Despite the fact that 5:30 sunsets make me contemplate hanging myself — the sun should set at 9 p.m. every day — this is one of my favorite times of year. I enjoy the cool mornings and the crisp (OK, crispish) air. But what I really love is seeing all the wildlife moving around.
Yesterday morning I had a conversation with a family of catbirds that has moved into our bougainvillea hedge. They’re a little plain to look at — mousy gray with black skullcaps — but they are amusing to watch, constantly darting through the brush and jousting for who gets to sit on the top branch. Their call really does sound catlike. At our house, we call them Charley birds after our cat, who has the same raspy mew.
Catbirds, like so many other birds, are migratory and show up here from points north, escaping the chill of winter (and the lack of food that the season brings). They’re hardly the only species that has appeared lately; we’re also seeing several kinds of warblers and a few cedar waxwings around the homestead.
I left the house and drove down to an undeveloped section of section of far-eastern North Port. Out here, county roadside mowing is minimal, so there are lots of wildflowers that get a chance to bloom. Around the bright yellow sprays of goldenrod, I saw lots of bumblebees and a few skipper butterflies. Monarchs, white peacocks and Gulf fritillaries flitted around, nectaring on tiny white and purple blooms.
Most people think of spring when they think of wildflowers, but Florida (whose name comes from the Spanish word for flowers) blooms year-round, with various species budding out at their appointed times. Swales, ditches and medians provide excellent growing sites for many of these plants, and a sharp eye can sometimes pick out dozens of different kinds in nature’s riotous bouquet.
On my way to the office, I saw an American kestrel perched on a road sign. I was thinking that was pretty cool, since we don’t see these birds too often. I was wondering if it was a local resident or a visiting migrant when I saw another, also perched on a road sign. That clinched it: Gotta be migratory.
If you spend much time looking up, you may have noticed that we have a lot more raptors in the sky. They fly south too, and for many Florida is the destination (others continue on to Cuba and Central or South America). Kestrels are small and harder to spot, but seeing the hawks and vultures is usually no trick.
On the drive home, I took a few back roads to see if there were any creatures on the move after dark. I had to brake for a mama raccoon who was leading a parade of three half-grown kits behind her. Not a quarter-mile down the street, a young opossum was on the asphalt, gnawing at what remained of some unidentifiable roadkill. I was hoping to spot a bobcat or coyote, but no luck there.
Our dry season is less productive than the rainy months, so many animals have to range farther to find food. That, coupled with an earlier nightfall, means the chances of critters and cars colliding go up in the fall and winter. Be cautious of animals on the edge of the road or trying to cross. They don’t understand that cars are dangerous, so it’s up to us to watch out for them.
There is no time when we can’t enjoy the wildlife that surrounds us here in Southwest Florida, but fall is an easy time to be outdoors because you probably won’t drown in your own sweat. I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy nature while it’s comfortable, because summer will be here before you know it.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.