Early Signs of Spring in SW Florida

In our area of Florida signs of Spring often arrive in February and now in early March are very evident with warm or even hot days, and trees such as live oaks in bloom. This warmth along with occasional rainfall has stimulated growth of new leaves in many plants and some flowers as well. I especially enjoyed finding this rare yellow butterwort at Myakka State Forest. It grows in nutrient poor soils but compensates by trapping and digesting insects on its sticky leaves. One of my favorite exotic trees is the bottlebrush from Australia, which is not only beautiful, but attracts many insects with its abundant nectar. This tree was draped over the side of a roadside drainage pond in Sarasota but many are blooming now also in Charlotte County.

We continue to enjoy visits by birds that have wintered in our area, such as a spectacular yellow throated warbler which visits our backyard water bath/drip. They do not breed in the southern one third of Florida so the fact that it is still here indicates that breeding has not yet started for this bird. The male and female are identical, which is quite different from many warblers in which the male is much brighter than the female.

Even with the spring-like weather, many birds that have spent the winter in our area remain, considering that their breeding habitat is not spring-like further north. This pair of blue winged teal were staying quite close to one another in a Sarasota pond, so they may have already made a pair bond for the upcoming nesting season. But since they nest in the northern US and Canada, they may be planning to migrate together. Or is this just a Spring dating game indicating a readiness to mate?

You can tell the approximate time of year by the size of the baby bald eagles. This pair of siblings in a nest near the east branch of Coral Creek along the Pioneer Bike Trail are nearing the time of fledging when they leave the nest. Subsequently many fully-grown young eagles migrate north to spend the summer months along with the snowbird humans.

This great blue heron, a year-round resident, crouching down to hunt fish in Ollie’s Pond (in Port Charlotte) is anxious to catch food for its babies in the nest. The drawdown of water levels during winter due to low rainfall makes this easier by concentrating fish. The exposed mud bars and shallow water also provide more habitat for shorebirds such as this greater yellowlegs sandpiper. It will be migrating to Canada to breed in May when spring has arrived further north.

We are close to one of the most exciting times of the year when many birds begin to migrate north. Watch for the appearance of species passing through from the south, and for those locally wintering species that suddenly leave.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

View all posts by Bill Dunson