Tuesday, June 30, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 30, Wrapping Up

Rosegentian (Sabatia sp.)
Well, here it is. The 30th of June and the last day of the June Challenge, and the last day of my personal challenge to trek all over the county and beyond to say goodbye to some of my favorite natural areas. I have had a blast! It's been satisfying and exciting. And exhausting! I can't even say how many times this month I've looked out and said "I can't believe how beautiful this is". I've seen so many wonderful places and things and have spent time with my favorite people. This month of journeys has given me memories to last a lifetime.

Delta Flower Beetle on Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliniana)
On this final day I decided to visit several locations where I thought I could catch some of the birds I was still missing on my list. There are some places that I can go to again and again and they never get old. I made an early morning trip to La Chua Trail, which was still dewy and fresh after a morning morning rain.  The butterflies were active and the spider webs sparkled in the sun.

Palamedes Swallowtail

Variegated Fritillary

Golden Silk Orbweaver

Black and Yellow Argiope Orbweaver

I was hoping to see a Yellow Breasted Chat and thought I'd actually done it until I got home and looked at my photos on the big screen. My Chat turned out to be an Orchard Oriole. It was very far away, but I should have caught on when I saw a pair in a bush closer to the road. Oh well. No Chat.

Adult and Juvenile Orchard Orioles

The Lotus is still blooming and they are so gorgeous that I can't help but take more photos every time I see them.


American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Down at the observation platform, I met up with fellow birders and we chatted about birds that we wish we had for our June Challenge list. They helped me find a Blue-winged Teal, and then a Wood Duck flew past us, giving me 2 new birds for my list. We looked in vain for the Scaup, but the Roseate Spoonbills were putting on a show and I spent a long time watching them and visiting with friends at the platform. The temperature was really cool and pleasant, almost the best weather I've experienced all month!

Roseate Spoonbill Flyover

Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbills and Black-necked Stilts
Later in the afternoon, I met Maralee and we drove to the other end of the county to visit Watermelon Pond and the Newberry Cemetery. We hoped to see Chuck-will's-widows and Fox Squirrels at Watermelon Pond but didn't see any. The trip to the Cemetery was more successful. We found 2 Great Horned Owls and a brilliantly colored pair of Red Headed Woodpeckers.

Great Horned Owl

Red-headed Woodpeckers

Driving down the road to Watermelon Pond, we saw what we were both hoping was a Northern Harrier, but were pretty sure was not, since that sighting would be very unusual. But it would have been very exciting. (During June, everyone wants to be the one to report something unusual or rare.) Later, on the same road, we actually did see a Northern Bobwhite out in the open, dozens of Eastern Kingbirds on the utility wires, and a Bachman's Sparrow that was just singing and singing. We also found a Glass Lizard squiggling across the dirt road.

Kingbird on the Wire

Glass Lizard

We headed home under the light of a beautiful full moon. We forgot to look for planets, though! The storm clouds that had threatened passed right by us and the Nighthawks buzzed overhead. It was a perfect end to a perfect month. Now it is time to clean my camera, put away the rubber boots, wash the car, spend some more time with my husband and dogs, and get packing for the move. I feel like I have said a proper goodbye to Florida and I think I'm ready to leave now. And I have a photo journal and blog to help me remember when I start to feel homesick.

Nighthawks on the First and Last Day

Full Moon

June Challenge Bird Count Grand Total: 100 Birds (96 ABA Countable/4 not countable)
Places Visited: 30, some more than once (See previous blogs!)

