Saturday, June 30, 2018

Baltimore Checkerspot

On the exceedingly hot morning of 29 June 2018, Erika and I took an early stroll in the Carleton College Arboretum. Although part of the college, this area is actually in Dakota County a bit north of Northfield. We stumbled upon a different butterfly, which we easily identified as a Baltimore Checkerspot. This butterfly ranges across much of northeastern North America, west to eastern Minnesota. This species was once local and scarce, but is now becoming more common as its larvae are introduced in an attempt to control English Plantain. The butterfly is named because it sports the colors of Lord Baltimore, much like the oriole of the same name (Kaufman).

Friday, June 29, 2018

Key West Wildlife 2

A flock of Black Skimmers watched the cruise ships disembark on the Key West dock. Skimmers are odd birds with long, lower mandibles. They skim the water surface with their mandibles, which snap shut when they hit small fish. Skimmers were once placed in their own family, but they are generally considered to be closely related to gulls and terns, and within that family of birds.
Green Iguanas are adept at changing colors, depending on their mood or need for camouflage.  They are an invasive species brought into the United States via the pet trade. They can cause considerable environmental damage. We found them everywhere in Key West, even watching from the rooftops for the cruise ships’ arrival.

Common Ground Doves are found across much of the southern tier of the United States, south well into South America. They are our smallest dove. The species tends to be sedentary, although some wander north in the summer. If you see a ground dove in a northern state, however, the possibility that it is escaped from captivity is always a possibility,
We have seen Roseate Skimmers in southern Texas and in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican dragonfly was captive, making this free-flying individual the first wild male Roseate Skimmer we’ve seen. One reason this species enjoys such a wide range is that it is tolerant of a wide range of habitats.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Key West Wildlife 1

We stayed in Key West for a little over a week, 22-31 January 2017. My next few blog posts report on some of the non-human wildlife we photographed. The pictures are, more or less, in chronological order, at least by day. The first is a Brown Anole, scurrying around the French bakery where we often enjoyed lunch. Also at the bakery, a Palm warbler watched us eat, although its culinary interests probably lie entirely with arthropods in the grass.
We found an American Coot at the Key West Botanical Garden. I was interested if the coot sported a red patch on its forehead.  A completely white patch would indicate a Caribbean Coot, which was once believed to be a separate species. Red and white-fronted coots breed with each other randomly where their ranges overlap. Furthermore, white-fronted birds rarely occur across much of North America. The two coot types are now thought to be color morphs without taxonomic implications.
We also found a young Purple Gallinule at the Key West Botanical Garden. One of the joys of eBird is that the app notes the status of the birds you try to report. Rare ones require comments from you and vetting by local experts. In the old days, travelers like we would not know if we were reporting rare birds. Indeed, I have not idea why Purple Gallinules are considered rare in the Keys. Once alerted, however, I made an extra effort to photograph the bird. A few days later our record was accepted by eBird.
A flock of Willets loafed on a rock in the ocean. Willets breed in prairies in the Upper Midwest and winter along the coasts of the United States south through northern South America. A second race breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America. The two populations differ in both average plumage, structure and calls. Willets in the Bahamas are year-round residents. I am not sure which race these Willets might be. Western birds tend to be larger than eastern populations. To me, the Willets in this photo appear to be relatively short-billed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Polka-dot Wasp Moth

Polka-dot Wasp Moths are common moths across much of Florida, straying north to South Carolina and Texas. Populations are cut back by cold weather in the northern parts of their range. We took this photo at Key West's Fort Zachary Taylor on 27 January 2018.

The moth is suspected of being native to the Caribbean, brought to Florida with oleander plants, upon which the caterpillars feed. The caterpillar can cause considerable defoliation of Oleander, which was originally introduced into the New World by the Spanish. Females emit ultrasonic sounds to attract their mates, often from considerable distances. Males respond with an answering signal (University of Florida).

