Late Fall is a time of minimal wild flowers in bloom perhaps due to the relative lack of pollinators available. But I did recently find a few flowers of considerable beauty enhanced by their scarcity. Yellow buttons aka Balduina are fairly abundant in Oyster Creek/Ann Dever Park in areas where long leaf pine used to be present. I found a pristine pink Sabatia grandiflora in a hidden wetland off the trail system. A Gaillardia or Indian blanket is a N American but not Florida native which had attracted a bright green native sweat bee. Although the very yellow primrose willow is a Caribbean invader it is beautiful and here has also attracted a native green sweat bee. A most unusual pollinator seen was a titan hummingbird sphinx moth hovering in front of Panama Rose flowers.
Fall is of course a time for fruits and there are some interesting ones present. The striking pink/purple beauty berry fruits attract a lot of attention from birds such as mockingbirds. Pokeweed fruits are toxic to humans but birds consume them avidly and deposit dark purple stains as a result- note the “fruit flagging” of the red stems which attracts birds to the dark fruits. A very different type of fruits are the white seeds on salt bush which are widely spread by winds.
The cool nights and regular cold fronts keep the numbers of flying insects to a minimum but I did recently find one of the most beautiful “pretty boys” of the dragonfly world, a male roseate skimmer. These spectacular males are likely touting their virility and good genes by such bright colors. The tiny male Rambur’s forktail damselfly is also part of the miniature wetland world. The white peacock butterfly is one of the most common species to be seen flying slowly over the wetland edges of ponds where their larval food (Bacopa) grows abundantly.
Our winter birds are common sights despite any changes in the weather. The yellow throated warbler is one of my favorites which comes regularly to our water drip baths- the male and female look alike. A white ibis visited our water bath despite the fact that it is definitely too large for it. This loggerhead shrike is a small but highly predaceous bird which is famous for impaling its prey on thorns or barbed wire. Wood storks seem somewhat ungainly but are highly skilled predators of small prey in shallow water; they shuffle their striking pink feet to scare the prey into moving. The anhinga often seen drying its wings is a deadly predator on small fish- it allows its plumage to get wet so that it is neutrally buoyant while swimming.
Although many butterflies lay eggs in our yard, very few caterpillars develop fully due to a multitude of predators including paper wasps. This time of year monarchs are one of our most commonly seen butterflies. This photo shows an adult male monarch feeding on the purple flower of an orchid tree; this beautiful non-native hybrid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana) flowers all winter and since it is sterile it is a minimal threat to native ecology. We recently found two late stage monarch caterpillars developing on giant milkweed and decided to bring them inside to be sure they would safely finish their development. This can be easily done by placing a branch of milkweed in water and watching for the caterpillars to go into the “J” phase followed by the chrysalis shown here. The green pupal stage will be followed by development of the colorful wings and finally emergence. If you have not engaged in “caterpillar farming” you will enjoy giving it a try.
Despite the occasional cold NE winds from passing cold fronts in winter, you will find that the clear sunny days after the fronts pass can be glorious and a great time to get out and enjoy nature’s wonders.