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Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Except for kayaking on the Waccasassa and Wekiva River this week, my nature observations consist of bits and pieces of story telling.

Our local rain storms took a break last week. I'd noticed that some birds continue to bathe in the water dishes despite the afternoon rains, but usually fewer visitors come to the dishes. During that two day break in rains, I watched a group of different birds take a bath in the dish water. The largest number of the same species had to be the titmice who arrived in a noisy, hopping, flying bunch. Chickadees accompanied the titmice as they often do. I enjoyed seeing several little birds in each dish flapping their wings and spraying water into the air. Larger birds such as towhees and cardinals scattered the titmice and chickadees, and then competed with each other for a bath, never mind that there are five dishes, plenty for every bird.

The busy wren parents feeding baby birds in a nest under the propane tank lid waited and watched the nearby activity at the water dishes. The wrens bathe and drink at the water dishes, but they also appear to hunt for insects around the outside of the containers. I can't figure out what kind of drama is happening with these wrens. For a while I didn't see any birds coming to feed the babies. If I stand on tip-toe, I can see the wrens going in and out of the nest, and the noise the baby wrens make lets me know when they're being fed. For one day, instead of tending the babies, the wrens seemed agitated and at least one bird kept chirping loud and continues. It began to drive me crazy. Another wren chattered and hopped around in the vines and bushes along the fence row. Did they lose a baby? Did another wren try to take over their territory? Thankfully, the next day the wrens appeared to be feeding the babies again, and the agitated behavior stopped.

Around my home area I hear bluebirds singing which I've observed may mean they're nesting. We still see activity in nesting boxes we monitor. A lot of swallowtail kites seem to be around. I hear their high-pitched calls around the cabin, and I see them as I drive to Williston.

Near Gainesville a plant rescue operation and the opening of a new nature area happened around the same time. The developers of the housing complex situated off Archer Road across from the Tower Road intersection invited members of Alachua Native Plant Society to locate and transplant a plant called poppy mallow. Poppy mallow, also called wine-cup, is a small plant with a pretty rose-colored flower. It blooms in the spring, between March and May. According to the wildflower writer Walter Kingsley Taylor, poppy mallow is endangered in Florida. That's why the developer needed to remove the plants before they were destroyed by house building. According to what I heard, over a hundred plants were dug up for relocation. They will go to places that are safe, at least for now.

The newly opened nature preserve can be accessed off of SE 16th Avenue which dead ends after it crosses Williston Road. Another entrance point is by the Hawthorne Railtrail parking area at Boulware Springs in the east side of Gainesville. For more information call 352 264-6800. This new public property is called Sweetwater Preserve and part of the trail goes along Sweetwater Creek. This area is close to the north section of Paynes Prairie. The trails go through floodplain, upland mixed, and mesic forests. There is also the creek, a sinkhole, xeric hammock, and sandhill areas, all on 125 acres.

I'll have to tell my story about kayaking next time. Imagine moving quietly past bright cardinal flowers, alligators and hundreds of crabs, many waving an outsized claw. Until next time, good observing.