Sunrises are each different and I never tire of watching the sun come up across Lemon Bay beyond our dock. A complex combination of clouds/weather and atmospheric dust determine the colors and intensity, but do not blink or you might miss the best part! Our dock is also a great place to study mangroves. In early February red mangroves are dropping old flowers and a new crop of seedlings is germinating on the mother plant- a very unusual life strategy that accelerates their ability to become planted in shallow sediments.
One of the strangest sights at dawn recently has been this burning dead tree on the beach at Stump Pass State Park. Someone went to a lot of trouble and work to drag this heavy casuarina log down to the beach, erect it as a pole and set it on fire! Did they dance naked around it or simply watch in awe? Who knows, but it was considered to be a fire hazard and the fire department was called.
In contrast consider this photo of a Hong Kong “orchid tree” (not an orchid) in full bloom at Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve. It is non-native but provides beautiful blooms and nectar for insects in winter which very few native species do. It is also a sterile hybrid (Bauhinia Blakeana) which does not reproduce and can thus be enjoyed without any danger to the environment.
While wading through shallow wetlands in Amberjack Preserve I noticed a peculiar association between pigs and red root (Lachnanthes) – which is toxic to livestock (https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/lachnanthes-caroliniana/). Despite this toxicity it is avidly eaten by feral pigs (see the reddish roots floating in water after being rooted up by hogs). Yet it has been known since early pioneer days that only black pigs can tolerate eating it- white pigs die. The dislodged root fragments seen floating around will grown into new plants so in a way the feral pigs are “farming” red root and providing a beneficial return of a small area to an early successional state.
Cooler winter weather does not favor butterflies but monarchs are more tolerant of it and I did see this one black swallowtail at Myakka State Forest. It is one of the “black and blue” butterflies that mimic the toxic pipevine swallowtail. Dragonflies will be found flying on warmer days around the perimeter of ponds such as this non-native male scarlet skimmer at Ann Dever Park.
The common brown anole, also a non-native, will find a warm sunny spot to display and defend its territory. This large male is camouflaged until it unfurls its bright dewlap to intimidate other males. These anoles are so abundant that they are an important part of the food chain now. The native green anole is starting to come back by occupying territories higher up in vegetation than commonly used by the brown anoles.
Alligators are rather sluggish in winter but will find a warm spot to haul out and bask. This head of this huge male at Broadmoor is an interesting study in textures- the length in inches between the nose and eyes is the approximate length in feet, so this behemoth is a monster of at least 10 feet or more. I did not get close enough to use a ruler!
Our ospreys on offshore islands commonly nest on non-native trees such as this Norfolk Island pine, which keep them far above human activities below. In this sense these exotic trees are quite beneficial to ospreys and eagles where tall native pines are not available.
On a hike to Prairie Creek Preserve we observed several rare and interesting birds. This scrub jay is a declining species since it is so habitat specific to scrub habitat which is prime uplands for housing. Note that this jay is not banded as so many are. The caracara in contrast is doing best on cattle ranches since there are few native prairies left. It has an interesting klepto-parasitic relationship with black vultures with whom it competes for food at mammal carcasses (https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1951&context=ffn).
I never become tired of observing yellow throated warblers come daily to our dripping water baths. Males and females are identical. The yellow lores indicate this is a bird from the southeastern population.
The ability of birds to adapt to human modifications of the environment is crucial to their ultimate survival. But the use of a local dumpster by wood storks and white ibis is not a pleasing sight! This dumpster is behind a local restaurant and is usually frequented mainly by black vultures which are rather protective of their food source, but in their absence these water birds are taking advantage of the food scraps.
The variation in colors of wading birds is a mater of some conjecture. For example juveniles of this little blue heron are white yet adults are dark. Other wading birds such as great blues are dark. Some species such as the reddish egret can be either white or dark. The reasons for this are obscure but a matter of conjecture. The black crowned night heron is dark on the back and lighter underneath. I have always thought that such variation in coloration might be related to the feeding techniques of each species- white plumage being more suited to fishing in shallow waters where fish might see an approaching predatory bird against the sky. Dark plumage might work better in shallow vegetated habitats where a wider variety of prey is sought.
I do not often observe mammals in our yard at close range since many of them are nocturnal and shy around people. But we have a relatively tame marsh rabbit in our yard which might be a young animal less fearful of people. It seems to spend most of its time feeding on weeds. We have many raccoons based on their numerous tracks but I recently noticed one in daytime. It was climbing up a coconut palm gnawing on something- maybe the young nuts- without much effect. It soon climbed down with some difficulty on the smooth trunk and headed off through the mangroves.
So even in the midst of winter here in SW FL we have lots of opportunities to observe nature in all its glory. Do not fail to haul yourself off the couch and enjoy the views- it will stimulate the mind and heal your soul. .