Category Archives: Florida

Friday bunnyblogging

While Noe is having a mellow Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve seen a few swamp rabbits while going for a walk.

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Yummy clover underfoot and sheltering reeds just a hop away.

Okay, not such a great photo. But the rabbits were seemingly enjoying themselves munching on clover at Lakes Park in Fort Myers.

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Anhinga sunning herself. Females have a tannish neck, males black.

There were a few birds around, but it was a bit windy and late in the day so not too much activity on that front.

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This Tricolored Heron seemed put out at the attention.

Not too many flowers blooming, either. This is a Hoarypea, Tephrosia spp.

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Might be Florida hoarypea, I’m not sure.

Continuing our trend of snake sightings, we saw a Black Racer sunning itself. Unlike the rattlers we saw last month, this one was pretty long- at least a meter.

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You can’t see it in this photo, but the snake was pretty scarred on the side. Clearly it had a close escape from some sticky situation in the past.

Two snake day at Orlando Wetlands Park

Last weekend, we went biking at Orlando Wetlands Park. It was the last weekend to visit before the park closes for the winter, and quite a nice day. We actually saw a fair variety of birds- including a lifer painted bunting, a pair of somewhat early canvasbacks, five species of warbler, a kestrel, and a Wilson’s snipe. You can tell it’s winter in Florida when the shrubs are hopping with yellow-rumped and palm warblers, and they were in fine form at OWP.

One thing about bike-birding that I’d never really thought about before is that it’s much easier to spot snakes before you get too close to them. This is a net positive, as far as I’m concerned 🙂 We saw two species of rattlesnake today, both crossing the berm trail or maybe sunning on it, and both only moderately put out at us riding by.

I’ve seen eastern diamondback rattlesnakes before, and this one was only about two feet or so long. Still, I was more than happy to let it do its thing in peace. We gave it a pretty wide berth, but not before Yan stopped and took a photo:

OWP rattler Nov13

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The pygmy rattlesnake I hadn’t seen before, bringing me four for four on seeing Central Florida’s venomous species (the other two being the cottonmouth and coral snake). This snake was a bit over a foot long, and much more petite than the diamondback. Notice how tiny the rattle is? It’s on the right end:

OWP mini rattler Nov13

Pygmy rattlesnake (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

While Yan was taking this photo, he said it started to rattle at him in sort of a cute, hard-to-hear way. At that point, he left it alone and we biked on.

So, not a terribly exciting pair of snake sightings, but I’m okay with that. We did encounter some fairly territorial dragonflies who seemed irritated at our presence (the males seem to do this guarding thing at certain times of the year). But since we’re way past the Carboniferous Period dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans, they weren’t particularly intimidating. The 6-foot gator we saw was a bit more threatening, but he was pointed away from us at the time. Strangely, we didn’t get off our bikes to take photos of him…

Split Oak Forest

Waaay back in May, we took a hike in the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area. (A tongue-tying name, to be sure.) This area is accessed through Moss Park. While Moss Park is just south of the 417, we’d only made it there once before, and were chased away by a summer thunderstorm. On the day we took this hike, the weather was great!

The Split Oak.

The Split Oak.

The protected area (I’ll call it that in preference to “Wildlife and Environmental Area”) is named after the Split Oak, a 200 year-old tree that was struck by lightning at one point, and continued to grow. It’s an interesting sight.

Apparently, this isn't that unusual of a phenomenon, though it is pretty cool.

Apparently, this isn’t that unusual of a phenomenon, though it is pretty cool.

The protected area itself contains a variety of ecosystems: you enter it through a swampy wetland, and the trail passes through pine flatwoods before entering the oak forest and passing by a little lake. We didn’t explore too far on this hike, as we were meeting friends at a soccer game that evening (as you can see from Yan’s jersey).

As a plus, our favored sporting team was ultimately victorious (Go Lions!)

As a plus, our favored sporting team was ultimately victorious (Go Lions!)

So, it was a short but interesting walk, with a variety of birds, plants, and a strikingly-colored electric turquoise-striped garter snake. Sadly, the snake slithered off before we got any good photos of it. But since my preference is for shy non-venomous snakes rather than aggressive venomous ones, I can’t really complain.

Blackroot (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum) was blooming in the pine forest areas.

Blackroot (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum)? was blooming in the pine forest areas.

Circle Bar B Reserve

I just realized that I’d been remiss in posting some photos from a hike we went on way back in February. Not that I’ve been consistently posting anything but rabbit photos lately, but anyway…

We went on a weekend trip to Tampa in the first part of February (the kittiwake-spotting  trip), and on the way back stopped at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland. As you might guess from the name, this is a former ranch (and phosphate mining site) that’s been partially turned into a wildlife preserve. It’s a good place for birding, and seemed quite popular on a Sunday afternoon.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

I was really hoping to see some fulvous whistling-ducks there. Not only because these are interesting birds in and of themselves, but also how can you resist looking for a bird whose name combines an obscure color with the adorable whistling sounds it makes?

Fulvous.

Fulvous.

