The restriction of our movements caused by the COVID 19 pandemic has led to a serious problem in occupying our minds in a productive fashion without suffering from an overload of computer and TV screen time. One solution I have found is to observe nature within our yard. We are fortunate to have a large lot on Manasota Key that is adjacent to Lemon Bay. We have also spent 25 years planting more than 160 species of native and exotic perennials, shrubs, vines and trees that attract wildlife. In addition our area lies within migration routes for some birds returning to their northern breeding grounds from the Caribbean, Central and S America. The best avian migrants are seen after a weather front with NW winds that pushes the birds east of their usual travel routes.
Over 25 years we have recorded about 160 species of birds in our yard and more than a dozen reptiles and amphibians. Recently we have enjoyed seeing a spectacular male prothonotary warbler feeding in our live oak trees, a northern water thrush foraging in leaf litter on the ground, and a male ruby-throated hummingbird, and a female orchard oriole which were especially attracted to the nectar in flowers of the coral honeysuckle. These and many other neotropical migrants are only passing through on their journey north.
We also have some interesting local birds that are actually breeding in our yard and these are an special source of wonder. Ospreys have nested in the top of a tall Norfolk Island pine directly over our house for at least 20 years. Cardinals are currently nesting just outside our living room window and the female is incubating three beautifully camouflaged eggs.
We also have a surprising diversity of reptiles in our yard. Although black racers are the most common snake, this recently observed corn snake is definitely the most beautiful. The abundant exotic brown or Cuban anoles are the food base for many reptiles and birds, but this native SE five-lined skink is very interesting and surprisingly common in the ground litter. The young skinks have a bright blue tail and this adult male has lost the blue tail and gained a red head. There is a lack of scientific study of the purpose of the blue tail and red head but it appears that these common lizards may contain a toxin that can paralyze cats and thus discourage predation. These and related broadhead skinks have been called “scorpions” in traditional southern lore and it may turn out to be true that while not venomous, they are toxic to predators that eat them.
When I gaze into the shallow bay waters from our dock this spring I immediately notice a huge number of “upside down” jellyfish, Cassiopea, of large sizes. This is quite unusual in my 25 years of experience here and I attribute it most likely to changes in a factor that normally kills the young jellyfish migrating from the Caribbean and prevents most of them from surviving and growing during the winter. The most obvious but as yet unproven factor would be a small rise in temperature. But of course there may be other important conditions that have changed to allow this large increase in jellyfish. This jellyfish is unusual in that it has a symbiotic relationship with an algal dinoflagellate ( http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/fieldcourses05/PapersMarineEcologyArticles/ASymbioticLifestyle.C.xam.html ) and thus lies on its back in shallow water to cultivate these algae in a mutually beneficial relationship.
No matter how large or small, your yard will have some interesting natural events occurring and many species to observe. There may be a nearby park which allows hiking where you may also make observations. This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature at a local level and I know you will be amazed at the intriguing things you will see.