Nature Ramble at Oyster Creek

During a two hour morning nature walk at Oyster Creek Park, Charlotte County, FL, we observed an unusual number of interesting flowers and animals. This is a 250 acre park surrounded by urban development, primarily made up of hydric pine flatwoods but including a tidal creek and several constructed freshwater ponds.

Among the flowers in bloom, the most striking was the pink spiderwort or roseling (see photo). The beautiful pink coloration attracts attention to this rather rare species- or at least rarely seen. I have once observed hundreds of them in bloom at the nearby Myakka State Forest after a high intensity fire. A somewhat similarly-colored rose rush was seen in bud along with blooms of hat-pins, candy root, tread-softly, prickly pear, toad flax, yellow-eyed grass, and others.

A most unusual reptilian sighting was two young gopher tortoises in separate areas (see photo in hand). Such juvenile tortoises are rarely seen, perhaps because they are so vulnerable to predation. One of these tortoises had bite marks on the plastron and healed cracks in its shell. We debated the possible age of this animal based on counts of growth rings of the scutes of the carapace. What do you think? I am guessing maybe 6 years old but it is hard to be certain.

Another turtle seen is more common but not so often seen on land, namely a large female Florida softshell. She was covered with dirt, probably from her efforts in constructing a nest and laying eggs in the nearby sandy areas. Aquatic turtles have to leave water to reproduce since all turtles lay eggs- none give live birth as do some sea snakes. This exposes them to predation and the eggs are also quite often predated by armadillos and raccoons.

Finally we came across a nest of killdeer plovers with two adults in attendance. What I assumed was the female stood over the nest (see photo), and when she left briefly we could see the beautifully camouflaged eggs laid in a simple scrape in the ground (see photo). Such eggs are quite difficult to find without observing the female nearby. The likely female also carried out the famous “broken wing” act (see photo) whereby she dragged her wing, spread her tail, and cried pitifully to convince a threatening predator that she would be an easy meal. Of course she skillfully draws the predator away from the nest by her actions.

We came away from our brief walk in this urban park with a renewed sense of wonder at the remarkable variety and beauty of life in all its forms.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

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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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