White Peacock Butterfly

We took a short walk near the Osprey Trail at Honeymoon Island State Park. I saw a lot of butterflies as we walked along the boardwalk over the wetland area and as I watched I realized they were the White Peacock. I love their coloration this time of year as during the wet season, our summer, they are smaller and darker in color.

Even though still early morning, they flew quickly back and forth. The only shots that came out were those from the very infrequent times one of them would slow down and land for a bit to take up the sun.

On the Fence, Over the Fence

I looked in the back yard and something caught my eye behind the fence. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Later I noticed again and decided to in investigate. Standing on the lowest vertical bar of the wooden fence, I looked and saw the two Spanish Bayonette plants which I had noticed before among the thicket of trees along the creek, fully in bloom. I took several photos, balancing on the bar, twice that day due to the light. The blossoms are beautiful and short-lived. The plant itself has long, sword like thick leaves tipped with a sharp needle. on-the-fence-juv-yvnhSeveral days later as I walked by the back window I noticed a larger bird sitting on the fence. I went up to the window, nearly scaring it away. Cautiously I watched as it sat there preening its feathers. I took these shot through the house window and through the screen surrounding the pool area, so I am surprised they even came out. The bird is a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron, identified with the help of my Sibley’s guide. We see the adult herons on our neighbor’s roof frequently. They stand there very still, driving our cats who are in the pool enclosure area and can see them clearly, crazy. The neighborhood birds all seem to realize that the cats can chatter and pretend to pounce all they want, they don’t go outside of the house or screened in pool for their own safely (there are coyotes living along the creek) and the safety of all the birds who live in the area.On the Fence 2 Juv YCNH

Looking Toward the Gulf

Toward the Gulf 2

We drove north of here for a short day trip last week. We visited small, local parks that we normally visit a couple of times a year for birding, photography, and to take visitors. The humidity and heat, plus a recent rain which saturated the trails meant shorter walks and more driving. But, that is August here.

Fishermen and women lined the boardwalks in one park and launched small fishing boats and fishing kayaks in another. The small beach area stood empty, not surprising considering the sun and temperatures.

Beach Park

As we drove along we looked out over the grassy prairie toward the Gulf, and saw the clouds already building for the nearly daily afternoon rain. Karl stopped so I could take a few photographs. The trees in the distance provided the scale showing to show the towering clouds.

 

 

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.