Life Flourishes in the Transition from Florida Winter to Spring


It has been an unusual winter weather-wise in SW FL although I sometimes wonder if the weather is ever “normal.” It was unusually wet and warm earlier but has become a bit cooler with less rain. Natural events illustrate both the persistence of winter and the approach of spring. For example tar flowers were blooming at Amberjack Preserve earlier than anyone remembers. There were yellow butterworts blooming in greater numbers at Myakka State Forest than we have seen previously. Butterworts are an especially interesting carnivorous plant that trap insects on their sticky leaves. Their common occurrence along with sundews and bladderworts in some local hydric pine flatwoods reminds us that the silica sand soils are extremely poor in nutrients and this favors plants with alternate means of obtaining NPK.

Butterflies are not yet present in the numbers that will come later but they are increasing. In our yard I photographed this spectacular mangrove skipper sipping nectar from a Mexican flame vine. Nearby a monarch was also obtaining nectar from a Mexican milkweed. Planting of such exotic plants will allow you to offer nectar to butterflies during the winter when few native flowers are blooming.

While leading a nature walk at Thornton Key this large Cuban tree frog was found in a damp area along the trail. It is a most unwelcome exotic invader which will both eat and compete with native species. Another unusual find during a nature walk was this FL striped mud turtle. It has a moveable lower shell or plastron and spends time both on land and in shallow freshwater ponds.

One sign of spring is a gradual increase in the movement and song of warblers. Both prairie and northern parula warblers have been singing in our yard and this beautiful parula came to our water drip for a drink and a bath. It may have wintered in FL but soon the migrants will be coming from South and Central America.

Yet some winter birds are still here. I found a Bonaparte’s gull along the shoreline; it will soon be flying north to Canada to breed. There were also two young lesser black backed gulls hanging out at our local beaches. These are unusual winter visitors which are actually breed in Europe.

So even without knowing the actual date, observations of nature tell us that the seasonal change from winter to spring is definitely in progress. Spring is one of the most exciting times of the year for naturalists, so get ready for some fun!

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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