer may not be officially started, but with high humidity, rising temperatures, and the start of afternoon rains, it definitely started here. Our wet, hot, humid summers tend to be the ‘off’ season. Events take place in autumn, winter, or spring, when part-time residents and tourists abound. Even social events and groups often cease meetings for June, July and August as many members are part-timers who headed home at some point after Easter.

The rain and sun bring more than humidity; they bring incredible growth to plants. Many spring flowers continue through the summer, and many butterflies still fly around visiting them. After a rain, the colors really pop, and often so does the fungus.

I loved the light pattern on this tree fungus pictured above. These fungi only last a day or two before they begin to fade or become a meal for insects and other creatures. Catching them in the right light at peak takes some hunting.Nuttle's Thistle

Nuttall’s thistle grows to 5’ or more, and the flower heads, like most thistle, are popular with pollinators. I did a close up of the flower on this one, with two unopened buds on either side.

Palamedes Swallowtail Male

I often see butterflies like this Palamedes Swallowtail on the ground, not near any flowers. In this case it flew around some pine cover in our campsite, and stopped frequently obviously feeding on something. A reference I checked said the male often does this, and is feeding on water and needed minerals in the soil. I took several head-on shots for a different view, but wasn’t happy with the results so here is the traditional side view.

Early Morning Walk

Spider web morning light

The spider web in the early sun looks golden. I shot the whole thing at first, with the tiny spiny backed orb weaver in the middle, but it wasn’t until I concentrated on the side getting the brunt of the light that I really had the shot I wanted.

Arriving first thing in the morning for a walk or hike often means that in addition to the wonderful morning light, I see wildlife that by later morning take cover in the vegetation or canopy.

Let me start by saying that I am not a natural early morning riser. Though I have always done some of my best work early before life and obligations take over my brain, I get out of bed grudgingly and am best anti-social for a while. Coffee or tea help of course, less the caffeine and more something to sip while I contemplate still half in the dream world I just left. And before you imagine me thinking lofty thoughts, two days ago I designed in my brain a new format for the minutes I took at a Board meeting. Spoiler: It was very well received.

Early in the morning will be our normal hiking time for the next few months. Summer is here in central Florida and most mornings you can feel the air it is so humid. Once the sun is fully up and heats the air I retreat to the shade.Frog in pond

I crept as quietly as possible as not to startle the frog. The angle of his body visible in the water makes his head look far too big for the rest of him. He stayed until I left.Rabbit

I wasn’t quite so successful with this rabbit. I did startle it and it took off, but not very fast, watching me as it left. Then I saw it watching me from behind a bush, so I went in another direction so the munching of breakfast could be resumed.