There’s a saying you know it is fall in Florida when colors on the license plates change. While this is absolutely true in our region, it is possible to enjoy a glimpse of seasonal color change in our natural environment too.
Northern fall colors usually refer to the flaming foliage of October, but here in Highlands County you are more likely to enjoy red maples showing some brief color closer to January when it finally chills down. Around that same time, visit Highlands Hammock State Park and walk on the popular Cypress Swamp Trail. Drifts of needles from the bald cypress scent the air with a faint whiff of piney woods. Scattered about your feet, a keen eye will also delight over brilliant red leaves of the swamp tupelo or sunny yellow pignut hickory and sweet gum foliage.
My favorite showing of autumn in Florida is the arrival of seasonal visitors. Whether that’s your favorite neighbor from Canada or Indiana, it can also be avian visitors who also flock to our region for the mild temperatures.
Among the showiest of them all is the painted bunting. Referred to in field guides as “visually arresting” or “Nonpareil,” truly it is without equal for those seeking some colorful change out their window.
About the size of a sparrow, this unmistakable bird brings the spirit of Mardi Gras to your feeder. Surprisingly, this is where you are most likely to see this seasonal migrant. They prefer dense, brushy habitat and despite their joyous coloration, can be hard to see when bopping about in the shadows.
The males display plumage of bright yellow-green, brilliant reds and blues. An eye ring of crimson really pops on an otherwise blue head against a silvery-colored beak. Females are a stunning yellow-green and juveniles a duller greenish hue. A family of buntings creates a Cirque du Soleil-like atmosphere if you’re lucky enough to lure them in for sunflower seeds. Odds are best in our region September through March as Central Florida is right about the cut off for their migration.
Even if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who live near the edges of woodland regions that lure these gorgeous birds, chances are you’ll find some feathered beauties popping by if you keep those feeders filled.
From buntings to hummingbirds, robins and warblers, snowbird season is about to officially begin. Welcome your seasonal neighbors and enjoy the colorful influx to our sunny Central Florida oasis.