It can be difficult finding things to write about in this column when I haven't made any trips to some different wildlife area. Winter can also pose a challenge even in Florida, because many plants have gone to seed and birds are not migrating through or nesting.
One flock of birds is migrating now, made late by weather conditions. The whooping cranes, accompanied by their human escort, will be traveling through our area. By the time this column is published they may already be in Crystal River, their winter home. It seems they will have little time before heading north again.
I'm hearing titmice singing, not just scolding and chattering. The songs being sung by some local titmice are their full-blown mating calls. Wrens around my place never seem to stop singing during winter, but they may have stepped up the frequency of male to female chat. I experienced a surprising encounter with a Carolina wren. I was sitting in a chair on the front porch. A wren hopped onto the porch floor, came across to my chair, climbed it, walked across my arm and flew to the porch rail in front of me. I'm not sure, as it flew away, whether it recognized I wasn't part of the landscape. The wren event reminded me of a time when I stood in a wood and a wild pig trotted in my direction, unaware of my presence until I spoke.
That same morning of the wren, I observed a feeding guild of birds including chickadees, parulas, titmice, wrens and downy woodpeckers. They chattered and flew and climbed in the trees bordering the cabin. That same day, I noticed several towhees scratching and calling to each other as they hunted for food at the wood edge. The towhees seem to be vocalizing more these days too.
In Williston, while I sat outside a church waiting for a meeting to conclude, I listened to robins scolding to each other. A few of these birds flew into a tiny patch of woods next door. This church has some beautiful oaks. The grass beneath these trees was littered with the large shumard acorns, a nut that is larger than most other oak fruit including live oaks. Our area is the general limit of this attractive oak's range. The grounds also hosted a yellow-leaved hickory, a colorful large sweetgum, a maple, magnolias and a number of loblolly pines, some quite large. It's nice to see all these trees growing in town.
On Friday I'd arranged to ride Cheerio, the Arab mare owned by my friend Catherine. Cheerio does endurance rides on occasion, but I enjoy taking her out on leisurely trail rides in Watermelon Pond. The tall prairie grasses of Watermelon Pond displayed a range of colors from bright golden tan to soft silver green to light gray brown. I took a track through the mature turkey oak and long leaf pine section first. I love this area because of the views through the widely spaced trees and the sloping terrain. It started thundering to the west, but not continuously. One brief rain shower clattered on the dried out turkey oak leaves. A breeze stirred the Spanish moss and passed on through just like the rain showers. I let Cheerio help me decide on what tracks to take once we were on the edge of the open prairie.
Rather than just one open stretch of prairie, the terrain is broken up by sand live oak hammocks. The trails follow these hammocks, zig-zagging in and out between the open areas and the wooded ones. We passed a stretch of shallow water where a flock of ducks flew off, their wings making a whistling sound. I was surprised to see any water since it's been so dry. Further off I heard sandhill cranes calling, probably closer to the boat ramp where the water level generally stays deeper longer.
Cheerio and I got back before the hardest rain, and I untacked her inside the barn while rain rattled on the metal roof. I watched blue birds flying into a nearby turkey oak, the back of the male catching some light and showing a vibrant blue.
I'm so glad nature can be observed in so many different places in our area. It definitely always makes my day. Until next time, good observing.