Rainbows are ephemeral and rarely seen, especially during the dry season, so this double circular rainbow seen on Nov. 15 to the east from our dock was a special treat. Hurricanes are more of a “trick” than a treat and can of course be very destructive. The latest hurricane Idalia which passed us by off shore in the Gulf destroyed the road at Middle Beach just north of us. There was a debate about whether to repair the road, build a bridge or just let nature take its course (which was my favorite solution). But the powers that be decided to rebuild the road as has been done numerous times before and this is the new road bed placed at the upper edge of the beach, just prior to paving. The effects of the high winds can still be seen by this wind-thrown Australian pine at Middle Beach. Note the very thin root ball due to a high ground water level- it seems a miracle that the tree did not fall much earlier and teaches us that large trees do not fare well on barrier islands.
A very interesting lesson in plant succession is being taught at Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve where a series of tidal lagoons have been constructed to provide additional juvenile tarpon habitat. I predicted that the edges of these lagoons would swiftly be naturally colonized primarily by white mangroves as the earliest woody successional stage- this is happening at the moment and will be followed by a gradual increase in biodiversity by invasion of shade tolerant red and black mangroves.
One of our most spectacular local fungi has been seen at Don Pedro State Park where cinnabar polypores are growing on dead wood. These brightly colored saprophytes are likely advertising their toxicity to any potential herbivores foolish enough to eat them. Our local expert on fungi Coop/Bob Cooper has warned that “there are old mushroom eaters and bold mushroom eaters, but no old bold mushroom eaters!”
Several spectacular butterflies seen this month are an orange barred sulphur female nectaring on a Cape honeysuckle, and a gulf fritillary visiting flowers of Mexican clover. The sulphur will be laying eggs on Cassias and the fritillary on passionvines. The availability of non-native flowers in winter when so few natives are available can be crucial in maintaining these wonderful butterflies.
We have always had rabbits of two species in our yard but a beautiful bobcat ate them all last winter. So I was happy to see this marsh rabbit (known for its swimming ability) and a cottontail have returned to our yard, at least until the next bobcat visits. I have found that rabbits usually confine their feeding to plants that are of little interest, but have had to put up a rabbit fence occasionally when I am trying to grow specific flowers. Black iguanas have reached our yard finally and I have found their reputation as plant eaters to be overstated. Indeed I greatly enjoy watching them although they are quite shy likely due to the intense efforts of local agents to kill them. This extermination drive seems irrational given their minimal danger to the ecosystem compared to feral cats. Indeed removal of monitor lizards from Cape Coral was found to promote a bad effect on the ecosystem since these large predatory lizards eat feral cats!
One of our most beautiful native snakes is the corn snake, found here in Oyster Creek Preserve. Our most beautiful turtle, the box turtle, is common in our yard (likely due to numerous bushy hideaways) despite the danger posed by the adjacent highway. This is a female (note convex lower shell/plastron), brownish iris and short tail). Sex in turtles is quite an enigma given their shells but they have persisted on the planet for more than 200 million years. As Ogden Nash wrote ” I think it clever of the turtle in such a fix to be so fertile.”
One of the most beloved and beautiful local birds is the sandhill crane which often strolls around yards and golf courses, usually in pairs. This couple at Myakka State Forest consists most likely of a larger male and a female. It is also a common sight to see flocks of white ibis foraging in grassy areas. This flock in our yard seems very efficient in rooting out small prey and they epitomize the degree to which some birds have modified their feeding habits to include human occupied spaces. The familiar great egret, here seen in a natural tidal marsh, is also quite adept at using yards to hunt for lizards and other small prey. The kingfisher is a winter visitor who will return to the north to breed in springtime. Another common winter resident is the yellow rumped warbler (aka “butterbutt”) which is known for its ability to forage in winter far north of the tropics. This is due in large part to its ability to eat and digest fruits such as wax myrtle.
One of the most peculiar visitors to our water baths is this black vulture which roosts on nearby condos but apparently has difficulty finding fresh water. It landed on this bath and flipped it over making it impossible to drink. The brown thrasher is an uncommon visitor to our water baths and to the barrier islands. The resident ground dove on the other hand is common on the island and the constant occurrence of pairs leads to the assumption that these “love birds” stay together all year.
So go forth and enjoy nature wherever you can find it. It is beneficial for the brain in all sorts of ways and serves to console us for the numerous difficulties of daily life.