Monday, August 26, 2013

Week 35

31 Aug 2013, Orlando Wetlands Park

It was a very good day for our monthly butterfly and dragonfly survey and for the next year we will be doing the survey at Orlando Wetlands, and that is a treat in itself.

This Dorantes Skipper, Urbanus dorantus, is listed as a vagrant in this area, more common in southern Florida.

This is an attractive species, the Long-tailed Skipper, with its gorgeous green and blue on the topside of the body.  The blue area is mostly in the shadows in this image but you can see the blue better in the next image ...

Also, notice how the lighting affects the color and pattern of the wings in these two photos, one shows it, one mostly hides it.

The butterflies are beautiful, however, they are also the prey of ...

... prey of spiders (the butterfly might be a Zarucco Duskywing).

... prey of Mantids.  Look closely.  The Mantid is eating right in the middle of the abdomen of the butterfly.  They camouflage themselves well.  What we think are small twigs can be Mantids.

... prey of dragonflies like this male Eastern Pondhawk.
If these butterflies are not being eaten now ...

... they soon will be; if this Cloudless Sulfur doesn't vacate the premises quickly, that big spider will soon make this butterfly victim #4.

30 Aug 2013, Merritt Island NWR

At Merritt Island NWR, on East Gator and Peacocks Pocket, the narrow trail road and its vegetation is all there is with water all around, so birds like this Loggerhead Shrike will perch in the trail shrubs there and sometimes your car is practically right next to them.  I took this photo out my car window.

This Wilson's Phalarope (center) is probably thinking, "Why am I the center of attention?"  It has four Yellowlegs sp. checking out the "different one" while the Dowitcher sp. (far right) could care less.

Look at that beautiful pruinose blue thorax on this male Seaside Dragonlet -- click the image to enlarge it.  Not all these males get this pruinosity.  Normally, they are all glossy black, but some of them get this pruinose overlay.

This is a very common species near the coast, the Marl Pennant.  I was so pleased that I had a clear background and got my best image yet of this species.

29 Aug 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area

OK any of you bug experts out there.  What the heck is this thing?

Update ..... it is a Red-footed Cannibalfly

Usually, we try to ID a species.  In this case, I don't know what genus, what family, I don't even know what order this thing belongs to.  Grasshoppers have hind legs with a base near posterior of the thorax; this thing has its legs coming out way up front at the anterior end.  The wings are not as long as the abdomen.  Grasshoppers with wings usually have wings longer than their abdomen.  It seems to lack antennae but that may be a single antenna protruding from its face.  It flew from this twig to a nearby plant.

Update ... some experts informed me this is a "Robbery Fly".  The order is Diptera. The superfamily is Asiloidae.  The family is Asilidae.  Common name is "Red-footed Cannibalfly".  Thank you !!!

Camera shy birds ... have you ever tried to take the picture of somebody and they go running for cover.  Birds do it too.

Camera shy male Hooded Warbler

Camera Shy American Redstart (at least seven today)

Camera Shy Tufted Titmouse

I saw four black pigs being chased by what I thought was a Florida Black Bear.  It was actually momma pig and the size of this brute was amazing.  The baby pigs looked like adult pigs and momma looked like an SUV.  A Florida Black Bear would go running for cover if it saw this tank of a pig.

There was one Empidonax species again today but unlike yesterday when the Eastern Wood-Pewee vocalized, no such luck today.  I also saw what had to be a Cartharus thrush--it looked more brown tinged than rufous.  I did not even report it on my eBird report because I have no photo of it and species from that genus are not seen in central Florida in August.  It would be nice if we all could get photos of everything we see but that just will not happen.

I returned today to this location in hopes of again finding and photographing that male Prothonotary Warbler in stunning breeding blues.  I saw this species here in June of last year so I do think they breed here.  No luck today, but I did see one other Prothonotary Warbler (maybe two but the second one is a UFO).  Seven American Redstarts and three Black-and-white Warblers added to the migrants for today.

28 Aug 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area

A male Prothonotary Warbler with the bluest of blue wings was my highlight today at Black Bear Wilderness Area in Seminole County.  What a stunning warbler it was.  I may just cancel my plans for tomorrow and return here to see if he is still there and try to get a photo worthy of this male's beauty.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee was the migrant of the day and American Redstarts were seen throughout the trail but not one male--all juveniles and females.  A Yellow-throated Vireo vocalized.  Dragonflies were patrolling the streams on both sides of the trail before it meets the Saint Johns River and Tawny Emperor, blues, swallowtails and a good group of butterflies were present.

