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Florida Treasure Hunt, Pt. 2

(Did you miss Part One?  Find it here.)

The first two days of my Florida vacation coincided with a huge amount of dragonflies moving through the area.  On the second two days, the abundant wandering gliders had all but disappeared, and the treasure hunt became much more challenging.  This just meant that I was free to look up and see some of the other interesting wildlife.

On Labor Day, my mom and I ventured to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, whose boardwalk travels through multiple kinds of habitat.  The cypress trees were beautiful and kept things cool despite the temperatures.  I enjoyed the way the saw palmetto commanded attention against the backdrop of taller trees.

Six Mile Cypress Slough PreserveSix Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Below, top left: an epiphyte relationship in action!  This plant (perhaps a bromeliad of some sort) was growing out of a tree.  Top right: one of the two birds we managed to spot in the slough, probably an egret of some sort.  It was extremely loud or we’d never have spotted it, taking cover as it was among the ferns.  (My awesomeness at bird photography continues.  Eyeroll.)  Bottom: Another lizard lurking along the boardwalk, which was the closest I got to any wildlife.Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

As we were headed down the path to exit the park, my mom spotted this bird in the trees.  I’d say it blends well!  This bird is a limpkin (Aramus guarauna), named for its gimpy walk.  It almost exclusively eats apple snails, and the curve at the end of its beak is designed especially for prying their shells open.  Florida is about as far north as you will find this bird, so I feel lucky to have seen one!
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Following our visit to the Cypress Slough (and a lengthy stop at the nearby fresh-squeezed juice stand to sample its many varieties of citrus goodness), we headed back to Fort Myers Beach.  Labor Day is when everyone leaves, and the beach gets very sparsely populated.  I guess the birds and bugs left with the tourists this year, because I only spotted a few things.

1. A group of birds walking across the shoreline.  The large ones with orange and black beaks are black skimmers (Rynchops niger), the white and gray ones with yellow-tipped black beaks are sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis), and I believe the tall gray ones are willets (Tringa semipalmata).  (Sandwich tern is officially my new favorite bird name.)
2. A familiar bluet damselfly.
3. An immature female Rambur’s forktail.
4. A mating pair of Rambur’s forktails (the green one is what the orange one pictured above will look like when she grows up).
5. Beach vegetation!

Damselflies on Fort Myers Beach, Florida

And now for the final day, when I made a return trip to a sweltering Lovers Key.  I spied a bird way up in a tree–maybe an osprey checking me out.  Lovers Key State Park, Bonita Beach, Florida

I soon went into the wooded interior to escape the heat somewhat, and stumbled upon a lovely butterfly garden full of beautyberry shrubs and colorful flowers.  I lingered as long as I could stand it, but eventually had to run in desperation back to my water bottle and slap the mosquitos off my arms.  I did record a few butterflies:
1. I’m not even going to venture a guess on this one, except that I think it’s a yellow (Eurema sp.)
2. A gorgeous mangrove skipper (Phocides pigmalion)
3. One of many zebra longwings (Heliconius charithonia) that were flying around
4. This one is hard to identify because it’s an odd angle and its wings are damaged, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s an orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

Butterflies at Lovers Key State Park, Bonita Beach, Florida

I still hadn’t spotted a single dragonfly, and since it was the last day I had in the area, I wanted to see if I could find just a few more (I am nothing if not single-minded).  I went back to the same beach access point where I’d had so much success on Sunday, but it was totally vacant.  I got in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, thinking, “What I need is a good ditch or something.”  As if on cue, I looked up and saw a long ditch to the left of the parking lot, and the distinctive bright flash of the scarlet skimmer moving back and forth.  I re-parked the car and sloshed over, glad that I’d ditched the flip-flops in favor of boots for this excursion.

The red scarlet skimmers were pretty shy, and I couldn’t get terribly close.  But there were some friendly dragonflies that kept approaching me, so I caught a number of poses.  These pretty golden ones turned out to be female scarlet skimmers.  They look a bit like wandering gliders, but they perch horizontally (and much more frequently!).

Dragonflies at Lovers Key State Park, Bonita Beach, Florida

As I crept along, not able to get too close to the main water body because the surrounding ground was so saturated, I spotted another color I’d never seen in the field before, and I knew instantly that it was the roseate skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea).  I refrained from yelling “It’s the pink one!” to the cars flying by on the highway, but I was pretty excited about it.  Below, left to right, top to bottom:
1. Roseate skimmer (male)
2. A great pondhawk (Erythemis vesiculosa) I spotted from across the pond.  It looks almost exactly like the eastern pondhawks I see all the time in Tennessee, but its abdomen is much more long and slender.
3. A couple of saddlebags (not sure what species) flying in tandem
4. A band-winged dragonlet (male)Dragonflies at Lovers Key State Park, Bonita Beach, Florida

I watched the band-winged dragonlet for a while and eventually noticed it was following another one around.  This isn’t a great shot of it, but if you look closely you can see that the male is guarding the female (at the bottom, middle of the frame) while she lays her eggs in the pond.  That’s not something I’ve ever observed before.Dragonflies at Lovers Key State Park, Bonita Beach, Florida

After I was satisfied that I’d gotten shots of all the dragonflies that would allow it that day, it was time to close up shop and go watch one last sunset on the beach.  I have to say, I’ve always enjoyed going to Florida, but departing from my usual beach-bum M.O. brought a whole new level of interest to the visit.  I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open on all future trips!Fort Myers Beach, Florida

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