Wednesday, December 13: Fakahatchee
As the holidays approach, it was appropriate to find lots of the native Dull-leaf Wild Coffee (Psychotria sulzerni) decorating Janes Scenic Drive. Its red berries and green leaves were the perfect natural holiday decor.
The December bio blitz didn't have as glamorous sightings as did November's when Everglades Mink and Florida Panther were sighted. Nevertheless, it was still a beautiful morning to be in Fakahatchee in spite of chilly early morning temperatures. Those may have contributed to the relatively few herps and insects.
I managed 20 species of birds, but none were out of the ordinary. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the right was there all morning tapping on a variety of trees. Many species called at the start of the count as the sun first touched the trees and they began to move out from their night time roosts.
It really quieted down in mid morning in the cypress swamp. Red-shouldered Hawks, Carolina Wrens, Catbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers, American Crows, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were the most vocally active during that time.
Black and Turkey Vultures glided overhead and an occasional Great Blue Heron and Great Egret flew low over the trees.
Butterflies were totally absent although there were almost a dozen different plants with open blooms. Even dragonflies were hard to find. The most common insects were the Whirligig Beetles, and even they weren't very active.
In the photo at the lower right, two and a half dozen clustered on a floating twig while another half dozen slowly swam around the gathering.
The only herps were the Chicken Turtle at the right and three large gators.
The Chicken Turtle may have just finished laying eggs because it was using its legs to smooth a sandy spot at the side of the road before it turned and headed back into the water.
All three of the gators were large, including the habitually grumpy one at his regular spot about three and a half miles down Janes Scenic Drive. None of them climbed out of the water until the late morning when the sun was shining on the road and the temperatures began to warm. None were anxious to move either, even when cars passed by them.
More birds became active in the late morning, too, especially around Lake Harmon. The Belted Kingfisher above was one of two in the area. Great Egrets and White Ibis were plentiful. A few Snowy Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Anhingas, and Black Vultures were moving about and a Green Heron called from the thicker vegetation at the water's edge.
Friday, December 15: Corkscrew
Although a jacket was comfortable very early in the morning, it warmed quickly once the sun cleared the horizon and it was much more like a mild Florida winter is supposed to be.
Small birds began calling and stirring as the sun touched the trees and other vegetation. The Black-and-white Warbler at the left was one of two along the spur leading to the Plume Hunter rain shelter. Palm Warblers, a Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Tufted Titmice were in the same clump of young cypress.
The Yellow Bear caterpillar in the photo below the warbler was just a little further past the Plume Hunter spur in a sunny spot. It will eventually become a Virginian Tiger Moth.
The Green Heron at the near left was just before the start of the shortcut trail. It sat silently, enjoying the warmth of the rising sun. Two other Green Herons were a little earlier and were clucking and calling.
Another "hot" spot was at the end of the wet prairie across from the open bench. One area had little vegetation and standing water. It was a good spot for a variety of birds with Little Blue Herons, a Great Egret, White Ibis, and a Tri-colored Heron all foraging in the open.
A Red-shouldered Hawk was down in the grasses at the edge, also foraging. Unlike typical hawks, this one didn't fly down from a branch to hunt. It foraged by standing or walking on the ground and would then fly up to a branch to consume what it had caught. It was quite successful using that technique. Most of what it ate appeared to be crayfish.
Buntings, both male and female, were at the feeders. One uncommon visitor to the Bunting House feeder area was the Northern Mockingbird at the right. It began low in the vegetation and eventually flew up to the dead branches just below the feeder where it preened. It's in the middle of a good scratch in the photo.
The male Anhinga was sitting on the north lake nest while the female was perched below.
A massive flock of Common Grackles flew over and descended into pines and palms around the wildlife crossing in late morning.
Large numbers of Tree Swallows were in the air, and both Black and Turkey Vultures circled in updrafts when it warmed up enough to lift them.
We eventually wound up with 35 species of birds identified. Among the better sightings was a Black-throated Green Warbler near the Marinelli rain shelter.
Although the temperature reached the mid 70s by late morning, herps were relatively scarce. One medium sized gator swam across the north lake, and a Black Racer was catching some rays in the pine flatwood near the sightings board at the Blair Center. Several Banded Water Snakes were out, and one Southeastern Five-lined Skink was in the xeriscape garden.
The skink was well hidden though. Sometime earlier in the week a large group of visitors had a boxed lunch in the xeriscape garden and made a big mess by not putting all of their trash in the containers. Raccoons then enjoyed the refuse. While picking up garbage and checking the trash bins, the skink ran out from under one of the trash cans inside the bin when I picked it up to empty it. Common Ground Doves and Mourning Doves were the only birds in the xeriscape garden at the time.
Mammals sightings were just Gray Squirrels. A few more butterfly species appeared with the sun and warmer temperatures. We saw Tiger Swallowtail, Viceroy, Great Southern White, Dun Skipper, and Three-spotted Skipper species. Dragonflies were only Eastern Pondhawks.
The Wood Stork at the left was in one of the vulture kettles over the pine flatwood in the late morning along with one female Anhinga. The stork was the only one seen.