The various habitats here are perfect for both the Barred Owl and this Red-shouldered Hawk.  Besides the Cypress Swamp, this location has Hydric Hammock, Floodplain Marsh, Floodplain Swamp and Mixed Hardwood Swamp.  I have seen bobcats and Florida Black Bear here; it is always a fun place to go to and seems active with wildlife most of the time.  In very close proximity to this location are Rock Springs Run State Park, Wilson's Landing, Seminole State Forest, Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park and the Markham Tract section of Wekiwa Springs State Park (an isolated section northeast of the main park).

I usually see Barred Owls on most trips to this location and today was no exception.  I imagine there are a lot of territorial fights among these two species, unless they made an agreement with each other to keep an eye out for the Great Horned Owls.

This raccoon and I ran into each other four times along the trail where it runs parallel with the Saint Johns River.  It would scamper off then reappear again further down the trail.

26 Aug 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

As I neared Wekiwa Springs State Park, I saw a buteo "soaring" in a way that practically had the hawk sky-writing its name with its characteristic flight style.  It is a stretch to call it soaring when it was stalling, kiting, stooping and once I pulled off the road and got my binoculars up, I confirmed it was a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk above the Seminole County section of the park.

In the main section of the park (Orange County), I saw either the same Short-tailed Hawk or another one along with three Red-shouldered Hawks and a Red-tailed Hawk.  Three Osprey were soaring at great heights--no fish up there, for sure, but the Osprey must like to just soar and enjoy their flights.   An Eastern Kingbird landed in a tree adjacent to the Sand Lake Parking Lot.

Predator and Prey ...

Here is the prey:

There seemed to be a lot of these Azalea Caterpillars (Datana major) crawling around, so ...

here comes the predator, the Fiery Caterpillar Hunter!!!

Calosoma scrutator

Gardeners should like this beetle because they like to dine on the Azalea Caterpillars.

I also saw a Pygmy Rattlesnake but I don't want to post an image because I am unsure if it was injured or not.  It looked fine but a long time passed by without it moving.

Update ... The Pygmy Rattlesnake died, a victim of a car or bicycle likely, according to a park staffer who found it after I did.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Week 34

23 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

Before the rains came at Lake Apopka, there were only nine Swallow-tailed Kites in the vicinity.  As the skies lose these incredibly beautiful raptors for the season, my eyes remain looking skyward to start searching for early migrant Broad-winged Hawks and falcons, and prepare for the super exciting trip for the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

Just what exactly is this butterfly doing?

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE, "X" in upper right to go back.

This torn and tattered Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was walking around tapping its abdomen on the road.  Through my binoculars, I could swear it was dropping eggs, but on the road?  Here is a photo of "something"; it sure does not have the appearance of an egg, and if it was expelling excess water as waste, then why was it doing it over an extended period of time?  Enlarge the photo and you can see that it is a clear ball and looks like water.

The odd thing was a Spicebush Swallowtail and a skipper was very close by doing the same thing.

UPDATE:  Monica directed me to an article about "mud-puddling"; the butterflies can't get certain minerals from nectar.  Puddles usually have salt and other needed minerals for reproduction.  The butterfly sucks in the moisture with its proboscis and excretes the waste.

Meret Wilson reported seeing an incredible number of swallows late yesterday northeast of here on the coast.  Today at Lake Apopka, there were large numbers of swallows at very high altitudes.  I just read where Diane Reed is seeing big numbers of swallows also northeast of here, mostly Barn Swallows.

Many thousands of Common Green Darner dragonflies swarmed around the CR 448A access to Lake Apopka.  If the Swallow-tailed Kites had stayed just a couple days longer, they could have really gotten fat and happy.  Or, was it the dragonflies having a huge party now that the kites are gone?

22 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

Before continuing on to the raptor watch site, I stopped at Jones Ave Stormwater Park.  There are a lot of waders there and I also wanted to check on the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck family.  Predators have reduced the chicks to seven.  If you scroll down to August 3, I have a photo of this family showing 12 ducklings.  Five have been lost to predators in the last few weeks.

