Wild Observations

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By Nancy Oakes

It's a rainy day - threats of severe thunderstorms and tornados in some areas. What's a nature observer to do but stay inside and remember wild things seen in the last few weeks.

The yard around the cabin has been a scene of animal activity. A small group of robins came a few days in a row, hopping through rough grass, brittle leaves and emerging wild plants. Violet lyre-leaved sage flowers bloom on spikes while fragile white violets dot one section of the front yard. White-eyed vireos and parula warblers have added their songs to the already singing wrens, cardinals, titmice and chickadees. Towhees have yet to vocalize anything except their call note, but I'm listening for their melodic "drink your tea" song.

I've been seeing more butterflies these days - zebra swallowtail, giant swallowtail, tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purples. They're attracted to flowering vines and trees, including azalea bushes and orange trees. The roadsides always capture my interest as I ride my bicycle by them. Lately I've seen flowering verbena and phlox in some sections of road shoulders and centers; both of these plants are sometimes seeded by transportation people. Yellow thistle, wild geranium and spiderwort are wildflowers that come about naturally. Since no dogwoods grow around my cabin, I admire their blooms in towns like Williston.

In the next door woods, lowbush blueberries and wax myrtle bushes recently displayed blossoms. I also saw two bald eagles talking to each other as they flew around each other. This was the first time I observed a pair of eagles this year. The second time, another pair of eagles were seen by me and some friends in the sky over Morningside Nature Center. That's the most recent nature observing trip I've taken. This Gainesville City Park is located east on University Avenue. Both times the eagles let me know they were there, because of the high pitched chips they make.

In addition to the eagles, we saw and heard a good number of birds while we walked along several trails. At a bird blind, only a few birds lurked along the edge of a clearing or came to the feeders. Seed eating titmice and chickadees flitted in to grab a seed and fly away. A catbird skulked in underbrush. I may have seen a white-throated sparrow before the catbird chased it. Flocks of birds flew from the trees and bushes near the trail. Some were probably yellow-rumped warblers. White-eyed vireos, wrens, cardinals and towhees vocalized a lot.

At the farmstead we ate lunch and watched palm warblers near the ground. I heard the song of what I thought was a red-eyed vireo until I got my binoculars on the singing bird and realized it was a yellow-throated vireo. Both vireos sound similar but look different. Not many spring flowers were blooming yet but we enjoyed seeing a large pale purple violet with more oblong leaves than the smaller ones I usually see. Although the cypress dome near the nature center office didn't have any water, the stream at the back of the property on the north perimeter trail was flowing. I hope this day and night of rain will put water in some dry ponds.

Another memory of nature observing I could reflect on took place on horseback. Cheerio carried me way out into the watermelon pond section of Goethe State Forest.

This was before the rains, but some water remained in small bowl-shaped depressions where water lilies and frogs lived. Shallow larger bodies of water also contained frogs. I saw animal tracks, in particular deer, etched in the mud on the water's edges. Cheerio and I rode by two sandhill cranes and a great egret without sending them into flight. I saw a number of flying anhingas, some type of ducks, and I heard a coot or moorhen call.

In addition to these outdoor experiences with nature, I also went with a friend to a manatee program presented by R K Bonde, a biologists who has researched these animals for thirty plus years. We learned that manatees can live 40-50 years, that they have exceptional memories regarding places they've been to in the past, and that individual manatees follow faithfully a route that takes them north when water temperatures are warmer and south during winter. He told of a manatee that goes to the Road Island coast every summer. Female manatees have one baby every three years. The mother teaches it where to find food and where to find warm enough water for it to survive. Almost all the manatees he sees have scars from boats.

He said manatees will usually be able to avoid boats if the boat is not going too fast.

Studying nature is such an expansive subject. Observing it will give me lots of memories for rainy days. Until next time, good observing.