It’s best to approach each day in the field with expectation and a sense of wonder. That way, even if birding is slow, you will not be disappointed, and will find beauty in the commonplace. One morning last week was no exception. Just before sunrise, the sky held the promise of a few showers, but the radar showed none headed our way. An unexpected phone call and the need to address a friend’s health concerns made us over an hour late for our walk.
It was too late for me to look for the Bobcats, as they usually are only out around sunrise. In a way this was a blessing, as I have become rather obsessed with getting better photos of the adult and her two cubs, and feel compelled to get out while it is still dark, and then wait for about a half hour for them to show. In the meantime, Mary Lou usually goes on without me. More often than not I fail to see them, and I’m missing out on the “power walk” that normally precedes my photo sessions. So, this morning we got in our walk, at least the first half, before I started falling behind and exploring.
The usual Great Egret was foraging in the wet prairie next to the gravel road that accesses our local patch of wetlands.
The egret flew to a treetop, probably waiting for us to continue on down the road.
This Little Blue Heron peered out through the lakeside vegetation. I was going to trash this shot until I realized that its eyes were in good focus.
Birding turned up nothing unusual. A pair of Killdeers were moving along the road in their usual run and stop, run and stop fashion. I’m hoping they plan to stay and raise a family this spring.
Here is one of the Killdeer chicks from a previous season.
Palm Warblers, their long legs an adaptation for foraging on the ground, flew up into the roadside shrubs as we passed by.
When the birds are not out and about, it is much easier to notice the butterflies and dragonflies. Julia longwings (Dryas julia) were out in large numbers. This is a fresh male.
Female Julias are almost always tattered and torn, damage probably inflicted by competing males. It was a bit unusual to find a nearly perfect specimen.
Closely related Zebra heliconians (State Butterfly of Florida with the musical scientific name of Heliconius charitonius) congregated on a Lantana in full flower.
A colorful exotic Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia) perched on a twig. An Asian native, it was accidentally introduced to Florida and Hawaii, probably on potted plants.
Walking home, a large and angry-looking wasp-like insect almost flew in my face. I had never before seen such a creature. Was it new to science? It looked “armed and dangerous.” I cautiously approached it to document it for later identification. I was amazed to learn that it was not a wasp at all. It was a Polka-Dot Wasp Moth (Syntomeida epilais).
a diurnal moth that does a great imitation of a wasp. Its appearance
acts as a warning to predators. While it does not sting, it is poisonous
due to its diet as a caterpillar.
Later, I showed this photo to Graciela, our seven year old granddaughter who had just arrived from Chicago, asking her if she thought this “wasp” could sting her. She nonchalantly said, “Oh, Grandpa, that’s not a wasp, it’s a butterfly!” I was amazed and asked her how she knew that. She said she learned it on “Wild Kratts,” a childrens’ nature show on TV. She added that it was an example of mimicry that makes a harmless insect look like a poisonous one. Elaborating on this, she said that some butterflies mimic Monarchs to look as if they are poisonous too. Rather timidly, I mentioned that this was actually a moth, not a butterfly. She looked closely at the photo and said that a moth has feathery antennae, which this one lacked!
I hurried to catch up with Mary Lou, as we had to do some shopping in
preparation for the arrival of house guests. The drive to Wal-Mart
provided us the opportunity to make a couple of brief stops, to check
out the local Bald Eagle nest and also visit nearby Chapel Trail Nature
Our local eagles have set up housekeeping in the same nest that we now have been observing for five breeding seasons. We are quite certain that the first egg was laid on December 11, when the female suddenly started sitting low in the nest. Two days before, I captured this image of her roosting near the nest.
When we visited on December 16, I first thought the nest was empty, but after about 15 minutes the female stood up to change position and also probed down underneath her, probably to rearrange one or more eggs.
A Red-shouldered Hawk roosted near the eagle nest.
At Chapel Trail, birding was also quiet. We turned up a couple of common species, but this male Prairie Warbler was uncommonly beautiful as it perched against a backdrop of Cypress trees that were just beginning too turn golden brown.
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December 23rd, 2011 at 10:12 pm My mother was born in Miami in 1925, and told me that the polka dot wasp moths eat certain kinds of flowering plants, to the point where they become pests. She called them “red, white and blue moths” I can’t remember the name of the flowering plant, but they have hot pink / red flowers similar to the one in the photo. I always enjoy the butterflies and other critters when you include them.
December 24th, 2011 at 8:13 am Thanks, Nancy. I believe that Oleander is one of the host plants that is attacked by the caterpillars of this moth. They may swarm on a plant and eat away almost all of the leaves. The plant in the photo is Ligustrum, commonly used as a hedge. The flowers are white and quite small. I found this web site that has more information. It says that this moth has adapted to quite a variety of host plants, unlike many species that are specialized to only one or a few plant varieties: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/an-exception-to-the-rules/
December 26th, 2011 at 6:18 pm Beautiful photos! Beautiful place you live.
December 27th, 2011 at 8:38 pm A great series on the “unexpected”! The early sunrise clouds and their reflection in the water is especially beautiful. Interesting observations on the ‘enrichment’ available to children nowdays. We only had books! And there were few of them written for New Zealand or Australia - most came from England or the USA.
December 27th, 2011 at 10:59 pm Fantastic photos, Ken! I love the heron and eagle shots! Those are superb!
December 28th, 2011 at 1:37 am Killdeer and Palm and Prarie Warblers all took my eye; each photograph is special; well done.
December 28th, 2011 at 3:18 am Wonderful post, Ken! I love all the birds. The Killdeer chick is adorable and the eagle is cool. The butterflies and dragonflies are all gorgeous. Great sightings and photos. Happy New Year, Ken!
December 28th, 2011 at 9:10 am Fantastic selection Ken. I love the Blue Heron too; glad you didn’t bin it.
December 28th, 2011 at 11:31 am Beautiful sequence!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
December 28th, 2011 at 2:34 pm Wonderful post, Ken! I love the colors in that second shot - it’s really a beautiful capture.
December 28th, 2011 at 2:42 pm A wonderful post to read Ken.. Your wildlife is so beautiful to see…
January 10th, 2012 at 9:44 pm Thanks to all for your encouraging comments! Ken
January 24th, 2012 at 3:04 pm Hi Ken, Love your pics and the blog in general. I have a favor. I’m staying in Islamorada from the end of March to beginning of April. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on where to find the best birds. Raptors, shorebirds, and sparrows would specifically be good targets. Thanks! Beau Schaefer
January 24th, 2012 at 4:35 pm @Beau: Thanks, Beau. You’ll be here for the beginning of spring migration, so the Keys are great for that! My best advice is to peruse the TAS board: http://www.tropicalaudubon.org/tasboard/index.html The weekly Rare Bird Update on TAS is very useful and current. There is a link to birding locations at the top of the TAS page, with descriptions and directions. There is also a “Specialties” section. These, coupled with daily and recent posts should give you an excellent idea of where to bird. You also might post an RFI to the TAS board. I tend to bird more in Broward and Palm Counties, so I am not as tuned into what is happening down on the Keys. Good luck!