Sadly, it was not to be. Even though several families of fulvous whistling-ducks were reported that weekend on eBird (including with infuriating comments like “Really obvious, right by the trail”), we were not able to see any. But we had fun anyway.

Spoonbill in a tree.

Spoonbill in a tree.

We had a nice walk- the weather was quite pleasant- and saw a lot of birds and other wildlife. One of the highlights was a mother gator and her recently-hatched brood of babies. They were clearly acclimated to human attention. We assumed they were pretty close to their former nest site, which was right by the trail. Probably not a bad place for a nest, as long as you can stand the noisy human presence-maybe it helped keep the other adult alligators away.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They're pretty well camouflaged.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They’re pretty well camouflaged & just look like ridges in the muck.

Circle Bar B includes quite a bit of upland habitat, including some pine flatwoods and oak forest. However, it’s the system of ponds that are exciting to birders. There was quite a variety of wading birds, along with woodpeckers, warblers, and some raptors.

Another gator baby.

Another gator baby.

One of the highlights was a massive black & turkey vulture roost (YMMV). The birds perch in cypresses and pines along both sides of the trail. Since we were there until late afternoon, they were starting to fly in to sleep. It’s neat to hear their feathers swooshing in the wind when you’re close to them.

Limpkin on a tree.

Limpkin on a tree. The spots in the sky weren’t from a dirty lens- they’re swallows.

We also saw quite a few limpkins. These are fairly uncommon big wading birds that eat snails. While they’re solitary, we did see a lot of them in close proximity. I guess it’s good snail habitat.

Limpkin with snail.

Limpkin with snail.

After doing a big loop through the ponds, we swung by a lake before heading back to the car. It was an interesting place to visit, and it would be fun to go back at some point.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Snake taking a stroll

A few days ago, we encountered a Southern ringneck snake while on our way back from an evening walk:

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You can just make out the yellow ring behind its head (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

This is probably the second snake of this species we’ve seen in our apartment complex at night. They hide under rotting logs- and apparently decorative landscape mulch- and eat a variety of prey types. They’re non-venomous, and very, very cute. This one was only about five inches long.

It did not care for the flash, or the attention (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

It did not care for the flash, or the attention (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

At any rate, we backed off to let this one have a clear path into the grass. Hopefully it’s enjoying a nice earthworm or slug or arthropod as you read this. Cute little snake.

A brief stop in the garden

We had a garden setback for a while- the sprinkler that was supposed to automatically water our plot was  misaligned, so for several weeks it seems that our plants weren’t being watered at all. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this until we made the connection between the excessively dry soil and the dying pak choi, radishes, and beets. We’d been watering them every few days and they were still doing poorly, and many of the seedlings died before we realized the problem. We generally go weed in the late afternoons, when it’s  more humid out, so didn’t realize how dry it was really getting.

Now that the sprinkler issue has been fixed, our garden plot is getting plenty of water. There’s a noticeable difference with the plants- though many of the younger plants didn’t make it :(. I’m not planting anything new because I don’t know what the plans for the plot will be after May 1, when the community garden program ends, so we’ll pretty much be harvesting what’s there until that point.

Radicchio & lettuce.

Radicchio & lettuce.

The lettuce and radicchio are doing pretty well- we harvested some of the radicchio leaves this weekend and had to make pesto out of them because they were incredibly bitter. Added to some Italian parsley and escarole, it was pretty good after cooking it slightly. We’re also still eating the last of the carrots, and cooking the radish & carrot leaves.

The happiest tomatillo. The small

The happiest tomatillo plant. (This one’s also pictures in this post.)

The latest thing we’ve eaten a lot of is our neighbors’ turnips- they have so much in their plot that they’ve basically given us free rein to harvest there. The escarole was theirs, as some green onions and Swiss chard have been. It’s nice to get a variety of different things.

Even the little tomatillos are blooming.

Even the little tomatillos are blooming.

One of the things I want to do before the end of the month is gather some of the herbs to make simple syrups. I’ve done that with the mint, but it might be nice to do with the lavender and lemon verbena as well. It should be a tasty way to preserve some of the different flavors.

Walking in Seminole County

The weekend before last, I went to the Earth Day festivities at Seminole County’s Environmental Studies Center. This is a small nature center near the southeast corner of Lake Jesup; I’d previously biked past it on the Cross Seminole Trail, but never visited.

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Early afternoon at the nature center.

I took a short stroll on the center’s trails after the event- not too far, but it was nice to get into the outdoors. There weren’t too many birds, because it was pretty warm in the early afternoon.

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Moss and droopy bark.

It’s apparently a good spot to see migrating warblers (and other forest birds) early in the morning at this time of year. I did see (and hear) the ubiquitous cardinals, catbirds, and blue-gray gnatcatchers. I also heard a red-shouldered hawk or two and saw a swallow-tailed kite soaring overhead.

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Wildflowers.

The area is pretty damp, as it’s pretty close to the lake. I’m sure it gets even wetter during the summer.

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Light through the palm fronds.

I’m not sure how extensive the trail system is, but it might be fun to go back and explore.

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Thick, wavy patterns in the pine bark.