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hammock Skipper

Hammock Skippers are found from south Florida south to Argentina. They also occur in the Southwest and stray from Mexico into south Texas. In Florida, they fly all year. They tend to rest on the underside of leaves. These butterflies are most active on sunny days, although they prefer flying in the shade (Butterfliesandmoths.org). We took this photograph on 30 January 2017 at Key West's Fort Zachary Taylor.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seaside Dragonlet

When I asked Dennis Paulson about the Season Dragonlets we found in January 2018 at Key West's Fort Zachary Taylor, he replied, “Seaside Dragonlets vary in color, as they go through changes from immaturity to maturity, about as much as any species I know. The populations in the Keys stand out. The females often become pruinose and never seem to have any color in the wings, as most, if not all, populations farther north do. That is supposed to be characteristic of the subspecies naeva, which occurs all over the West Indies.” This dragonlet is the only North American dragonfly that breeds in salt or brackish water.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tantalus Sphinx

Erika wrote the following account of The Great Bee Hummingbird Chase during our visit to Key West: We visited the Zachary Taylor Fort in Key West looking for birds (historical education was incidental). On their information board, they listed a Bee Hummingbird, the smallest hummer in the world and a native of Cuba—one that Dan has never seen. Needless to say he was now on a mission. We paid the admission fee ($5 per person) each day for four days in a row and endlessly wandered the park with no luck. He found the ranger who saw the bird and she told us where the best places to hunt would be.
On the fourth day (30 January 2018) we saw it! It was all dark, just over an inch long and had a white band on its rump—just like the picture in the bird book that the ranger showed us. It zipped among flowers while Dan tried to get a photo. Several folks stopped to asked what we were doing and we excitedly told them it was the smallest hummingbird in the world!

Then, it landed on the curb. Much to our chagrin it had 6 legs! The damn thing was a moth. Dan took lots of pictures, which he shared with a disappointed ranger. According to reference books it is a Tantalus Sphinx Moth. As a friend said, an embarrassing, frustrating and educational experience all rolled into one!

The Tantalus Sphinx is a day-flying moth found in many parts of Latin America. The moth is also known from south Florida and strays have been recorded in Michigan and New York. The etymology is obscure. Tantalus was a mythological Greek condemned in Hades to remain chin-deep in water and eternally tantalized by fruit in trees.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawks range from southern Arizona and southern Texas to northern Argentina. Disjunct populations breed in southern Florida. I have seen them in Costa Rica and Ecuador, but never during our Florida trips. This hawk is “one of the rarest and least-studied birds in the United States” (Miller and Meyer (2002), Florida Short-tailed Hawks retreat in the winter to the southernmost areas and the Keys. The total population in Florida may only be 500 individuals. To add to the difficulty of finding them, these birds often soar high and are often confused with similarly profiled vultures. Note the slightly upturned primaries in this photo. Short-tailed Hawk tails are not inordinately short.

In January 2018, we observed Short-tailed Hawks on five occasions—once while driving towards Key West at Islamorada, two at the Key West Botanical Garden, and on three different days in the city of Key West. All flew low over wooded areas. One of the city birds circled and did achieve considerable height. 

This photograph is one of the Key West birds, taken on 28 January 2018. Note that this bird is a black morph. They also come in a mostly white morph. I have distant photos of white birds, but the pictures are not particularly in focus. Light and dark morphs interbreed. In the United States, dark birds are more common the light ones. In Latin America, the dark morph is less common the white ones. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Antillean Skimmer

We spent a week in Key West. Despite seeing relatively little non-human wildlife, we enjoyed our visit. It did not help that January is a poor time to look for dragonflies, even as far south as Key West. On 24 January 2018, we visited the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens. The park was in rugged shape as a result of the previous fall’s hurricane. We did find a few red dragonflies defending territories around the edges of the small garden ponds.

The Antillean Skimmer is a dragonfly without a name. The species is yet to be described. The dragonfly occurs from southernmost Florida through the Greater Antilles. Dragonflies looking identical to Antillean Skimmers are also found in Central and South America. The mainland dragonflies, however, have different mitochondrial DNA. Scientists don’t seem to know how to handle these populations—nor do they know their exact ranges. For now, the Antillean Skimmer is known as Orthemis sp. To make matters even more confusing, Antillean Skimmers have been thought to be a red form of Roseate Skimmers in the literature (Paulson 2011 and pers. com).

