After a two months absence from Florida it was a treat to return for a short time and visit one of my favorite places, Wildflower Preserve (WF) near Englewood. There had been a protracted drought so water levels were down in ponds. But just during our stay, a more normal pattern of summer rainfall began and ponds started to fill back up.
One of the volunteers, Jane Wallace, and her helpers have been very busy planting flowers to create butterfly habitat. One of the most striking results was a red swamp hibiscus (H. coccineus) in bloom (see photo). This obligate wetland species is quite spectacular and although it is not used by butterflies to my knowledge, it will please some bumblebees who collect its pollen. I have even successfully planted this on our VA farm as a reminder of my beloved southern swamps.
A remarkable caterpillar I came across (I have to admit outside WF but nearby) feeding to my great surprise on the poisonous cycad coontie was that of the beautiful echo moth. Now very few caterpillars can eat coontie and this was the first time I had seen this happen although it is reported in “Caterpillars of Eastern North America” by David L. Wagner. This could explain why these caterpillars are so brightly colored- to warn potential predators that they are poisonous due to the toxins they have eaten. Some of the larger caterpillars were marching around on the ground in jerky motions in a highly unusual manner.
Although I have not seen bobcats at WF recently, I was very pleased to see numerous rabbits (see photo) which would be ideal food for our sometimes under-nourished bobcats. Although rabbits are “cute,” I have difficulty enjoying them because I associate them with their appetites for our VA garden vegetables. However I have learned to fence the garden better, persecute the rabbits less, and enjoy them as they are with an important place in the food web.
The onset of the summer rains has brought out the frogs in numbers and there are few sounds in nature as wonderful as a frog chorus on a summer night. At WF I have mainly heard green tree frogs (see photo), a few narrow-mouthed toads, and Cuban tree frogs (see photo). The latter are non-native but flourish in our area; unfortunately they compete with and prey on our native frogs but as a herpetologist I still find them intriguing and hard to dislike.
One of the predictable events of summer is the dry-down of Lemon Lake just south of WF (see photo). It lies at the southern headwaters of Lemon Creek which passes through WF and is part of the overall estuarine ecosystem which the Lemon Bay Conservancy wants to protect. The water level in the lake originates from tidal flow of Lemon Creek plus rainfall minus evaporation, which is high in the summer. Thus when summer rainfall is low, the lake dries down and may even become an expanse of cracked mud. What happens to the fish? Birds eat many of them, many die, and some migrate down the creek into WF. One day during the driest time I noticed that there were thousands of sheepshead minnows (see photo) concentrated in Lemon Creek in Fiddler’s Green development and WF. The very next day after a rain, most of these had disappeared, apparently swimming back into portions of Lemon Lake that were re-flooded. This illustrates very well the cycles of life in the lake and creek and how they vary with rain, tides and weather.
Enjoy the natural wonders of summer wherever you are!
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA