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Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Carpe Diem - seize the day - that's a relevant idea this season in Florida.

On several recent occasions I seized the day and observed other animals doing the same. My first foray began when I called a couple who live outside of Montbrook. They generously agreed to take me on a walk around their property.

We entered a wood where the aquifer can be seen in the form of karst windows. In one spot, three water-filled sinks connect underground in limestone caverns. The water surface is enclosed by a bowl of limestone where fragile looking ferns grew, and brim and bass swam. Several of these limestone bowls looked particularly peaceful and attractive, cool places for a summer day.

The wood offered a wonderful habitat for birds. We heard a lot of singing and calling from titmice, chickadees, cardinals, bluejays, wrens, pine warblers, red-eyed vireos, and especially commanding, white-eyed vireos and parulas. Red-winged blackbirds whistled melodiously in the nearby prairie and red-shouldered hawks "peered" to each other.

We walked past a number of shallower sinkholes where willows grew and surrounding trees enclosed the water's edge. Several wood ducks flew out of these secluded ponds. A profusion of woodnymphs, small brown butterflies with small dots on their wing edges, fluttered near the leaf littered ground. Twice we spotted a herd of pigs, mostly black in color, keeping an eye on us. As we came out of the wood and into open prairie, two wild turkey ran and then flew into trees across the way. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful place, a beautiful activity - seizing the day and observing other animals doing the same.

During the next week after my walk, I took advantage of this season's mild weather to go riding one day and kayaking another. I only had one day of relative inactivity in between and some of my muscles protested, but I wanted to seize the day. On the horseback ride, Cheerio and I covered a lot of ground, wandering along tracks through woods, going up and down hill fields and weaving through tall grasses of dry prairie. I spotted some deer bounding across a distant field. Bluebirds sang their "cheeralee" song. Tall spikes of lady lupine bloomed in patches as well as vanilla white pawpaw flowers. These are both wildflowers of dry upland places.

I almost didn't go kayaking, but I'm getting old enough to question how many more good days of vigorous activity I'll be able to do. So I seized the day and took the kayak to the boat landing in Dunnellon that accesses the Withlacoochee River. As I prepared to launch, a kayaker was just coming off the river. He told me it was a perfect day to be on the river - the water was calm and clear. And it was. I heard lots of birds singing along the water edge, especially parula warblers and prothonotary warblers. Parulas seem to be singing everywhere these days. Prothonotary warblers prefer wet habitats.

I could slip by animals without alarming them. I passed by two tri-colored herons standing in water plants along the water edge. I also saw a snowy egret, great white egret, white ibis, blue heron and a night heron. I saw anhingas swimming, flying and perching. One anhinga stood with spread wings as it dried its feathers. I observed coots and moorhens; the coots raced across the water and flapped their wings; the moorhens clacked and piped as they swam among the lily pads. I explored several quiet channels off the main river. There, frogs clicked and grunted.

All the wild critters gave voice to the idea - Carpe Diem. Don't let these days of glorious nature pass you by. Until next time, good observing.

Note: two new bird voices to listen for - great-crested flycatcher and chuck-wills-widow.