My June Challenge 2015 Bird List:
Black Bellied Whistling Duck
Muscovy Duck
Wood Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue Wing Teal
Northern Bobwhite
Pied-billed Grebe
Wood Stork
Double-crested Cormorant
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-heron
Yellow-crowned Night-heron
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Mississippi Kite
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Purple Gallinule
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Whooping Crane
Black-necked Stilt
Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Acadian Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Purple Martin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Pine Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Bachman's Sparrow
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
House Finch
House Sparrow
Black Swan
Greylag Goose
Swan Goose

30 Days in June: Day 29, Morningside Nature Center at Dusk

Yellow False Foxglove (Aureolaria pectinata)
I've been trying to get to some of the parks in the early evening as well as during the day. The atmosphere is so different from what you see during daytime hours. Fewer people, softer light, different and more relaxed animals. It's really nice. I love that the parks have later hours now. When we first moved to Gainesville this was not the case. Way back when, you had to be out of La Chua Trail and the City nature parks at 5pm or you would be locked in. I know people who were ticketed for trespassing when they stayed to watch a sunset in the summer. If you wanted to go to the park after work, or wanted to try to see some owls or bobcats in a nature park, you were just out of luck. It was kind of frustrating. But people asked and times changed and now the parks close at sunset (around 8pm) during summer hours and at 6pm in the winter. This seems like a reasonable arrangement. People staffing the park need to go home and it's not a great idea to have visitors roaming the parks at all hours, anyway. For several years, until the city hired a contractor for the job, I was one of those people who had to lock the gates at Morningside. I would always get a sinking feeling when I needed to go home and there were still cars in the parking lot. I would yell and honk my horn and try to get their attention, but Morningside is a big park. We would wait around for a while and would sometimes even walk out on the trails a bit to try to find the people. In the end we would leave a note on their windshield giving them the police non-emergency number and lock the gate behind us, hoping that the person wasn't lost or hurt. I no longer work there, and the contractor probably still has to lock cars in the park, but I think that extending the hours has to help keep the numbers down. Most people will leave on their own before dark.

Morningside Farm Gates

I was thinking about this when I was at Morningside on Monday evening, remembering the many times I opened and closed the park, and those big farm gates, all those evenings in summer waiting for the last camper to be picked up, sitting in the parking lot in the early morning in my 1870's clothes waiting for a school bus to arrive, walking the trails with a group of children who were looking and listening for signs of habitats, walking the trails to get to know the wildflowers, perching on top of the "Paha" (the Native American replica structure) tying palmetto fronds for new thatching. I have lots of great memories of Morningside.

Securing the Poles on the Paha

The Paha

My plan on Monday evening was to walk the park until sunset and maybe see owls and bobcats, or at least coyotes, but I was thwarted by yellow flies. They were biting hard, despite my DEET. So I left before it got dark and the rest of the bugs came out. But in the time I was there, I managed to see a Northern Flicker. Finally! I think it was because I was wearing my lucky flicker shirt. Or, more likely because I played a flicker recording. When it heard me, the flicker came tearing across the sandhill and circled around to see who this invader was. I felt a little bad disturbing it, but I have been looking for a couple weeks and I just had to call it.

Wearing My Lucky Flicker Shirt! (From Target, FYI)

I also saw a lot of deer. The herd at Morningside is large and healthy. At least twice, in different sections of the park, I was startled by a snorting deer. They sound to me like they are coughing, and it's not scary, but sometimes I mistake the sound for another person and it can be a surprise. I counted about 10 deer in total.

Velvet Antlers

Just as I was nearing the NE sandhill area, I saw a Gopher Tortoise grazing on the path. At last! It has been a very long time since I've seen one at Morningside. I was starting to worry. It saw me and ran back to the safety of the tall grass. They can move faster than you'd think for a creature with such short legs.

Gopher Tortoise Running

I looped around the sandhill and saw that the vegetation is growing back quickly after the prescribed burn of about a month ago. The Paw Paw is flowering and it's almost hard to see where the Wiregrass was burned back. I love how the pines look in fire maintained sandhill. It is a beautiful habitat.

Slimleaf Paw Paw (Asimina angustifolia)

Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia)

Wiregrass (See the blackened base?)

Life in the Lovely Sandhill

From there I walked over to the Education Building, listening for Yellow Throated Vireos. I didn't hear any, though the White Eyed Vireos, Towhees, Red Headed Woodpeckers and Brown Nuthatches were all quite vocal.

Red Banded Hairstreak on Sowthistle

Red Headed Woodpecker Diving

Carolina False Vervain (Stylodon carneum)

A trip through the Cypress Dome did not yield any new birds but I remembered to look up and saw the beautiful tops of the Cypress Trees. I'm glad I spent the evening at Morningside.