Adjacent to the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, I saw this Palamedes Swallowtail on the ground.  It is not easy trying to get members of the Swallowtail group to pose; they always seem to be in flight, but once in a while they take a breather.

After arriving at the hawkwatch site, A Red-tailed Hawk soon appeared.  It can't be the same one from the other day because this one has near perfect feathers and is not molting.  Compare the neat and orderly feathers here to the feathers on the other Red-tailed Hawk four images below taken yesterday.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” -- Wayne Gretzky

A Swallow-tailed Kite that is a hockey fan !!! This Swallow-tailed Kite has a dragonfly locked on to its radar, but like Wayne Gretzky, it looks by its eyes and head that it is homing in to where the dragonfly is going to be, not where it is now.

I was watching the thousands of Common Green Darners dart around today and when you see 90 degree turns and all the other gyrations they do, it is remarkable that the Swallow-tailed Kite, with its body mass and momentum, can catch these very light and nimble dragonflies in mid-air.  The dragonfly has perhaps the best eyesight in the animal kingdom and that makes it all the more remarkable.  If there is a weakness, they do not see behind them as well and I'm sure that is taken into account by the kites.  This is just one of the millions of things about nature that makes it more awesome the more you study it.

Kite numbers continue to dwindle as we see the last of these raptors migrating south, but a good show was still put on by a group of those still lingering in this area.

21 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

It looks like the Swallow-tailed Kite migration is winding down.  Big numbers and large kettles of the previous days were not seen the last two days, but that did not stop close encounters with these elegant raptors today.  It was nice to have Sherry and Tom at the watch site with me.

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE, "X" in upper right to go back.

What we lacked in big numbers we made up for in some very close encounters.  It looked like they wanted to show off to us.  Some kites came so close that a focus could not be achieved with some passes they made.

Just before normal peak time Noon until 200, (recent peak at 130PM), the rains came, but it was a good day for some close up viewing.

This Red-tailed Hawk is molting and feathers are missing or growing in around the s4 secondaries.

A young Red-tailed Hawk (on the left) was soaring around with an adult.  If you enlarge the image, you can clearly see the large square wing patch on the juvenile with the tail color being the same pale gray as most of the underwing.  The adult's ragged look is due to feather molt.  The Red-shouldered Hawk's translucent crescent near their wing tips is smaller and more intense and in the shape of a true crescent.  The juvenile Red-tailed Hawk's wing patch is larger, square and not as translucent as the Red-shouldered's, but still clearly seen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Week 33

15 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

It was the "Day of Young Raptors" at Lake Apopka.  Soaring along with two adult Bald Eagles were two sub-adult Bald Eagles.  Numerous juvenile Swallow-tailed Kites were once again filling the skies over the Lake Apopka area.

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk got into a tussle with a Swallow-tailed Kite and once again, it was the kite that was the aggressor.  Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks and juvenile Red-tailed Hawks joined the show.

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE, "X" in upper right to go back
This is a second young Cooper's Hawk that appeared a few hours later.  It has more of a square tail, like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but its head projection, wing profile and its full, stiff wing beats all point to a "Coop".  That yellow eye will turn orange then red as it ages.

The second you look at this raptor you know it is a Red-shouldered Hawk with those blazing crescent windows near the wing tips.  The streaking on the chest is a mark of a juvenile.
Another youngster, this time a Red-tailed Hawk.  So, where is the red tail?  The young ones don't have a red tail.

A young Swallow-tailed Kite admires the food ... but what is it?  Butterfly without the wings?  Grasshopper without the big legs?  Dragonfly?  These kites really love dragonflies, but dragonflies don't have antennae and this bug does.  What is your guess?  Enlarge the image and you can see the antennae.
Looks like the same abdomen but this one has wings.
The weird thing here is this is the same kite as the image above, yet the photos were taken 3 1/2 hours apart.  The tail feather splayed and markings on the leading edge of the wing ID this kite as the same kite.  There were about 60 Swallow-tailed Kites in this area, and the ones that get close will drift away out of sight eventually.  Maybe this one just liked me and wanted to come back and show off.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week 32

11 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

It was a fabulous day at Lake Apopka with Swallow-tailed Kites foraging in preparation for their migration south.

This Swallow-tailed Kite snatched a dragonfly, a common sight watching these raptors forage.