Walk through the UCF Arboretum

Last weekend, we took a walk through UCF’s Arboretum after doing some work in the garden. We’re still in spring (or we were until the last few high-80’s days), so it’s been pretty dry.

Arboretum trail.

Arboretum trail.

The arboretum is on the northeastern side of campus- when UCF was built, the surrounding land was basically farms, so the campus is quite large. There’s a network of walking trails through this undeveloped part of campus. There were some flowers blooming- like most subtropical areas, Florida doesn’t really have an overwhelming amount of giant blossoms. Flowers are generally small and seasonal.

Reticulate pawpaw (Asimina reticulata) in the flatwoods.

Reticulate pawpaw (Asimina reticulata) in the flatwoods.

Reticulate pawpaw.

Reticulate pawpaw. These have a nice scent.

Part of the Arboretum is open oak woodlands, but most is a variety of pine flatwoods. There are also some boggy areas. Again, Florida is so flat that even a few inches of elevation change can make a dry pine flatwoods into a boggy little marsh.

Light through the live oaks.

Light through the live oaks.

Yellow bachelor's button.

Yellow bachelor’s button & pipewort (with the small white flowers).

A little marshy area held some pipewort and pink sundews, as well as long-leaf violets.

Long-leaf violet.

Long-leaf violet. Those pretty purple lines help guide bees in to land.

Pink sundew.

Pink sundew, with trapped insect.

We didn’t see too many birds- the buzzing calls of Blue-gray gnatcatchers and alarm chirps of Northern cardinals were pretty ubiquitous, though. There were a variety of warblers, vultures, and a few raptors, though.

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I’m pretty sure this is pennyroyal.

It’s a bit odd to be able to look through the trees and see the new stadium- while this part of campus is undeveloped, the surrounding area is rapidly being built on. There’s actually an abandoned dump in one part of what’s now a semi-protected area. But it’s a nice place to take a short walk near campus.

UCF arena through the pines.

UCF arena through the pines.

Spinning wheels in the garden

The garden continues to grow, though it’s been in a low-key state lately. That’s probably because of our involvement with it. The Arboretum will be discontinuing the adopt-a-plot program at the end of the month, and it seems like a lot of the plotters (for lack of a better term) aren’t really doing much lately. The garden itself isn’t going away, but people will go back to volunteering on a more communal basis.

Letting the cilantro go to seed.

Letting the cilantro go to seed.

So that’s been a bit of a bummer for us, and has definitely limited our enthusiasm for long-term planting. It’s been really nice to have the space and facilities available for personal use, and (turnip thieves notwithstanding) it’s also been great to be able to grow and harvest our own produce when we want it. But given that volunteering will now be on a set schedule, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to participate in it in the future.

We cleared out some of the not-collards to get more sun to the carrots.

We cleared out some of the not-collards to get more sun to the carrots.

So, while we’ve done some planting since the weather turned warmer, it’s mainly been short growing plants: radishes, lettuce, pak choi, misome, arugula. As I’ve mentioned before, the tomatillo and molokhiya seedlings that we were sprouting did get planted; hopefully they fit in to whatever the new plans for the garden will be.

Tomatillo.

Tomatillo.

The misome that was flowering has now really gone to seed- I’m planning on saving some to see if it actually does grow. It would be a bummer if this hybrid went through all of the effort to produce non-viable seed.

Misome seed pods...lots of misome seeds.

Misome seed pods…lots of misome seeds.

The lettuces and radacchio will definitely be harvestable before the end of the month, though we’ll probably leave some growing. I took these photos about a week ago, and they’ve visibly grown as of today.

Lettuces are starting to look yummy.

Lettuces are starting to look yummy.

The beets really did not like being transplanted. We probably lost about half of them. Next time I grow them, I’ll seed them directly. This experience has definitely taught us some lessons about a lot of plants, so it’s been worthwhile. Hopefully we’ll be able to use some of this knowledge in the near future…

Beet survivors.

Beet survivors.

Baby peaches

The peach tree in the community garden is really, really happy. Or so it seems.

Tiny baby peaches.

Tiny baby peaches.

These photos are from last week, before we had some hail over the weekend. I haven’t been back to the garden to see what the damage is yet. I’m a bit concerned, since I just planted the tomatillo and beet seedlings. They’re definitely small enough to be easily squashed. For now, though, I’ll just pretend all is well.

Blooming radish. They're in the mustard family, like cabbage.

Blooming radish. They’re in the mustard family, like the stubbornly non-blooming broccoli in the background.

Last week’s harvest: carrots, radish leaves (from a plant that had gone to seed and wasn’t producing an edible root), dill, cilantro, Italian parsley, mint, and broccoli (from the neighbors’ plot).

Lettuces and pak choi.

Lettuces and pak choi.

The lettuces and baby pak choi look pretty good, though I think it may be time to fertilize them a bit. The seedlings are not growing as fast as they did over the summer, though that may have to do with the relatively cool weather we’ve been getting.

There seems to be a lot of variation in the spots on the ladybugs.

There seems to be a lot of variation in the spots on the ladybugs.