A Fond April Farewell to Nature in SW Florida

Now that we are packing up to join the throng of snowbirds surging north it is time to think of the wonderful natural events that we have witnessed during this season and consider the bittersweet aspect of migrating north with the birds. It is sad to leave yet there is a multitude of new things to witness on nature rambles in and around our farm in the Blue Ridge mountains of VA. To send us off here is a collection of images of SW FL nature seen this past week in the middle of April.

There is a little known fresh water swamp in the northern part of Lemon Bay Park that has some unusual plants for the area such as Jack in the pulpit and these spider lilies. In stark contrast there is an explosion of color and blooms on a variety of exotic trees that are widely planted in the area. This pink Tabebuia down by the Palm Island ferry dock is one of the most spectacular.

The warm weather is bringing out a number of dragonflies and one of my favorites is the eastern pondhawk which has a distinct difference between the bluish male and the greenish female. Wildflower Preserve is a great spot to look for dragonflies and the blue dasher is now common. A close up of this male blue dasher shows how complex and impressive the visual and flight machinery of dragonflies is. For one of the most primitive insects, they certainly are a marvel of design and have intricate reproductive behaviors that seem inconsistent with their so-called primitive status. What this tells us is that social differences between males and females and complex reproductive behaviors began at an early stage of evolution.

With warm weather you can count on seeing more reptiles including this yellow rat snake which was hanging out in our yard. If you can get beyond the snake phobia it is certainly a beautiful animal. It probably preys on mammals, birds and lizards such as this exotic brown anole. These anoles are stimulated by the warmth to engage in territorial interactions in which the males extend a bright throat dewlap to intimidate other males.

Whenever I go to Wildflower Preserve I check in on the purple martins in their “condo” and so far things are looking good for successful reproduction. House sparrows have to be removed periodically but this male seems happy with the progress of what we hope are several healthy broods of babies.

One of the least obvious avian migrants passing through our yard is this spotted sandpiper, probably migrating through after spending the winter in South America. It is interesting that it does not yet have all of its striking belly and breast spots which are its breeding plumage. This is a good example of how birds may begin migration before completing the molt to their breeding plumage. In contrast male indigo buntings passing through our yard already have their bright blue breeding plumage. Given that the spots of the spotted sandpiper would not seem to increase their chances of being predated, you wonder why they even lose them. Some birds such as the summer tanager and the painted bunting do not in fact lose their bright male plumage.

As we start our migration north I continue to be amazed and dazzled by the diversity, beauty, complexity and general wonder of the whole process of spring-time renewal of life. Ain’t nature grand?!

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

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.

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