Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Some might say that watching birds is at its best this time of year. In addition to migrating birds passing through, we also see the arrival of birds who stay here during the winter.

I can't claim to any sightings of migrating birds, but people who focus more on observing them in our area can. A lot of warblers breed further north and travel south for the winter. Most don't stay here, but they do rest here, looking for water, food and shelter before moving on to points south, some going as far as South America. I wrote about the two golden-winged warblers seen in a Gainesville yard. In addition, black-throated blue, blue-winged, chestnut-sided and cerulean warblers have been spotted in the Gainesville area.

Other birds reported by Alachua Audubon members include thrush species-Swainson's thrush and veeries. Wood and hermit thrush will be coming through too, some staying around. Folks looking for migrating birds in our part of Florida observed some early arrivals. A black-billed cuckoo was seen in September even though they usually are not observed until October. The same was true of a ruby-crowned kinglet and a lark sparrow. Maybe these guys were thinking that the early bird gets the worm?

My own humble observations were mostly confined to around my home. I've been hearing and seeing a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers. Some are surely first year hatchlings. Brown thrashers that like the wood edge have been speaking in crackly sounds that are supposed to be imitations of other birds' songs. Again I suspect first year thrashers are doing most of the talking. More fun for me was recognizing the songs or calls of a phoebe and a house wren. These were the season's first for me. I also enjoyed seeing two kingfishers-one at Rainbow Springs and the other on a fence post near a wet area off 27.

The spiders are having a hard time of it as their season of life comes to a close. Large golden orbs have been disappearing from their, by now, ragged webs as they lay their eggs and die. Other smaller golden orbs sometimes take their place. I finally got a good look at a black widow spider. It was hanging from a web strand and looked mostly dead. I got close enough to see its distinctive red mark. The black widow I remember seeing in Colorado was much larger, closer in size to our medium sized golden orbs.

The squirrels have been busy around my place. The oaks drop their acorns this time of year, and I hear the nuts hitting the metal roof. Wild cherry trees, one of our most populous hard wood tree, have leaves turning colors of yellow and orange. I see their yellow leaves on the ground. Other plants such as Virginia creeper, sumac, persimmon and tupelo begin the transition of green leaves to reds and maroons now.

I have some squirrel stories that were either shared with me or I witnessed myself. A friend told me about a snake that was after a flying squirrel. The flying squirrel, which is a nighttime animal, had been sleeping in a birdhouse. When the snake scared the squirrel, it came out of the box and clung to the opening. The friend's husband managed to chase the snake away and to move the box to another tree, but the snake wanted that flying squirrel. That was until a gray squirrel discovered the snake and began chattering at it, finally nipping the snake. The snake fell onto the ground and left. The flying squirrel went back inside the box. The gray squirrel was victorious. The other squirrel story has to do with Rainbow Springs, food left unattended on a picnic table and a thieving gray squirrel. You get the picture.

Until next time, good observing.