A Snapshot of Nature in Winter n SW Florida

January 4, 2017

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson


Winter in SW Florida means sunny warm days with almost weekly cold fronts that deliver chilly nights and strong NE winds. Now flowers are a bit constrained this time of year, especially our beloved native species. Thus I enjoy cultivating exotic flowers which bloom in winter, are non-invasive, and have specific benefits for wildlife. One of my favorites is the spectacular powder puff from South America, which has a flower made up primarily of the showy male stamens. It would seem to be a classic hummingbird-pollinated flower, but is attractive to other nectar feeders.

We have had many cloudless and orange barred sulphur butterflies in our yard laying eggs on our cassia/senna plants. On a very cool morning this cloudless male was barely able to fly and I was able to pick it up, whereas they normally fly very swiftly. One orange barred Sulphur caterpillar escaped from the wasp predators and was feeding on flowers of cassia.

At our favorite beach on NW Knight Island I found some sanderlings resting for a moment. They seem to spend most of their time scurrying around the waves looking for mole crabs. They are so tiny yet manage to migrate to the Arctic to breed. Nearby along the edges of a lagoon there is a spot where a sub-tropical reddish egret is often found; I was able to get a close-up of its shaggy neck and keen eye- the better for chasing fish in shallow water. They have a very flamboyant method of feeding, involving spreading their wings and lurching around, that must confuse their prey.

At a traditional New Year’s Day birding spot, Ollie’s Pond, I found a male anhinga in a spread-wing pose that is traditionally interpreted as a means of drying their wings after they have been fishing. Tom Poulson from Loxahatchee has added a new hypothesis for this behavior- namely a means of warming up on cool mornings. A sharp-eyed birder noticed a snipe huddling along the bank nearby, close to passing visitors. This illustrates how much easier it is to observe wildlife where they have become adjusted to the presence of people who do not threaten them. Snipe are also so well camouflaged that they may remain still when danger threatens.

One of our favorite places to observe wildlife is in our own yard on Manasota Key and one secret to attracting birds is a water drip. This photo shows a yellow rump warbler getting ready to take a sip from the drip. I think birds immediately recognize the drip since they are accustomed to drinking from morning dew on plants. Fresh water on the barrier islands is a scarce commodity so water is often more attractive to birds than food.

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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