pileated woodpecker

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

A pileated woodpecker peers out from a cavity in a dead pine tree.

My wife and I were out exploring South Venice Lemon Bay Preserve on New Year’s Day. We enjoy going to places like that because we like being around natural places — places where green things can go nuts, and where wild animals can do as they please.

But apparently other people value these out-of-the-way areas for different reasons. Among the garbage we spotted: A pair of men’s pants, the elastic strap from a pair of men’s underwear (quite a ways from the pants), a half-dozen beer cans, and perhaps a hundred cigarette butts. I guess when no one is watching, you can be as trashy as you are on the inside.

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Pileated woodpeckers are not migratory, so the birds we see here at this time of year are all residents. Up north, they often use the same cavities they carve into trees for nesting as a way to stay warm on chilly nights. But I don’t understand why a Florida woodpecker would sit in a hole on an 80-degree day, even if it is winter.

It’s a female, so maybe this bird was trying to get a jump on nesting season. If so, she’s really early — that’s normally April, or maybe March. And yet, there she sat, only her head visible as she watched us walk below her. Sometimes figuring out why animals do what they do can be a real head-scratcher.

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Since I joined iNaturalist, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the plant life around us. I’ve always enjoyed lush tropical foliage, but I’ve given short shrift to the wild plants. Now that I think about it, that was pretty stupid of me. After all, there are few things that have more impact on where you’re going to find animals than what type of vegetation is around.

At least I’m on the ball now, and I’m trying to figure out where to expect certain types of plants to grow. I’m also realizing that there are far more non-native plant species out there than I ever realized. Many people can recognize the nastier invasives like Brazilian pepper and air potato. But so many plants that I’d always just assumed were native are turning out to not be: Indigo, tasselflower, rosary pea, etc. They’re everywhere. I wonder what the long-term effects of so many non-native plants might be.


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Speaking of natives, did you know we’re supposed to have bison here? I know most people think they’re synonymous with the Great Plains, but it’s just not so. Bison fossils in Florida date back to about half a million years ago until eliminated by Europeans. I think it’s fair to call them native.

Coyotes were also here until they were out-competed by red wolves, and then moved back after the wolves were eliminated, so I’d say that makes them native too. It’s harder to make a case for horses being native, since it appears they naturally died out in North America several thousand years prior to reintroduction. And pigs flat don’t belong, despite peccary fossils in the record. Pigs and peccaries have very different ways of making a living.

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Not many people look closely at flies, but I was recently cleaning some fish on my truck’s tailgate and noticed that the gut pile had attracted quite a variety. Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how many different species I could count. There were big, slow flesh flies; metallic green and gold greenbottle flies; a bright red stilt-legged fly; and at least four different kinds of tiny gnatlike flies.

Altogether I came up with no fewer than 11 types (and maybe as many as 14; I had a tough time researching the greenbottles and how to tell them apart). That’s some overlooked and under-appreciated biodiversity right there.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@
WaterLineWeekly.com.

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