Monday, May 24, 2010
A Zebra Swallowtail near High Springs.
There are any number of things to hate about summer in Florida. First, there's the unholy trio of heat, humidity, and hurricanes. Then, there's the relative absence of interesting birds (which is just as well, since hiking around in our summer weather can be downright agonizing.) And finally, summer is when all the really big, sticky, bite-y, and noxious bugs come out to play.
On the upside, some of those bugs are kind of cool looking. And on Saturday, Glenn and I went to look for some of them.
The last Alachua Audubon field trip of the season was not a birding trip, but a butterfly walk, jointly sponsored by some local butterfly club, whose official name I unfortunately forgot. We met in High Springs and planned to carpool to nearby O'Leno State Park, where a Striped Hairstreak had been seen—the first in the county.
This sounded really promising, even though I had no clue what a Striped Hairstreak was. Our patient trip leader unloaded a veritable library of butterfly guides from the back of her car and passed around a few opened to color illustrations of our quarry. It was a little orangey-brown thing that looked almost exactly like the two other hairstreaks on the same page.
Birders, of course, face similar issues: distinguishing scarily similar relatives such as Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers, for instance. But at least birds are more than an inch long.
We set off for O'Leno—and I realized that I had forgotten my binoculars. At least, I thought, we'd be looking for butterflies nearby at eye level, and not at migrating warblers in the treetops.
But once we got to O'Leno, we found the trees filled with birds. Birds! Those same creatures that have been assiduously avoiding me for the past month were now flying and perching and singing out in the open—but too far away to see in detail without binoculars. There were Hooded Warblers (which I just learned are local nesters), Summer Tanagers (ditto), Northern Parulas, and all the familiar and cute year-round residents, just above my head. They must have known that I had left my bins behind.
Birds have a perverse sense of humor.
It didn't take us long to find the Striped Hairstreak, even though it was in foliage well off the trail. Everyone was looking at it in awe. Someone kindly lent me a pair of butterfly binoculars, and maybe I saw it—the little bins weren't meant to focus that far away. Drat.
After we toured O'Leno, we went to our trip leader's home, where she had planted the mother of all butterfly gardens (she said she had tallied 61 species in her yard over the past few years). . She—and all the other Butterfly People—not only recognized all the different local butterflies, but their eggs and caterpillars and the plants that serve as their hosts. And I thought birders were the extreme geeks: I can't think of any birder who'd recognize the eggs and newborn chicks of every bird on his or her life list. I certainly can't.
At any rate, we saw more butterflies in her little garden than in O'Leno. There were also lots of dragonflies, such as this Blue Dasher:
And here is some kind of skipper that the Butterfly People found noteworthy. Again, I'm spacing out on the exact species, since I didn't think to take notes during the trip. Any ID help would be appreciated!
Summer in Florida is bug time, and bug time can be a good time.