Manatee Springs State Park, 30 October 2016

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Manatee Springs State Park; Levy county, Florida
30 October 2016, Nikon D7100

Not too far from Chiefland, Florida, a bit west of Gainesville and north-northeast of Cedar Key and the Gulf of Mexico, lies Manatee Springs State Park. Featuring a 1st Magnitude spring head, Manatee Springs pumps about a hundred million gallons of clear freshwater into the Suwannee River system each and every day. The spring head is also lined with a thick medley of cypress trees and dense foliage. Beneath the surface, turtles putter about in search of fish. Along the shoreline, non-venomous watersnakes bask and soak up the sun. From time to time, most often when the ambient air temperature is cooler, West Indian manatees seek out the relative warmth of the clear spring water, though the constant 72-degree Fahrenheit water may feel a bit chilly to us during the warmer months.

In 1774, as revolutionary tensions continued to rise in the north, noted naturalist William Bartram visited Manatee Springs while collecting the experiences that would eventually be published in his book, Travels (which actually has a much longer name).

About noon we approached the admirable Manate Spring, three or four miles down the river. This charming nympheum is the product of primitive nature, not to be imitated much less equalled by the united effort of human power and ingenuity! as we approach it by water, the mind of the enquiring traveller is previously entertained and gradually led on to greater discovery; first by a view of the sublime dark grove, lifted up on shore, by a range or curved chain of hills, at a small distance from the lively green verge of the river, on the East banks; as we gently descend floating fields of the Nymphea nilumbo, intersected with vistas of the yellow green Pista stratiotes, which cover a bay or cove of the river opposite the circular woodland hills.

I can only imagine such a spectacle from the perspective of one traveling the wilds of Florida in the late 18th century. Even today, the landscape around Manatee Springs feels sublimely archaic and densely complex.

Meanwhile, back in the 18th century, Bartram continues:

It is amazing and almost incredible, what troops and bands of fish, and other watery inhabitants are now in sight, all peaceable, and in what variety of gay colours and forms, continually ascending and descending, roving and figuring amongst one another, yet every tribe associating seperately; we now ascended the chrystal stream, the current swift, we entered the grand fountain, the expansive circular bason, the source of which arises from under the bases of the high woodland hills, near half encircling it; the ebullition is astonishing, and continual, though its greatest force or fury intermits, regularly, for the space of thirty seconds of time; the waters appear of a lucid sea green colour, in some measure owing to the reflection of the leaves above; the ebullition is perpendicular upwards, from a vast ragged orifice through a bed of rocks, a great depth below the common surface of the bason, throwing up small particles or pieces of white shells, which subside with the waters, at the moment of intermission, gently settling down round about the orifice, form a vast funnel; at those moments, when the waters rush upwards, the surface of the bason immediately over the orifice is greatly swolen or raised a considerable height; and then it is impossible to keep the boat or any other floating vessel over the fountain; but the ebullition quickly subsides, yet, before the surface becomes quite even, the fountain vomits up the waters again, and so on perpetually; the bason is generally circular, about fifty yards over, and the perpetual stream from it into the river is twelve or fifteen yards wide, and ten or twelve feet in depth; the bason and stream continually peopled with prodigious numbers and variety of fish and other animals; as the alligator and the manate or sea cow, in the winter season […]

Though we didn’t spot any manatees loitering about on this particular day, we certainly did come across an abundance of wildlife at Manatee Springs and its surrounding areas — as we’ll see in our next few posts!

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The Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), 31 July 2016

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalus, 31 July 2016

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the Eastern garter snake
Merritt Island NWR in Brevard county, Florida
31 July 2016, Nikon D7100

We’ve seen a number of Eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) on phosTracks in the past year and a half or so. This common species is most certainly uncommonly beautiful in our neck of the Floridian peninsula. In these parts, our Garters tend to run with some lovely aqua-blue tones and hues. This particular individual, photographed at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in July of 2016, also sported the classic bold-yellow-stripe so common among the species.

This garter was also particularly feisty. You never really know with garters. Some are extremely agreeable to the point of near absurdity. Others, like this one, don’t hesitate to put up a good fight. Heh. I can’t blame the snake, of course. It is a wild animal, and wild animals can and should defend themselves from massive hominids carrying magic Nikon boxes. I clearly startled this individual when I ran up to it on one of the narrow dirt roads at Merritt and snapped it up. The snake gave both me and Eric our respective serpentine kisses.

All’s well that ends well, of course. After a few moments of study and photography, we let the (eager and anxious) snake go. It quickly slunk off the road and went about its business, disappearing rather quickly into the thick foliage lining the dirt road and the waters of Merritt Island.

iPhone 6S+, 31 July 2016

The Half-winged Conehead Katydid (Belocephalus subapterus), 04 July 2014

Belocephalus subapterus, 04 July 2014

Belocephalus subapterus, the Half-winged conehead katydid
Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, Volusia county, Florida
04 July 2014, Nikon D7100

This is, I believe, a Half-winged conehead katydid, Belocephalus subapterus. I’m reasonably confident that I’ve at least got the genus right (it’s definitely Belocephalus), but I admit I’m taking a bit of a stab at the species level. I think there may be some transitions and changes unfolding in the Belocephalus taxonomy wing of Class Insecta — changes that are above and beyond my pay grade. B. subapterus isn’t listed on bugguide.net anymore, but it does still show up in other places like the University of Florida.

In either case, this awesomely stout conehead katydid was spotted pretty late at night in Bulow Creek State Park. It was loitering about on an informational placard near the salt marsh trail at Bulow (in the Walter Boardman area). The katydid was, for the most part, extremely cooperative. It was slow to retreat.

The variety of our grasshoppers and katydids never ceases to amaze me.

The Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus), 02 June 2014

Spragueia onagrus, 02 June 2014

Spragueia onagrus, the Black-dotted spragueia moth
Oak Village of the Trails in Ormond Beach, Volusia county, Florida
02 June 2014, Nikon D7100

Some moths are a bit more distinct than others. Featured here is a Black-dotted spragueia moth, Spragueia onagrus, a little moth many people might not actually think of as actually being a moth — and yet, a moth it is. A member of Family Noctuidae, the Owlet moths, the Black-dotted spraguia is a distinct species ranging throughout parts of the coastal American southeast. I can’t say that they’re overly common where I live, but this is a species I see every now and then during the summer months in Volusia county, Florida.

The Soybean Looper Moth (Chrysodeixis includens), 24 September 2016

Chrysodeixis includens, 24 September 2016

Chrysodeixis includens, the Soybean looper moth
Oak Village of the Trails in Ormond Beach, Volusia county, Florida
24 September 2016, Nikon D7100

Also known as the False Medidor, the Soybean looper moth (Chrysodeixis includens) is an abundant species found throughout much of Eastern North America, especially in the American southeast. In their larval form, Soybean loopers aren’t overly picky in terms of diet. They amass and consume a variety of crop species. Because of this, they can at times be rather destructive to agricultural ends. Lettuce, soybeans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, peas, and broccoli are just a few of the plant-types this moth goes for.

In their adult form, as seen here, the Soybean looper moth is one of those species you might casually walk by at night and not even notice. Small and brownish, they sometimes quietly bide their time near patio lights at night. Once again, as we’ve seen before, if you stop and  look more closely, you’ll see a moth with a remarkably ornate and complex design and patterning. Little tufts, curls, and coats of mothen-fur make the Soybean looper moth one of our least-expected species in terms of beauty.

Chrysodeixis includens, 24 September 2016

The Southern Two-striped Walking Stick (Anisomorpha buprestoides), 25 September 2016

Anisomorpha buprestoides, 28 September 2016

Anisomorpha buprestoides, the Southern two-striped walking stick
Alexander Springs area in Lake countyFlorida
25 September 2016, Nikon D7100

Crystal blue water at a constant year-round temperature of 72 degrees isn’t the only thing you’ll find at Alexander Springs in Lake county, Florida. If you sojourn along the Timucuan Trail wrapping around the thick-canopied forest adjacent to the spring and its respective run, you’ll likely find a decent number of critters hidden among the foliage, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled and look closely.

After swimming a bit and snagging the video featured in our previous post, Eric and I spotted this pair of Southern two-striped walking sticks (Anisomorpha buprestoides) resting motionless on a palm strand. We’ve seen this species and this behavior before on phosTracks. In fact, I’ve seen quite a number of these large walking sticks in the past few years — often in my own backyard. Still, I’m always to come across them.

In the image above, the large “devil rider” (as they’re sometimes called) on the bottom is the female. The smaller one riding on the female’s back is the male. This is common behavior for male and female Southern two-stripes. The tiny dudes are always cribbing rides from the much larger, much stronger females.

Also of note, this species can shoot a toxic spray about a foot through the air. I’ve been told that this can result in more than a little discomfort. Fortunately, I have not yet been on the losing the end of that defensive spray. Maybe some day, but not this one… Heh.

Alexander Springs, 25 September 2016

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Alexander Springs area in Lake countyFlorida
25 September 2016, Nikon D7100

This past weekend, I headed west to Alexander Springs in Lake county with my outdoorsman buddy, Eric. We originally went out in search of the Florida green watersnake (a species Eric has yet to encounter since moving down from Alaska), but Alexander Springs quietly lured us in. It did not, of course, disappoint:

I’ve had that GoPro camera for awhile now — but haven’t really done much with it in natural habitats. This little swim was a fun test run for the camera. I think it would’ve been smoother if I’d had a mask and fins, though. Heh. Underwater videography is sort of difficult when you don’t have fins or a mask.

I’m a bit smoother with my Nikon, I think.

The music on the video is “The Bulldog” by Brian Eno (with Moebius and Roedelius) released on the album After the Heat (1978, iTunes). Next, we’ll check out some species observed at Alexander Springs on this lovely September morning.

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