Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring Reveals Some Surprises

As we progress into early Spring (late March in SW FL) we find new flowers and birds as well as some avian species that are not yet migrating north.  Two of my favorite flowers are now in bloom, the large flowered Sabatia (a beautiful pink) and the spiderwort (a piercing blue color).  Now it is generally true that large blue flowers should attract large bees, but in local gardens the carpenter bees are primarily interested in the scarlet sage.  But the corolla tube of this Salvia is too small for their mouthparts, so they bite the base of the flower and steal the nectar.

An intimidating wasp, the giant paper wasp (Polistes major), is now being seen with more frequency as the weather warms up and this is not a good thing for your butterfly garden.  This wasp, which makes paper nests under the eves of houses and under cabbage palm leaves, is relatively peaceful to humans but certain death to caterpillars.  I see it carefully searching our milkweed plants for caterpillars which are cut into pieces to feed its babies.  So to protect your monarch caterpillars you may want to rear them indoors or take measures to reduce the numbers of this voracious insect carnivore.   

If you are walking along lake shores you may notice groups of pretty pink eggs attached to plant stalks.  These are the eggs of the exotic island apple snail which has become quite numerous in constructed impoundments.  Opinions differ on whether this is an entirely bad thing or somewhat beneficial to snail kites and limpkins.  I do know that there were groups of intact but empty shells all along the shore of the lake in Charlotte Flatwoods, indicating that some predator is eating these large snails.

Our wintering birds are leaving now for their northern breeding grounds.  Our young male painted bunting (which is a camouflaged yellowish green color in complete contrast to the adult male) has been with us all winter but will soon head north for the coastal plain of N FL or GA and SC.  Another well camouflaged bird, the barred owl, is busy raising a baby at Kiwanis Park in Pt Charlotte.  A winter resident male lesser scaup duck, which is soon to depart for the far north, was showing off his striking breeding plumage at Pt Charlotte beach. 

An exciting show is being put on by at least four swallow tailed kites which have been seen flying around Kiwanis Park, possibly in preparation for breeding.  They have recently returned from their winter stay in S America.  A surprising winter visitor to SW FL has been a western kingbird near the Zemel Rd dump;  It will presumably soon be heading back to its breeding range in Texas or further west.

We are still awaiting the most exciting event of Spring, when neotropical bird migrants heading north from Yucatan to the US get blown to the east and land on our FL shores.  Such "fall outs" are highly anticipated but difficult to predict, so keep your eyes to the sky when westerly rains blow in overnight.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL and Galax, VA








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