Monarch and Queen Butterflies
Monarch Butterfly – (Danaus plexippus)
The Monarch Butterfly may be the most recognizable butterfly in North Amerca. There are over 700 species of butterflies and between 10,000 to 20,000 species of butterflies worldwide. The Monarch has an easily recognizable pattern of orange and black pattern and has a wing span of 3-4 inches. The Monarch is the only butterfly known to migrate thousands of miles from the northern U.S. to the south during spring and fall seasons. There are four generations of monarch butterflies born each year and only the ones born in the migrating seasons of Spring and Fall actually make the long migration during the year. The four stages of butterfly development include 1. Egg, which hatch after 4 days 2, Caterpillar stage during which the Monarch feeds exclusively on milkweed plants. 3. Pupa or Chrysalis stage in which the caterpillar makes a silk casing and hangs upside down on a leaf or twig for about two weeks. 4. Emergence from casing and maturity into adult butterfly. The Monarch has a unique defense mechanism from predators to other insects and birds because their body chemistry is toxic or very distasteful from the milkweed it has eaten during its caterpillar stage. The picture of these two butterflies actually shows a Monarch butterfly with its 4 wings spread next to the side profile of a Queen butterfly. This picture was taken at the butterfly aviary at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
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The Ft. Myers News Press published an article titled “On the Prowl for Panthers” on April 24th 2014 which was written by Chad Gillis in the Go Coastal section of the newspaper. Panthers are a rarity to see in Florida because there are so few of them and they are predators who camouflage and hide themselves very well in their environment. According to the article there are only about 150 breeding adults left in Florida which is actually a rebound from the very few who were left in the 1990’s. Florida officials think that large preserves like the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve with 85,000 acres which is a wetland wilderness will help to preserve the Panthers need for a large roaming area to hunt for its food and establish its territory. Other protected preserves will help the Panther as well such as the Big Cypress National Preserve which has 730,000 acres of swamps, prairies and marsh land. Big Cypress sits next to the Everglades National Park which contains almost 1.5 million acres. There is also the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/panther_faq.html with 21,000 acres and serves as a crossroads between Big Cypress National Preserve and The Everglades.
The best time to see Panthers is at dawn and sunset since Panthers are nocturnal. Panthers will go to great extents to protect its habitat from intruders even by killing other Panthers. Occasionally Panthers wander into areas they don’t belong such as trying to cross the I-75 highway, A Panther also showed up at the Clam Pass Beach in Naples. The Fish and Wildlife Service attaches electronic collars to some Panthers to study their movements and to protect them. They will rescue, rehabilitate and release them after an accident. See a video of the Florida Panther
Visit one of the Panther Preserves and Wetland areas below;
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve http://www.stateparks.com/fakahatchee_strand_preserve.html
Big Cypress National Refuge http://www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm
Okloahatchee Slough State Forest http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Okaloacoochee-Slough-State-Forest
Collier County Parks http://www.colliergov.net/index.aspx?page=439
photo of Panther courtesy of www.fws.org
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Blue Jay – Cyonocitta cristata
The Blue Jay is one of Florida’s most commonly recognized songbirds. It is known as the alarm of the forest since it makes so many sounds. Its’ habitats are pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks and urban environments. I saw this bird in a line of pine trees along a road in Immokalee. It was flying from tree to tree landing on branches and didn’t seem to mind me taking pictures of it. The Blue Jay is a very colorful bird with crested blue head and feathers mixed in with white bands. It is an omnivore, eating fruits, nuts, and seeds as well as insects, lizards, rodents and birds. . It is not to be confused with the Scrub Jay. Across the street from where I took this picture is the Bird Rookery Swamp that contains thousands of acres of preserve with lots of opportunties to see birds and other wildlife.
Boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Little Blue Heron at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary & Blair Audubon Center is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. It is a 13,000 acre preserve that holds the largest amount of Old Growth Bald Cypress Trees in North America. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s logging companies cut down and milled the trees for their lumber which were sought after for their sturdiness and resistance to rot and infestation by insects. The lumber was used for railroad ties, shingles for homes, planks for buildings, decks for ships and many other purposes. Finally in 1954 a concerned group of citizens, conservationists and the Audubon Society came together, raised money and purchased the 13,000 tract of land which is composed of swamps, wet prairies, Pine Flatwoods and a unique collection of birds, animals and trees that were endangered. During my walk through the swamp and forest on the boardwalk I saw and took pictures of White Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, Barred Owl, and a pair of bright red birds which I could not identify. I have never been to a refuge or park where I was surrounded by so many birds. I will create a gallery of pictures in another post to show the landscape, birds, alligators and bald cypress trees that I saw during my visit. I was also impressed with the handicapped accessibility of the sanctuary and boardwalk. I have added a TripAdvisor review of the sanctuary for people wanting to get reviews and opinions of visitors to the park.
