Spring is a time of wonderful sights and sounds as critters go through an accelerated process of feeding and breeding. Of course reptiles are “ectotherms” and need to bask to elevate their body temperatures to increase digestion and to enable themselves to become more active metabolically. It is common to see the iguanid anole lizards basking but this male southeastern five-lined skink sunning itself on a palm tree in my yard was an unusual sight. Typically these skinks burrow in shallow litter but this adult male with red jaws and cheeks may be raising its body temperature to allow it to actively protect its territory and court females. These lizards, whose young have bright blue tails, have long been considered dangerous in folklore tales and it does appear that they may be toxic to predators. It is interesting that so little is known about this relatively common lizard.
I encountered another reptile which becomes very active in hot weather, the coachwhip snake. Unfortunately it is sometimes seen as here DOR (aka dead on road) as the only evidence of its presence. This is a very impressive snake with a strange color pattern- the black head and neck have no obvious function but are quite distinctive. This is a predator on young birds or lizards or virtually any animal small enough for it to swallow.
Another reptile that loves the heat is the gopher tortoise. They are especially common on Palm and Don Pedro Islands where they have special protection and can often be observed going about their daily activities. This female (note the flat lower shell or plastron, the short tail and the small anterior protrusion of the shell which is used to flip over rivals) has just dug a new burrow in the side of our septic tank mound. This is an example of how some human activities can benefit animals, in this case by providing soils elevated above the ground water table and thus more suitable for burrow construction.
Spring-time activities in the avian world are legion this time of year. Birders anxiously watch for the appearance of migrants and observe breeding behavior. No migrants except warblers are more avidly awaited than the tanagers and orioles which were late in arriving this year. We have the table set for them with black, white and red mulberries in full fruit. So we were very excited on April 12 to see both a summer tanager (a male shown here in a black mulberry tree having a snack) and an orchard oriole. The strangler fig trees have been loaded with fruit and they are attracting hundreds of cedar waxwings to gorge themselves. Waxwings sit around a lot and I think it is because they can quickly eat their fill of large fruit and then must wait for it to digest. No tree is more attractive to them than these native fig trees.
Ospreys have been breeding for some time and their antics and calls are continuous in our yard since we have a nest directly over our house in a tall Norfolk Island pine. But ospreys are not limited to trees for nesting sites- here I show that a pair has chosen to nest on the top of a lighting pole at a local sports park. Some human activities have benefited this species. Beach nesting species such as the snowy plover which nests close to our house are not so fortunate since they are disturbed a lot by human activities. This breeding adult is currently looking for a nest site free from the pervasive presence of humans on beaches. Some birds go one step further and actively seek food from humans- here I show a photo of a great egret that comes to our doorway and evens walks into the house if allowed. It will accept food of all types although I discourage this type of un-natural feeding. But it does point out why this species is more successful than many wading birds because of the flexibility of its foraging behavior.
So join in the spirit of the spring season and enjoy the incredible show that breeding animals provide.
Bill Dunson. Englewood, FL & Galax, VA