Ooops ... looks like a kite ran a traffic signal and broadsided another kite.

10 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

We did our dragonfly survey today and it was a lively day.  Butterflies were more active than usual and the dragonfly count was much better than in the spring.

After this male Eastern Pondhawk finishes munching on whatever he has, that little bugger immediately below watching the action might just well be the easy answer to, "what's for dessert"?

8 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

At the start of the year, I never dreamed a snake would be the most exciting event in my nature outings for 2013, but that all changed on this day.  As I rounded a corner, I almost ran over a snake.  As it turned out, it was not just any 'ol snake.

It was the most gorgeous, silver and gray with a charcoal top, very long, rare Florida Pine Snake.  The colors in the anterior portion looked like an Oakland Raider uniform with the silver and black.

This species spends much of its time underground in burrows and is not seen often at all.  The state of Florida wants sightings to be reported because the Fish and Wildlife Commission does not have good data on this species.  They don't see it much either.  The question is how rare is it?  Is it really rare or just not seen due to its underground living?

6 Aug 2013, Merritt Island NWR

Every time I see a Loggerhead Shrike on Biolab Road in the Merritt Island NWR, I think back to the family of Loggerheads that I did a "mini photo-documentary" on last year.  I see another shrike, I know this could be a family member or a generation from that family.

You can see these images by going to my Flickr site, linked at the right, and going to "Sets" then "Photo Contest Winner".  Clicking an image allows you to see the text and story behind the images.

Or, click this link above.   But, make sure you save me in your favorites so it is easy to come back to my blog :)   It was so fun watching the antics of this family and all their interactions that this spot and this species will always make me smile.

This shrike sat just a few feet from me near that spot.  You think it remembered me?

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE, "X" in upper right to go back

I remember struggling to ID so many different white and off-white butterflies, including this one, until I read where the blue bulbs on the end of the antennae are distinctive.  This is a Great Southern White on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

How cool is a butterfly with hair on its wingtips?  At least, that's what I thought until I realized minutes later that is part of the foliage.  This is a Mangrove Buckeye and the guide books say they don't belong here in central Florida ("extreme south Florida" it says) but they are here.

There were thousands of dragonflies on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  No wonder the Swallow-tailed Kites like to migrate in mid-August since this is a favorite food of theirs.  This is a female Marl Pennant.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Week 31

4 Aug 2013, Lake Lotus

Today was the first day of the new season at bird banding with the Wekiva Basin Banding group run by Andrew Boyle.  When we are not banding birds, what are we doing?  ...

... looking for other beautiful creatures.  We saw an awesome caterpillar and some trees were active with a Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, along with the usual forest birds.

This is a Blue-ringed Dancer damselfly whose habitat is small streams and rivers where there is plenty of herbaceous vegetation.  That describes our bird banding area perfectly as the Little Wekiva River runs the length of our banding area and it is thick with vegetation.  In the pre-destruction days of Florida a couple hundred years ago, the Little Wekiva River was a substantial river.  Now, it is a small stream that empties into its big brother, the Wekiva River.

Fall migration is just getting started.  Introduce the awe and wonderment of migration to your child or grandchild.  There are many ways to do that.  Stop by our banding station during the next couple months (pre-arrange that with us).  The east coast will have falcons migrating starting in late September.  The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is one of the best places in the world to witness the awe of migration.  Last year, we set two world records for number of Peregrine Falcons passing our watch.  If interested in learning more, contact me.

3 Aug 2013, Lake Apopka

This Viceroy is one of the easier butterflies to photograph.  Some species are next to impossible to capture an image of as the dart around and never seem to stop and rest.

Is that a "proud parent" smirk on this adult Black-bellied Whistling-Duck?  It is interesting how the chicks have the striped face and other plumage that is nothing like their plumage as an adult. 

1 Aug 2013, Katie's Landing

The Sandhill Crane is a bird of pastures, meadows, grasslands, parks--usually.  A pair this day chose a stroll walking along side the banks of the Wekiva River, struttin' and huffin' and puffin' and fluffin' its feathers to look cool knowing its photo was being taken.

Katie's Landing is a launch area for kayaks and canoes, part of the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park.  I come here to see what river birds there are among the waders and ducks in season.  Bald Eagles and Osprey fish the river and it is a good place for Swallow-tailed Kites.