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Florida Keys

On 22 January 2018, we drove all the way from Naples to Key West. The Keys were variously in states of disrepair after last fall’s hurricane. We stopped at Long Key State Park, but many of the trails and boardwalks remained closed. We did see a pair of Horseshoe crabs. The Natoional Wildlife Federation writes, "Horseshoe crabs have been around for more than 300 million years, making them even older than dinosaurs. They look like prehistoric crabs, but are actually more closely related to scorpions and spiders.” Our Horseshoe crabs are found from the North American Atlantic and Gulf coasts south along Mexico. Other species occur in the Old World. Adults, like these, spawn in shallow water and lay their eggs on beaches. The young inhabit shallow water. Adults feed in deeper water. Many birds, turtles, and fish eat horseshoe crab. As a result, Horseshoe Crabs are a keystone species.The species is vulnerable to pollution and beach development by people.
Great Pondhawks were common on Long Key. We saw them there before, too, during a previous visit to the park. We also encountered this species in Costa Rica during our travels there in July 2017. Notice the green stigma on the end of their forewings. The color of these structures, used for wing reinforcement, is apparently variable. As we travelled down the Keys, Brown Pelicans became common. The last photo is of a pelican hoping for lunch scraps. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Shark Valley Visitor Center 2


These photos are also from our 22 January 2018 visit to the Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor’s Center. The first is of a White Ibis. These ibis have blue eyes as adults, brown as young. As the bird ages, the skin and bill color changes from dusky pinkish to a more intense red (Heath et al. 2009).
We were able to get so close to so many of the birds that I started taking portraits of heads. The photo above is of a Great Egret. The photo below, a Turkey Vulture. Having a bare head helps keep junk out of your feathers when you feed on dead creatures.
Wood Storks were common this year at Shark Valley. We were surprised, since we have not seen them there during our previous visits. Like the other birds we observed, the storks were remarkably tame. Throughout this post, I linked the bird names to previous blog posts.
We saw fewer land birds at Shark Valley. We were pleased to add this Northern Parula warbler to our ever-growing bird list. Parulas breed across the eastern United States and southern Canada. Most winter in eastern Mexico and in the West Indies, although they also can be found in southern Florida. The middle of the Everglades would not seem to be typical habitat for this forest warbler.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Shark Valley Visitor Center 1

One things about walking along the tram loop at the Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor’s Center is that you do have to watch your step. Alligators bask in the sun along the roadside. These photos were taken on 22 January 2018. I have linked my text to other posts in this blog about each animal.
A Green Heron greeted us upon our arrival. Clearly the roadway was not big enough for all of us. This species is relatively small as herons go. Most populations are either stable or increasing across their North American range. Green Herons are widely distributed north of the equator. Closely related herons are found around the world.
Numerous Great Blue Herons appeared to be completely unperturbed by the tourists along the road. This tameness is the case even on crowded days. Actually the Federal Government was shut down on the day we visited. The concessionaires took over the running of the park. Admission was free. One of our valuable possessions on normal days is our Senior National Park Pass, which allows our entrance into most Federal reserves. The pass has recently become more expensive, but still save seniors a lot of money.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Florida Baskettail


On 22 January 2018, we visited the Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor’s Center. Despite being often crowded, the Shark Valley loop is always worth a stop. Concessionaires sell tram rides, but the loop is otherwise vehicle-free and wildlife abounds. A short walk gets you close to all sorts of birds and dragonflies.

This Florida Baskettail flew back and forth, low over the water near the visitors’ center. Photographing a small dragonfly as it zips along, briefly stops in midair, and then flashes off in the opposite direction is a challenge. This behavior is typical of male Florida Baskettails as they patrol for mates.

This baskettail is normally found across Peninsular Florida, north into South Carolina. Unlike other baskettails, the Florida inhabits marsh-boardered ponds and streams. The Everglades provides just this type of habitat. Identification relies on seeing their relatively robust, non-contricted abdomen that sports a continuous yellow stripe. The species also lack dark basal wing patches (Paulson 2011).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Naples Botanical Garden

We enjoyed our visit to the Naples, Florida, Botanical Garden on 21 January 2018. Band-winged Dragonlets were fairly common during our Florida road-trip. Most of the dragonlets we saw in southern Florida were females, like in my second photo, which seemed to vary considerably in color pattern. Dragonlets come as males, females, or as andromorph females. Andromorphs look like males and may thereby avoid being harassed by amorous males. Band-winged Dragonlets may be partially migratory. They range from Argentina north into the southeastern United States (Paulson (2011).
We also photographed Four-spotted Pennants, like the male in the following photo. Four-spotted Skimmers are found from Arizona east along the Piedmont of the southeastern states. As in these photos, they often rest on exposed perches. They hunt for flying insects over ponds.  Paulson (2011) writes that this skimmer can occur in swarms.
Although birdlife did not seem to be abundant, the Naples Botanical Garden clearly had potential. We were able to capture closeups of several herons, including this Little Blue and Tricolored. I have linked these species to previous posts in this blog.
Land-birds were less evident. This Northern Mockingbird appeared to be setting up territory, when Erika took its picture. Later in the season, mockingbirds will aggressively attach intruders.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Eight-spotted Forester

