Friday, October 17, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…" I've had that tune running through my head all week. But not because the holidays are coming. They're still weeks away. And anyway, I'll have plenty of time for baking and parties in December. No, I'm thinking about Fall! That most wonderful time of the year when the temperatures and humidity drop and the windows pop open and people are sitting out on their porches enjoying the cool, dry air. The time of year when there are outdoor festivals and concerts on every weekend because its so pleasant to be outside. The time of year for migrating birds and butterflies and fall wildflowers! This is the time that Floridians live for. The perfect weather between too darned hot and cold enough that you need a coat. Fall! Spring is pretty great, too, but right now I'm living the moment. And the moment is Fall! Ahh.
Florida Friendly Landscape Tour
One small problem with the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is that, in Gainesville at least, everyone needs to fit their outdoor weekend events into a period of about 2 months. And Fall is further complicated by the Gator Football schedule. People plan weddings and even funerals around the football season here because there are so many people in town for the games that there are no hotel rooms available for miles around. So on a free weekend or away game, there will be so many things scheduled that you can't possibly do all of them. Festivals, Parades, Fun Runs, Nature Walks, Bird Counts, Clean ups, the list goes on. I feel like I've been signed up for most of them and I'm ready for the busy fall season to wind down so I can enjoy it a bit! In the past month I prepped our house to be on a tour of Florida Friendly Yards, sold photos at the Native Plant Sale, worked at the Florida Museum of Natural History Butterfly Fest, led a wildflower Walk at Morningside Nature Center, gave a talk to Alachua Audubon Society about Sharing Nature with Photography, and I have another wildflower walk this weekend. And all this on top of my regular life. Whew!
My Booth at the Native Plant Sale. I got rained out about half an hour later, but the next day was beautiful!
I have no idea why I agreed to do so many things in such a short period. I can only think that when I was saying yes back in the heat of summer, I must have had some memory the vigor and enthusiasm I feel in this most wonderful time, and I let it get a little out of control. But it's fine. It may sound like it, but I'm not complaining. Having too much to do is a whole lot better than the alternative. And there is an upside. Our yard looks marvelous, I bought lots of native plants, and sold some photos. And lately I've been out at Morningside a whole lot, scoping out the possible wildflower walk routes, and that is like a source of self sustaining energy for me. When I get out exploring and hiking and taking photos, I recharge my jets and I'm ready for more. Walking the trails these past 2 weeks made me realize how busy I had become, how my activities were keeping me from getting out in the field, and how much I loved the quiet sounds, the smells and the colors. It is completely soothing, like a nice massage or meditating. All the worries and stresses slip away. Yet again I am reminded that if I just build time out in nature into my life schedule, I'll will be so much happier. Coincidentally, just yesterday I heard a story on the local radio about a health initiative in Washington DC where pediatricians and the Park Service have teamed up to prescribe time out in nature as a therapy! You can read more or listen to the radio spot  here: Health in a Heartbeat--A different kind of prescription.
This is what I look forward to for all year! Summer Farewell in the Sandhill
Fall is really the best time to to see Wildflowers in this part of Florida. You can find flowers in one place or another all year, but fall, especially in the Sandhills, is when you'll see the biggest displays. And the flowers at Morningside this year are gorgeous! They take my breath away, like they do every year. Every year, the conditions are just a little different than the last. There has been more or less rain, cooler or warmer temperatures and the land management team might or might not have been able to burn. One year there may be no real color in a certain area, and then the next, it's splashed with purple. Last year there had been a late season burn in the area I usually lead people through on the walks, and the vegetation was just barely growing back. But in another section of the park, there was Liatris everywhere--purple spears waving in the wire grass. This year the color is white. Acres of Summer Farewell, looking like soft cotton mist, spread all over the sandhill that just last year was newly charred from a prescribed fire. Every year is a surprise.
Summer Farewell--Dalea pinnata
Here are some of the surprises I saw on my walks through the wildflowers at Morningside while I was preparing to guide people. If you would like to come along for a little nature therapy and see some of these wonders on the Wildflower Walk, I will be meeting people in the Morningside parking lot at 9 am on Saturday, October 18. Bring water, bug spray, a hat, and your camera if you're so inclined. It should be a gorgeous morning. If you can't make it to my walk, there will be one more on October 25th. I believe it will be led by Gary Paul, who is a Morningside expert. And you will see why this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Blue Curls--Trichostema dichotemum

Blue Sage (With Beetles)--Salvia azuria

Buckeye Caterpillar on its host plant, Black Senna--Seymeria cassioides

Cloudless Sulphur feeding on Florida Paintbrush--Carphephorus corymbosus

Yellow Crab Spider on Golden Aster--Chrysopsis sp.

Young Buck on the Trail--I took this with my macro lens. He watched me and then stomped his foot a few times to let me know he didn't like me. Then he bounded off with a flip of his white tail.

Delta Flower Scarab on Florida Paintbrush--Carphephorus corymbosus

A profusion of Dog Fennel Flowers--Eupatorium compositifolium

Little bee inside of False Foxglove--Agalinis fasciculata
(FYI--we won't see this one on the route I will take on Oct. 18.)

"Bee Killer" Robber Fly with Bumble Bee prey

Flower Moth on Yellow Buttons--Balduina angustifolia

Golden Orb Weaver Spider that didn't bite me on the face when I walked through her web. I feel a little wimpy because I shrieked and dropped my camera.  She didn't seem too happy with me either, and I can't blame her.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly feeding on Summer Farewell--Dalea pinnata

Little Orange Caterpillar covered with debris on Yellow Buttons--Balduina angustifolia

Colorful Katydid Nymph on Hawkweed--Hieracium sp.

Long Gayfeather Spear--Liatris tenuifolia

Lopsided Indiangrass--Sorghastrum secundum

Male mosquito feeding on Eupatorium mohrii (Males don't feed on blood. They like nectar!)

Pink Palafox--Palafoxia integrifolia

Procession Flower--Polygala incarnata

Rayless Sunflower--Helianthus radula

Red Banded Hairstreak on Black Senna--Seymeria cassioides

Tattered Tiger Swallowtail feeding on Florida Paintbrush--Carphephorus corymbosus

Southern Toad in a Gopher Tortoise Burrow

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