Red Shouldered Hawk on Sanibel Island, Florida
Red Shouldered Hawk on Sanibel Island, Florida
Red Shouldered Hawk – (Buteo lineatus) Red Shouldered Hawks are part of the “Raptor” group of birds that feed on other animals for food. The Red Shouldered Hawk has reddish shoulders, tail with whitish bands and in this case a whitish belly. They can be seen in hardwood swamps, mixed pine and hardwood forests, prairies, marshes and urban environments. This bird flew past me and landed in a palm tree and perched itself on a branch gazing out. I knew immediately what it’s intent was by it’s menacing stare. Red Shouldered Hawks feed on other small animals of which there are many on Sanibel Island. It feeds on reptiles, amphibians, snakes, and other small birds. It lives in habitats inclluding swamps and forested wetlands. The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail which is part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed has the most Red Shouldered Hawks that I have seen in one place. They have a distinctive screech and call which you can identify after you have seen and heard them for awhile. The All About Birds website has an audio clip if you want to hear it.
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Northern Mockingbird in Ft. Myers, FL
Northern Mockingbird in Flight, Ft. Myers, FL
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Northern Mockingbird – (Mimus polyglottos)
The Northern Mockingbird is the only mockingbird found in North America and can be seen from Canada to Mexico. It is the state bird of Florida and 5 other states. It gets its name from mimicking the sounds of other birds. The bird has a silvery gray head with light gray chest and belly. It has white wing patches underneath its wings. This bird is an omnivore and eats small insects and fruits from trees and bushes. The Northern Mockingbird birds are considered very intelligent and can protect its nest and eggs from other birds and predators by making loud noises, flying aggressively towards any unwelcome visitor and calling on other mockingbirds to help protect its territory. It size averages 10 inches long and can be seen in grassy fields, near the edge of forests, on top of branches, bushes and man made objects. While I was walking around the open grassy fields and tennis courts where I live there were several that I saw who were singing loudly and flying from tree to tree or from one object to another possibly warning me to stay away from its’ nest. Go to All About Birds to learn more about the Mockingbird and it has an audio of it’s calls.
A good website to see and learn about Florida’s birds is Audubons Society’s Florida Chapter
Bald Cypress Trees in Six Mile Cypress Slough and Swamp
Swamps, marshes and prairies are a common part of the landscape of Florida. They are important for several reasons including flood control, water storage and supply and providing a habitat for fish and wildlife. Swamps differ from marshes because of their hydro period (length of time they are submerged in water) and the type of trees, and vegetation that grows there. Swamps and Marshes covered half of Florida at one time but they have been reduced by over 50% because of the urbanization of the land and uses for farming and livestock. Florida’s swamps are dominated by woody vegetation (trees) as opposed to marshes which are dominated by herbaceous vegetation such as low growing shrubs and grasses. Swamps are biologically more diverse than marshes and therefore are home to a greater variety of fish and animals. Swamps are located in depressions in the land and have standing water in them for over half of the year. Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Tupelo and Pine trees are common in swamp land and forests. Hammocks are protrusions of land from the swamp that may hold a group of trees and wildlife that prefer a dryer soil bed. Some of the larger swamps that remain in Florida are The Everglades National Park http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm
The Big Cypress National Preserve http://www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm The Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/greenswamp.html and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. http://corkscrew.audubon.org/
Florida Master Naturalist Program – classes taught by instructors in wetlands, coastal systems and uplands.
Slash Pines Trees in forest at Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers
Slash Pine Tree – (Pinus elliotti)
The Slash Pine Tree is seen all over South Florida, can grow up to 120 ft. tall and is part of the coniferous group of trees. Coniferous trees keep their leaves all year long and only shed the oldest leaves when new needles take their place. There are many types of Coniferous trees that grow all over North America and they are of great importance because of their ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CO2 emitted through fossil fuels are thought to be the main contributor to global warming. The Florida Slash Pines’ needles grow 8-12 inches long, produces cones that are 2-6 inches in length and have a deep root system. They grow in South Florida in forests, swamps and along streams. The wood produced by Slash Pines and other Pine trees are used for lumber in making homes, pulpwood for newspapers and magazines, and chemical derivatives to make things like rayon, cellophane, turpentine, plastics and pharmaceuticals. They are also beautiful trees to look at because of their dark brown rough bark, dark green leaves and tall height compared to most of the shorter Florida trees.
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The Bobcat – (Gelis rufus) has a red brown coat and dark spots. It has a short tail and tufted ears. It is about twice the size of a house cat but is a fierce hunter and will stalk and pounce on its prey. The Bobcat is not seen too often because it hunts at night for food and rests during the day in dense thickets, trees and shrubs. They are located all over North America and can live in a variety of habitats including forests, swamps, deserts and mountains. It’s cousin is the Lynx. The Bobcat is similar to the Florida panther because of its needs to hunt in a large area and roam for food. Bobcats hunt for squirrels, rabbits, rats, oppossums and small racoons. They will occasionally go after feral cats and land birds. They do not approach humans and usually run away if they see people. The femal bobcat can breed after one year and their litter after a gestation period of 50-60 days is usually 2-3 kittens. More information about Bobcats can be found at Defenders.org.
photo by Fish & Wildlife Conservation Service http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/bobcat/