Saturday, March 10: Lee County 20/20
Today's trek took us to the northeast section of the property. Aside from pasture lands where cattle have pretty much trampled everything, much of the area is what the county describes as "pristine."
The natural part was much more like a jungle, albeit with native Florida plants. Struggling through some of the pop ash sloughs and cypress domes became rigorous cardio workouts. But the effort was worth it as we did add another species to the list: a Northern Waterthrush at one of the hidden ponds in a cypress dome.
Other nice sightings in those areas were three Brown-headed Nuthatches in a pine flatwood area and the Barred Owl at the left in a dense thicket of vegetation. The owl may have had a nesting cavity nearby because it was not at all happy with our presence.
Elsewhere, pleasant sightings were nine Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kites, a Kestrel, and three immature Bald Eagles that flew overhead while six Eastern Bluebirds, a Northern Flicker, and one Loggerhead Shrike were active in the trees.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Great-crested Flycatchers were the most often seen birds, followed by Cardinals, Palm Warblers, Eastern Meadowlarks, Mourning Doves, and Common Ground-Doves.
We did have company for parts of our hike. When we reached pastures, the cattle trotted over to greet us and then hustled along beside us as we crossed the fields. The cattle were curious and relatively laid back, even the bulls today. We're even beginning to recognize some individuals from our walks. We've found it much easier to follow cow paths through some of the areas rather than blaze our own trails. One small group of cows broke off from the main herd and galloped ahead of us when we got to a dry cypress dome.
Other than the cattle, the only mammals we saw today were White-tailed Deer. We spotted 14 in several different groups. The only herps were one gator digging out its gator hole in one of the "jungles" we passed through, a Black Racer, and the little Oak Toad above. It was very well camouflaged in a sand path and wasn't noticed until it moved. Even then, only its eyes betrayed its location.
Butterflies and dragonflies were scarce, mostly because of the habitats we were in. Halloween Pennants were the most common dragonflies, and the Southern Broken-Dash above and White Peacocks were the only butterfly species we saw.
Wildflowers varied with the habitats too. Among the prettiest were the Sabatias like the one at the left. All were relatively small compared to those in Fakahatchee and other wetter environments, but they were still attractive.
Additional nice blooms included Ruellia, Blue-eyed Grass, Helenium, False Pimpernel, Coreopsis, and the very tiny Tea Blinkum. Photographs of several blooms which are still awaiting identification and which aren't in my field guides will help me with some challenges.
Wednesday, March 14: Fakahatchee
Our monthly bio blitz along Janes Scenic Drive was very nice because there were blue skies, a light breeze, and cool enough temperatures so that there weren't any mosquitoes.
Early in the morning at my station, small birds were active as soon as the sun touched the vines and shrubs along the side of the road. Most were either Catbirds or Yellow-rumped Warblers. One Black-and-white Warbler appeared, but it didn't stay for long.
It was too cold to look for spiders or butterflies and other insects, so scanning the trees for signs of life became the preferred approach. That paid off when a Red-shouldered Hawk nest was spotted with three chicks in it. All three are in view at the top of the page, but for the most part, only the oldest at the right was readily visible. It often stood on the side of nest looking around and occasionally down.
When one of the adult hawks would approach with food, it stood tallest while its two siblings were lower in the nest.
The other good avian sighting was a lone Louisiana Waterthrush that flew up from the bank at the side of the road, paused for a second, and then flew back into the thicker vegetation.
Swallow-tailed Kites, Black and Turkey Vultures, White Ibis, and Anhingas all flew overhead.
About mid morning, a large White-tailed Deer doe walked across Janes Scenic Drive. It was the only mammal that I saw, but one other station reported a doe and fawn and later a four-point buck. Other than Gray Squirrels, those were the only mammals reported by any of the stations.
As the day warmed, dragonflies appeared. The Blue Dasher at the upper left was one of 16 that were seen, all staying in sunny areas and avoiding the shade. Honey Bees were the only other insects during the time period. On the way back to the ranger station, White Peacocks and a Palamedes Swallowtail were seen, but since they were not in the required time frame, they didn't count.
Only a little more than a dozen species of plants were in bloom, which probably accounted for the scarcity of insects.
Those that did have blooms were showy. Many Moonvine like the one at the left were in full bloom early in the morning before closing up later. Wild Petunia, Sand Vetch, Sagittaria lancifolia, Spanish Needles, and Pickerelweed were the most common flowers.
Friday, March 16: Corkscrew
The morning temperature was rather chilly -- 38º when the sanctuary opened -- so several layers of clothes and stopping in sunny spots was the best way to start the day.
Wildlife was equally interested in conserving warmth. The Catbird at the right found a sunny spot, fluffed up its feathers, and just rested quietly trying to warm up after a cold night.
Herps were totally absent until almost noon before they decided it was warm enough to begin moving and searching for food.
Even small birds were somewhat lethargic to start the day. But once the sun filtered through and trees, they became very busy. The general practice of identifying small birds when they were too active to spot markings was, by of the mid morning, to assume that if the activity was close to the ground, it was Yellow-rumped Warblers. And if the activity was higher up in broadleaf trees, it was Northern Parulas. Both seemed to be everywhere along the boardwalk.
Palm Warblers like the one at the left, were mid level in the vegetation bobbing their tails. Many were molting to their beautiful mating plumage.
One real treat was finding a small flock of Cedar Waxwings at the south lake. They were mobbing the Dahoon Holly by the open bench and picking off the berries. None stayed in the tree for long; each would pick a berry, fly to a cypress behind the bench, eat the berry, and then fly back to the holly for more. They put on quite a show.
Other showstoppers were Red-eyed Vireos. We heard them all the way from the Plume Hunter spur to the south lake. The first ones we actually saw were between the Dodson spur and the south lake. They were hyperactive little things; the only time one would pause was when it caught a caterpillar and flew to a branch to beat the thing into submission and try to eliminate some of the "hair" on the caterpillar. Most of the prey seemed to be Fall Webworm caterpillars. The Red-eyed Vireo at the right is just beginning to work on its catch.
It's really early in the year for the Red-eyed Vireos to be appearing; they're typically late spring and summer birds. Fortunately, a number of visitors came along as we were watching the vireos and parulas and they all got to see and in many instances photograph the birds.
Talking to visitors and watching the little birds consumed almost all of the morning. We never made it to the north lake because there was so much to see everywhere else.
Anhingas at the south lake appeared to be back in courtship mode. One male spread its wings and did a little dance, but the female was with another male. All three at the bright turquoise eyes. The male at the left was the one beside the female, showing off for her.
A pair of Barred Owls were actively calling to each other near Sign 11 in the early morning. One got so excited that it broke into its monkey call. They quieted down in mid morning, but visitors still reported seeing them. The two pairs of owls near the boardwalk should have chicks in the nesting cavities, but the water is still a little too deep near the lakes for them to be hunting food to feed their owlets.
Several groups of visitors also got good looks at Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
The sapsucker at the right was drilling a row of holes in a cypress a little past the start of the Plume Hunter spur. When it hit a good spot in the tree, it would stop and feed a little.
Herps began to appear late in the morning when the temperatures rose to comfortable level. Several juvenile gators were in the water across from the first water gauge. Snakes were Banded Water Snakes and a Water Moccasin, and a Red-bellied Turtle was basking at the north lake.