Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

One of the things I did at the beginning of this new year is organize and file away resource information. While reacquainting myself with this literature, I found some bits worth passing along.

One article, written by Anne Mackay, features winter gardening. While northern gardens may remain untouched for several months, here in Florida it's already time to think about spring plants. Mackay's article focuses on native Florida wildflowers.

As she points out, the usual wildflowers displayed in seed catalogs don't grow naturally in our area. What suggestions for wildflower plantings does she make? She lists coontie, beauty berry, youpon and danhoon holly, St. John's wort, native rosemary, partriage pea, fleabane and lyre-leaf sage.

You may recognize all or some of these wildflowers from my articles.

A few come under the weed category in many peoples' minds. I wonder where gardeners might find these plants in nurseries, even native plant growers. I don't encourage digging up and transplanting wild plants, but if they are already on your property, I see no problem with moving them. Wildflowers can be difficult to keep alive after transplanting them. Seeds might be acquired from existing plants. But, it can be just as difficult to get seeds to grow as keeping transplanted wildflowers alive.

In the woods, I've already seen one wildflower starting to bloom. Innocence is a tiny white-blooming plant with small round, close to the ground leaves.

It often grows in patches like a kind of ground cover. I haven't observed any yet, but articles published by Florida Fish and Wildlife mention Carolina yellow jessamine, listing it as a January bloomer in North and Central Florida woods.

You will find this vine growing in tree tops where it blooms early, and along fence rows where it may bloom later.

I usually find the yellow tubular flowers fallen on the ground a while after they started blooming.

Other wildlife patterns for January include the breeding season beginning for osprey, owls, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, hawks and roseate spoonbills. The information Florida Fish and Wildlife provides does not specify what species of owls or hawks, so I take it that means all of them. They also say that otters, bobcats and foxes breed in January and February. I don't know about coyotes, and they don't mention them, but I'd guess they do too.

Other January wildlife movement listed in my resource material includes manatees congregating at natural springs and industrial warm water sites. One of the places mentioned in an article on manatees is Apollo Beach on the West Coast where 100 to 300 manatees share the warmer waters across from a large industrial complex.

Where I live, I don't see otters, spoonbills, bobcats or manatees. It's possible bobcats live in the area, but I'll probably never spot one.

Still I have observations to report during January. A pileated woodpecker has been hammering at a partially dead tree in my side yard. I hear another pileated calling and this one answering. It would be neat if they made a nest in that tree.

I watched a squirrel carrying a mushroom in its mouth, trying to climb a tree while hauling this white shroom that was as large as the squirrel's head. A wren often chooses a particular fence post in back of the cabin to perch and sing. I love watching it bounce up and down as it belts out its teakettle song.

I'll finish this column with lines of a poem by Mary Oliver called Deer in the Meadow:

Wind and rain/ then it grows colder/ ice gathers/ on the barbed wire/ bounding the empty field/ then six deer/ walk from under the dark pines/ their heads high/ their eyes soft and alert....you would think the deer would go back to the thick pines/ but still they stand in the field/ gazing and gazing... see the white rain come down over their eyes.