Signs of the Times: Early April in SW Florida

In late March and early April there are many natural signs of the changes that occur during spring. Flowers bloom, some animals breed and bird migration increases. I was pleased to see a young sweet bay magnolia plant blooming at Wildflower Preserve. These ancient blooms represent the early stages of flower evolution where a single large flower was present instead of the later development of the aster/composite type which consists of many ray and disc flowers together in one “bloom.”

I always look for the small but beautiful rock rose flowers when I hike in South Venice Lemon Bay Preserve; the circle of orange stamens is very distinctive.

During winter the odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) of fresh waters are rarely seen but the aquatic larval stages metamorphose into adults as warmer weather occurs. While wading in Joshua Creek in Nocatee, I encountered these two damselflies sunning on a bed of algae. The striking red and blue colors of the male duckweed firetail and blue ringed dancer reflect their complex social lives. The colors not only enhance species recognition but allow females to choose among potential mates and likely are involved in territorial displays as well. The hidden lives of these tiny gems are remarkable.

A common sign of spring is the discovery of turtle eggs dug up by a predator and eaten. These are softshell turtle eggs as you can tell by the spherical shape. A raccoon or armadillo could be the predator and I often wonder if any eggs escape their sensitive noses. Yet adult turtles are quite long lived and thus can occasionally have a successful nest.

Spring is the time of birds as shown by increased singing and breeding. The barred owls at Kiwanis Park have produced a pair of young which are the delight of hikers. They jump out of the nest which is too small for them and wait nearby for the parents to feed them. I found a pair of sandhill cranes at Celery Fields with a single young which follows them everywhere and learns to forage on its own.

A spectacular sight at Ollie’s Pond occurred when a large flock of white pelicans accompanied by spoonbills, egrets and herons arrived to feast on fish concentrated by the falling waters due to drying conditions. These pelicans will soon be migrating to lakes in the western US and Canada where they will breed. They will accomplish this long journey by soaring using thermal updrafts and minimize the amount of actual flapping flight required.

Spring is a time of renewal of life and is the most exciting time of year for birders. The northward movements of warblers and other neotropical migrants are occurring, so remain alert to the signs of nature during this amazing period. Westerly winds at night can bring the famous fallouts of songbirds that are flying north from the Yucatan.

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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