Friday, October 25, 2013

Cubans invade Florida, Tree Frogs, that is!

 The Cuban Tree Frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) is an invasive species, native to Cuba, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.  Scientists believe they first came to Florida in the 1920's as ship stowaways.

 Larger than any native Florida Tree Frog, they are voracious predators on our local "herps."  Beyond eating our local frogs, they also disrupt the local mating and behavior by their incessant noise....especially during the rainy season.  Here's a link to the "Frog Listening Network" where you can hear their serenade!

Wreaking havoc on the local frog population isn't enough for these they are taking over local bird houses!

Looks cute in his bird house abode, but these little terrors do much damage by taking refuge in power transformers, causing short circuits and power outages.  Univ of Florida scientists recommend that you deter them with a spray called, "Sniff"N"Stop" and if you catch any to dispatch them humanely with a product called, "HopStop."  Firearms are not recommended, but consult local law enforcement if a shotgun is your weapon of choice.
This stuff is guaranteed on anything from spiders to bears!
Made for poison toads in Australia, but works just as well on Cubans.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A conundrum of Dowitchers at Fort DeSoto Park

There are two species of Dowitcher in North America....the Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) and the Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaeceus).  Having seen a feeding flock at Fort de Soto Park in St Petersburg, Florida.....I snapped a few photos and headed home to my field guides!  I found that distinguishing between the two, especially in non-breeding plumage to be very difficult....but here goes....these are Short-billed Dowitchers.  And here's why.

Audubon Society page on Dowitchers

 Short-bills are much more likely to be spotted feeding in the shallows in SALT water....the Long-bills prefer FRESH water.  This flock was feeding in the wrack at the entrance to Tampa Bay...SALT.

Bird Web page on Short-billed Dowitcher

I checked the Fort de Soto "bird list" and found the Short-billed listed as common during fall migration and the Long-billed rare all year.
Beautiful Fort de Soto Park guards the entrance to Tampa Bay.  Not my photo, by the way!

Gentle downward bill curve of Short-billed Dowitcher.

USGS monogram on Short-billed Dowitchers

There are two Ruddy Turnstones (Arenenaria interpres) in the above give a size scale...about 9 inches....right for a Short-billed.  Also these birds were making a constant "babbling noise" while feeding.

What a great spot for some early morning birding....part of the Great Florida Birding Trail

Compare the shape of these birds with the schematic below


White belly and barred flanks.

 Spots on nape of neck....I might even go out on a limb and call this bird (L.g. griseus) one of three subspecies.  What do you think, my birding friends?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Everglades Racer (Coluber constrictor paludicola)

 Florida "swampin" ....gators in the swamps and snakes in the trees.  You'd better believe it. At least that's what we saw on the Tramway trail in Fakahatchee Strand Presrve State Park.  Not to worry though, as this is a harmless Everglades Racer (Coluber constrictor paludicola), a subspecies of the Black Racer (Coluber constrictor). 
This subspecies has a limited range in tropical southern Florida and the Keys.  It is a great tree climber, non venomous, grows to from 20-50 inches and is most likely found in cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks. 
Here's a link to the species and subspecies of Coluber constrictor.

 Lots of color variation with this very local subspecies.  Best identified by it's smooth scales, head shape, round eye and white chin.
This specimen was spotted by British naturalist Ben Gilbert, along the Tramway Trail in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Here's a couple of great Fakahatchee videos:

It's always great to have a sharp-eyed naturalist along on a hike in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve.  Thanks Ben.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)

 The Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly (Marpesia petreus) can be found in southern Florida most of the year, but most commonly in the summer months.  It's habitat is tropical lowland forests and the edges of hardwood hammocks. 

 The host plants for this species are Strangler Figs (Ficus aurea), Wild Banyan Trees (Ficus citrifolia) and the Common Fig (Ficus carica).  They are generalist feeders on wildflowers and rotting fruit.  This one is feeding on a White Vine (Sarcostemma clausum).

 Easily spotted by their orange color and 3 1/2 " wingspan, they mimic a dried leaf from a ventral view.
Ruddy Daggerwing range in Florida.

 Can you spot the Daggerwing?

These photos were taken in late summer at the Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  What a great walk at such a wonderful time of the year.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

At just 5/8", the Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima) is North America's smallest Skipper.  Abundant in Florida most of the year, these little Hesperiidae are most likely found in meadows, pastures and old fields.  This one was spotted at Celery Fields, in Sarasota by my sharp eyed photonaturalist and friend from the UK, Phil Gilbert.
photo by Phil Gilbert
Another view by Phil.  Taken in the grass, this gives one a real perspective of this diminutive butterfly.  The broader black border identifies it as a female.
No, this is not the cast for an upcoming Monty Python nature documentary!  It's sharp eyed Phil, with son Ben on his right and yours truly on the left.  Be sure to visit Celery Fields.....and beyond birds, keep a lookout for Southern Skippers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Big Cypress Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia)

The Big Cypress Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia) is one of four subspecies of the Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) found in Florida.  Also known locally as the Mangrove Fox Squirrel, it is endemic to southwestern peninsular Florida, in the Immokalee Rise, Big Cypress Swamp and Devil's Garden area of Collier County.

The above map from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service shows the ranges for all four sub-species.
Here's a link to a page about the parent species, Sciurus niger.

Listed as a low density and rare sub-species, it is also under pressure from habitat loss with increasing residential development in the area east of Naples, Florida.  All four sub-species are protected animals in Florida and may not be hunted.

A tree squirrel, the Big Cypress ssp. builds platform nests in hardwood and pine trees, cabbage palms and large clumps of bromeliads.  In bald cypress trees it constructs nests out of moss and sticks.  Here a litter of 2-4 young are raised per year.  Weaned after 2-3 months, the Big Cypress squirrels are known to live for 10 or more years. 
If you are interested in a scholarly article, here's one from Southeastern Naturalist, a journal published by the Eagle Hill Institute.

Southeastern Naturalist article

Eagle Hill Institute

Forage feeders, the Big Cypress Fox Squirrels seem to prefer Slash Pine trees as their main food source.  The above animal was observed with Cabbage Palm nuts which she cached on the ground.
It looked like she was scent marking the buried nuts, but perhaps the marking was of territory.

Here's a link to a great article by Collier County Environmental Services.

Big Cypress Fox Squirrel

These photos were taken at Clyde Butcher's Gallery at milepost 53, along the Tamiami Trail in Ochopee.  A great place to visit....friends and fellow naturalists Ben and Phil Gilbert from the UK
and I spent a couple of days at the cottage behind the gallery and saw lots of the Big Cypress.


There's lots to see in the Big Cypress, the western Everglades.  Here's a video link to watch....and be sure to visit soon.