Tag Archives: dragonflies

Walton Scrub, dragonflies, seed-eating warblers and a most deadly plant

This is a post about a walk in Walton Scrub, a 33-acre preserve in southern St. Lucie County. We were there around noon on Sunday, February 21.

The interpretive trail is half a mile long. Brochures are at the kiosk near the small parking area. My husband stuffed one in his back pocket and we forgot to look at it.

“Scrub” is a Florida plant community growing on sandy soil that does not retain moisture well. It’s dominated by sand pines, shrubs, and dwarf oaks.

My husband loves hickory trees and recognized this as one right away. Weird to see one in the scrub, we thought. But then I looked at the brochure online later.

Most hickories like moist woods and riverbanks, but Scrub Hickory, Carya floridana, grows in the white sand scrub of central Florida.

This walk lacked a diversity of bird species, but I did see three different kinds of dragonflies. I posted their photos to iNaturalist.org to get help with identification.

This one is a Blue Dasher, a dragonfly in the skimmer family. Love the name, love the color! I would like to paint one room of my house the color of this bug’s eyes.

This skimmer dragonfly is called a Red Saddlebags.

This green fellow is a Great Pondhawk. I can almost taste this color green.

The preserve abuts the Florida East Coast Railway on the west side, which has been in use since the 1890s. Freight runs through here, but they are working on the tracks to get ready to run the passenger service Brightline all the way to Orlando from Miami.

All of Walton Scrub was a pineapple plantation beginning in the 1800s. Before the railroad came through, they would haul the pineapples down to the docks on the Indian River Lagoon.

Pineapples are gone but a few of their bromeliad relatives live here now, like this ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata.

Ball moss is an epiphyte growing in trees that likes high humidity and shady low light.

Giant airplant, Tillandsia utriculata, does look a bit like a pineapple growing up high.

A flock of birds was moving through the pine trees but I had a hard time getting photos. At last I got a dim view of a yellowish bird with two white wing bars.

I’m pretty sure these are Pine Warblers flitting through the pine trees.

A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills.

Pine Warblers tend to stay high in pines and can be obscured by tufts of needles, but a bit of patience is likely to be rewarded.

The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines. This seed-eating ability means Pine Warblers sometimes visit bird feeders, unlike almost all other warblers.

Most warblers leave the continental U.S. for winter, but the Pine Warbler stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return northward in spring.

My first Pine Warbler was in April of 2015 when we lived in New Hampshire. The next year, at the end of March, I attracted a Pine Warbler with my delicious homemade suet dough on a porch railing. In January of 2018 in Florida, I got a look at one in the pine trees on a walk through Atlantic Ridge Preserve.

Here was the craziest thing we found here and there on our walk through Walton Scrub, I realized when I looked it up later. These attractive red seeds are from the Rosary Pea. From WildSouthFlorida.com

Rosary pea, Abrus precatorius, ranks among Florida’s worst invaders, arguably among the world’s worst. It’s also, indisputably, among the deadliest.

Rosary pea is an unassumingly slender vine, with delicate-looking leaves and lovely pink to lavender flowers. However, it grows like crazy, and can smother small trees and shrubs and even challenge larger trees. And it reproduces explosively.

Thing is, the whole plant, but the seeds especially, contain a toxin called abrin, and it doesn’t take much of the stuff to kill a human being. It’s estimated that as little as 0.000015 percent of abrin in ratio to body weight is enough to cause death, whether it’s ingested, inhaled or injected. That’s one seed’s worth. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science ranks rosary pea with castor bean, the source of ricin, as the deadliest plant toxins.

What! Shouldn’t we all know this plant, and know to avoid it??

It was planted as an ornamental and it’s highly invasive. I feel like some people got a little carried away when they moved to Florida and realized what they could grow here.

We spotted a few more non-native ornamentals near the end of the walk. This is an Orange Trumpet, or flamevine, native to Brazil.

Kalanchoe pinnata, also known as air plant, cathedral bells, or life plant is from Madagascar.

The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was an amateur naturalist of some repute, was “passionately fond” of this plant and liked to give the baby plantlets as gifts to friends who visited his home. He also discussed his air plant at length in an essay titled: Geschichte meiner botanischen Studien (“History of my botanical studies”).

I imagine he would have had an interesting blog.

Surinam Cherry is also native to tropical South America.

It has a small, attractive red fruit that is edible, but I guess it’s flowering season now! Florida has strange seasons that take some getting used to.

Nature! … We obey her laws even when we rebel against them; we work with her even when we desire to work against her. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Stilts and limpkins

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We took a drive all the way around Lake Okeechobee yesterday. On one little walk we spotted this wild animal!

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Just kidding. It’s Radar, our goofy German Shepherd.

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On another stop we spotted the aptly named “Stilt” bird… the Black-necked Stilt.

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We were at the Harney Pond Canal Recreation area on the west side of the lake, near the little town of Lakeport.

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There is a strange rickety bridge/ boardwalk over to an island.

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Nice views of what, from this Army Corps of Engineers map, appears to be Fisheating Bay.

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Incoming stilt.

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On the little island is another boardwalk with a view, going up to a little observation spot. Hundreds of dragonflies everywhere!

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Here are a few.

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It was very windy, with an east wind, and some dragonflies were clinging to branches, windblown.

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Looking back at the recreation area across the bridge.

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Looking out into the bay and marshes.

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Hey, what’s that bird? It’s new to me. I searched the internet later and discovered it’s a Limpkin!

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

The limpkin is a long-legged species of waterbird that has dark brown feathers with streaks of white on the head and neck and absent on the rest of the body.  Limpkins can grow up to 28 inches (71.1 centimeters) long, with a 42 inch (106.7 centimeters) wingspan, and weigh up to 46 ounces (1,304 grams) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  White blotches and triangular marks can be found on the neck and upper body.  The key physical feature of the limpkin is their down-curved bill, which is used to feed on their primary prey, apple snails.

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Thirsty Turkey Vulture.

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Black Vulture soaring over us.

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Limpkins and maybe some kind of gallinule?

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A nice watery, marshy spot.

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View from the rickety bridge.

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Black-necked Stilt.

A striking black-and-white bird with very long, thin red legs, the Black-necked Stilt is found along the edges of shallow water in open country.

And…

They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos.