Friday, December 2, 2016

A Homeless Vagabond Returns To Florida

For those of you in SW FL here are some upcoming walks that I am leading:

Dec. 8: 9-11 am, Kiwanis Park Port Charlotte, 501 Donora St accessed via Midway Blvd

Dec. 13 & 27:  9-11:30 am, Stump Pass State Park, Englewood, 900 Gulf Blvd 

We had been thinking a bit recently that as our retirement years tick on, we would some day need to downsize by selling our 107 acre Blueridge Mt. Virginia farm.  Thus when a VA neighbor who was looking at an adjacent farm for sale offered to buy ours, we made the difficult decision!  The closing happened almost immediately and we loaded up a 26 foot U Haul truck and drove to FL on Nov. 19.  The photo shows the truck parked in front of the 120 year old farmhouse.  This whirlwind change in our affairs has perhaps not sunk in yet.  We have had 14 glorious years managing the land and waters and enjoyed every minute.  The chance to play god on this scale is a dream come true and we were able to make some changes that greatly improved the habitats for wildlife.  Next summer we plan to explore options to rent closer to our three kids in NC and UT and travel. 

As we arrived in FL after selling the farm, we enjoyed the warmer weather and the natural beauties that are the hallmark of this spectacular peninsula.  A recent sunrise in our backyard was amazing and a great blue heron seemed to be enjoying it too.  The annual battle in our yard between the nesting ospreys and a pair of trespassing great horned owls continues at a fierce pace.  This photo shows the female osprey taking a break from the fracas.  Last year owls killed the male osprey, but the female quickly found another mate and was able to drive the owls away.  This year the outcome is still in doubt.

 The relatively warm weather has allowed some insects to continue breeding.  This pair of purple bluet damselflies at Joshua Creek near Nocatee, FL, illustrates a behavior named "contact guarding," whereby the male holds the female by the head while she lays eggs, thereby avoiding the interference of other males.  Such complex behavior among primitive insects always amazes me.

On warmer days the cicadas have been calling but you rarely have the opportunity to see the interesting bug that makes the buzzing call.  This is an annual cicada from our yard, not the remarkable periodical cicadas that emerge every 13-17 years in prodigious numbers further north.

Butterflies have been very abundant in our yard.  A gulf fritillary is shown here on a S African Cape honeysuckle flower.  Monarchs are attracted to our tall Mexican sunflowers along with many bees.  We have grown several monarch caterpillars on Mexican milkweed and were amazed to observe that the caterpillar partially cuts the base of the leaf before eating it.  This supposedly prevents too much toxic fluid from entering the leaf while the caterpillar feeds.  There is thus a limit to their tolerance to the toxins in milkweed, which protect them from their predators.  Gulf fritillaries (cats eat toxic passion vines) and viceroys (cats eat toxic willows) mimic the orange and black colors of the monarch to gain mutual protection (Muellerian mimicry) from bird predators.

The natural beauties of the fall season in Florida provide a wide range of opportunities to enjoy the wonders of plants and animals, and the seasonal changes that occur in fall and winter.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL