Tag Archives: Florida Keys

More bugs than birds in September, but there’s hope for October

This is a Mangrove Skipper.

My husband would say it’s a moth – because he says every Lepidoptera with a fat body is a moth. I would say it’s a butterfly – because I say every Lepidoptera I see in the daytime is a butterfly.

We usually settle our dispute by looking up the photographed insect. Fat body notwithstanding, the Mangrove Skipper is indeed a butterfly. Score one for me.

But let’s delve a little deeper so maybe we can stop having the same lame identification argument. Turns out there’s more to know: What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

According to the Smithsonian Institution, moths have feathery or comb-like antennae and butterflies have thin antennae with a club shaped tip on the end. Moths are generally drab in color, as they are more often nocturnal and want to be camouflaged against tree bark as they rest during the day. A butterfly’s brightly-colored wings warn predators that they contain nasty-tasting chemicals. Butterflies fold their wings back to rest, while moths flatten their wings against their bodies.

There are exceptions to the rules, of course.

I photographed the skipper butterfly-not-moth on the Golden Orb nature trail at Long Key State Park. I went for a walk there as soon as the park gates opened at 8 a.m. when I was down in the Keys a week and a half ago.

Pretty, huh? The trail started off Just What I Was Looking For. Nice morning walk, hard packed trail surface, potential for birds of the morning, beautiful birds.

But by the time I was far enough out that the only way back was forward to complete the loop, it turned into mosquito hell. Special hungry saltwater mangrove Florida Keys mosquitos.

Then the trail started to go damp, and I tried not to step on the thousands of fiddler crabs scurrying at my feet and hiding in their crab holes.

Some type of Sulphur butterfly, probably a Large Orange Sulphur. Wings folded, it looks a lot like the flowers on this plant. So, sort of camouflaged?

Birdwatchers do watch butterflies too. Florida Keys Audubon: Butterflying in the Florida Keys.

Butterflies have been associated with freedom, spiritual growth, and the human soul. Observing and studying them can definitely improve your physical and mental health. 

Then the trail went fully underwater, but at least I saw a bird.

This Green Heron was wary, but I managed to keep comfort-distance and it did not fly away.

What does it say that I got better pictures of bugs than birds while I was in the Florida Keys? I guess it says SEPTEMBER in way-south FLORIDA. Not all hope is lost though, as it was also the beginning of migration season.

I saw what I thought was a Peregrine Falcon, while driving south over water from Long Key to Curry Hammock State Park (still not finished looking for trails to walk and mosquitoes to feed). At Curry Hammock, I found that the Florida Keys Hawkwatch was set up for a day of keeping an eye on the skies.

It was early in the season, but these are the migrating raptors they tally.

A nice young Hawkwatch woman named Mariah explained that the migrating birds follow the land along the Upper Keys then as it bends around to head west toward the Lower Keys and Key West they pick a spot in the Middle Keys to set out over water. Curry Hammock is ideally situated.

Unlike warblers and other small birds, raptors migrate during the day when the sun heats the land and creates thermals to ride.

Curry Hammock State Park is the largest undeveloped parcel of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key. Curry Hammock provides vital habitat for many local and migrating species and hosts record numbers of peregrine falcons every fall.

Mariah said that record numbers of Peregrines are tallied each year most often on October 10, which she said they call for fun El Dia de Los Peregrinos. They set a world record in 2015, with 1506 peregrines counted that day. Wow!

More info: Florida Keys Hawkwatch

It’s a pretty place and out near the water the breeze was keeping the bugs away. You can camp at this park too.

Bucket list: rent an RV and park it there for a few days in early- to mid-October and hang out with the hawk-watching nerds.

One more trail: this one had few bugs but hot sun.

It’s part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. It uses the old railroad viaducts next to the newer highway. Great spot for fishermen and people who love to rest their eyes on the horizon, like I do.

We interrupt this New England backyard to bring you a Florida Keys dock

pelican close

And now for something completely different: Brown Pelican close up.

The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today—an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction.

I finished the last of my February Florida bird albums and posted to Flickr yesterday: Robbie’s Islamorada.


At Robbie’s in Islamorada, you can feed the tarpon (and have some of the fish you bought to feed the fish stolen by sassy pelicans) or you can just take pictures of the whole thing instead.

Lunch right there at the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant was very good. I sat at the bar, with views over the dock and water, and had the ahi tuna tacos (as recommended by the bartender) and a salted-rim margarita. Every February should include a couple of hours like that.

Also from the same few days: Anhinga Trail and Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.

pelican robbie's

by Dixon Lanier Merritt

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week.
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.