Bird Count: 94, Natural Places: 28

Remember to Look Up

Monday, June 29, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 28, Sunset at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Storm Blowing in When I Arrived

Sunday was a very rainy day and I had my doubts that I would be able to get out and see anything. I've had so much fun going out every day this month that I was feeling a little anxious, waiting for my nature "fix". I attempted to start hikes several times during the day but got rained out over and over again. Finally, at about 5pm I packed my bags and drove over to the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. I figured that I could do a quick walk through between storms. I had my poncho just in case, but I hoped I wouldn't need it.

Rain in the Distance

There were very few people at the park because it had just rained hard. I talked with the park ranger who said that she had been drenched a couple of times during the day but that there had been lots of dry spells. I felt optimistic! The frogs were croaking loudly from the trees and from the water. The first thing I spied as I was entering the boardwalk was a huge Horsefly laying eggs on the rail. When I went back later they were gone, washed away in the rain or eaten by a fast thinking critter.

Horsefly Laying Eggs

The rain had left silver puddles on the tops of the hairy Lotus leaves and under the dark sky, it gave a shimmery look to the ponds, like mirrors all around. Then the thunder and lightning started and my break in the weather was about to end. I made it back to the car without getting too wet and looked at the weather app on my phone (I don't know how I ever lived without this thing!). The storm was moving quickly and would probably clear the area in 20 minutes to half an hour, so I waited it out in the car.

Raindrops on Lotus

Big Silvery Pool

Back in the Car, Waiting...

When the storm had passed, I popped out of the car and was back out in the park in a jiffy. It was great timing, too, because I was there when the rainbow stretched halfway over the green park below, and got to see a doe and fawn out browsing. I enjoyed having the whole park to myself for a short while. The birds were actively feeding on bugs in the grass and I was able to stand almost right next to a family of Limpkins. I can't decide if I like them so much because we didn't get to see them here for several years or just because they are incredibly beautiful. Maybe it is because they eat big snails, or because of their haunting call. But I do like them. Very much.

Doe and Fawn

Storm Moving On

Rainbow Over the Park

Lovely Limpkin

At first the light was dark and subdued but then the clouds moved away and the sky was sunny and blue. And there were no bugs biting! At times as I walked I was overwhelmed with the absolute beauty of this place. Gainesville is so very lucky to have it, and it grows more lovely and wonderful every day.  It will be fantastic when the park is open during the week. I walked along the boardwalk and over about 2/3 of the roadways. I counted 9 Limpkins and 15 Least Bitterns! Redwing Blackbirds and Grackles were probably the most common bird. I saw plenty of Frogs and Gators and several deer. I didn't see anything new or unusual to add to my June Challenge list, but everything I did see was wonderful.

Great Egret 

Small Gator Surrounded by Tiny Fish

Common Gallinule in a Sea of Green

Anhinga in Breeding Plumage

Black Crowned Night Heron Perched on Cattails

I stayed for about another hour until the sun started to set. Flocks of White Ibis flew in waves into the safety of the wetlands for the night. Other birders who had been waiting for the weather to clear up arrived soon after the storm. I ran into several friends on the trails who came for a quick visit. We all had something special to share and pass along to one another. Little tidbits about the magic of the evening. This is yet another reason why I am a nature lover. It is a hopeful thing to share time with people who also delight in the sounds of tree frogs, or in seeing yet another Least Bittern or Limpkin, or the shine of the water on the Lotus leaves, or in breathing the fresh air on a brisk walk through a park. It is good to be with like minded people. But, really, I imagine everyone loves and cares about nature on at least some level, whether is is a pristine wilderness area or reeling in a huge fish or mountain biking through the desert. Nature can be a way to connect and start conversations. When we have something in common it is easier to work together to make compromises and solve our problems. I feel like we need a lot more connections these days. This is a good place to start.

Purple Gallinule

Precarious Perch of a Red-winged Blackbird

Grackle on the Shimmery Surface

Least Bittern Flying Over Cattails

Nature Selfie