Sometimes the wildlife comes to us! In this case, an Eight spotted Forester flew up and landed on Erika’s sock while we walked in the Carleton College arboretum on 4 June 2018. This moth looked familiar, but I did not remember that we saw this species when we visited Big Bend National Park in Texas during 2014. Obviously, this moth ranges widely. Here is a link to what I wrote about Eight-spotted Foresters.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and other butterflies must visit hummingbird feeders all the time. Its just I have never witnessed this behavior.  This individual fed long enough, on 12 June 2018, for me to run find my camera and take this photograph. Here is a link to what I have previously written about this species.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Corkscrew Swamp 2


A few more birds (and one raccoon) from our 20 January 2018 visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The first is of Cattle Egrets. These birds are natives of Africa and may have crossed the South Atlantic on their own. Cattle egrets began expanding their range in the late 1800s. They were first seeen in North America in the 1950s. Their range is still growing and they can be found in almost every US state.

The second image is an odd one of a Blue-headed Vireo. I can not explain the brown body. I think it should be greenish. I suspect the red crown patch may be a pine needle adhered to the bird’s head.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are common year-round visitors to Florida. Northern birds join them in the winter. This species is monogamous, with males contributing to nest construction, incubation, and feeding the young. This female had just launched itself into the air.

A baby only a mother Anhinga could love. In southern Florida, Anhingas may nest at any time of the year. And, finally, a Raccoon in the bushes under the Corkscrew Sanctuary boardwalk. Raccoons seen out in the daylight should always be avoided due to the possibility of rabies.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Corkscrew Swamp 1

The Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swam Sanctuary is another site we try not to miss when we visit Florida. The $14.00 entrance fee may seem expensive. We always carry our Audubon membership cards for a $4.00 discount. In any event, the money is for a good cause and their 2.5 mile cypress swamp boardwalk is invariably interesting. Further, none of our several visits to the sanctuary have been exactly the same. The location is southwest of Fort Myers. We visited on 20 January 2018. (My intention in these Florida Road-trip posts is to often combine species on which I have previously written about in this blog.)
Painted Buntings often visit feeders at the sanctuary headquarters and at a feeder along the boardwalk. These beautiful birds are threatened across much of their range. Aside from loss of habitat to development, there is an illegal trade in caged Painted Buntings, from the southeastern United States to Cuba and Mexico. Birds cost from $50 to $100, with bright males going for $200. Trappers can take up to 200 males in single weekends (BirdWatching 2016). eBird no longer plots the exact location of Painting Bunting sightings.
Also at the feeders are Indigo Buntings. These buntings winter in southern Florida and from Mexico to northern Panama and also Cuba and the Greater Antilles. They breed across most of eastern North America, including southeastern Canada.
Erika took this rocking photograph of a White-eyed Vireo. These birds breed in eastern North America, but not as far north as Indigo Buntings. The vireos winter along the American Southeast, Cuba, the Greater Antilles, and eastern Mexico. Because of their love of shrubbery and undergrowth, they are more often heard than seen. Their call is a loud “chick’-a-per-weeoo-chick’” that is often heard before the singing bird is seen (Peterson). This link is to an older version of A Field Guide to the Birds, which is a good place to see written interpretations of bird song.
Seeing Red-shouldered Hawks is easy at Corkscrew Sanctuary. As I have previously posted, Florida Red-shouldered Hawks are smaller and paler than northern birds. This raptor is another inhabitant of eastern North America, wintering further south and into northeastern Mexico. Curiously, this hawk is resident along the California coast, south into Baja California.

Finally we encountered a dragonfly—a Halloween Pennant. These dragonflies have a large range, and may be particularly common in Florida. We often see them in Minnesota. Their coloration may mimic poisonous butterflies. See my previous posts on the species, for example 7 August 2015.