Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees forum: Melanie's Merry Adventure to Christmas, Florida

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Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
Jun 5, 2016 12:30 AM CST


Hello, folks! I made my own thread because, well, I can. But I have birds, butterflies, and...well, no bees but other insects. So there's a little something for everyone. It's mostly birds, but everyone slide on up to your computer and just enjoy the pretty pictures.

So if you're unaware, I went on a guided tour of the Christmas, FL area which is near Orlando. You know you're there when you see the out-of-season Christmas display. Hilarious! The tour was organized for a group of us to go see orchids growing in the wild. But you know I took pictures of more than that! I'll just focus on the BBB aspect of the trip, though, for this post. We stopped at two places on the side of the road, then Fort Christmas Historical Park, then Orlando Wetlands Park. Some of you may remember my trip to Orlando Wetlands Park with the Florida Wildflower Foundation back in January. This time, I was armed with my new camera!

The journey started where it usually does - Starbucks. Rolling on the floor laughing I've been really good and watching my sugar, and I figured I could indulge today. Plus, they have this limited time S'mores Frappuccino that Mom wanted to try. Needless to say, she loved it. With caffeine and sugar bombarding our systems, I connected my iPod and set it to my workout mix since I figured we would need upbeat music to keep us awake and motivated.

I think the clock says 5:51 and 71 degrees. This is I-4. If you pay attention to politics (or even if you don't), you might hear the term "I-4 Corridor". That means all the voters that live from Tampa to Orlando, with Lakeland in between.

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Okay, it's clearly 6:00 and it's 77 degrees! This is what I try to explain to people not from Florida. It does not cool down at night like it does in other places. The humidity doesn't go away, either. So nighttime is only slightly less sticky than daytime. Our sunrises are pretty nice, though. We also passed quite a few Osprey nests on the way.

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The rest area (somewhere in Lakeland) provided me with my first bug encounter of the day. Well, not counting the caterpillars I had to feed before I left. Yes, I picked food by flashlight. Done it before; will probably do it again. I think this is a kind of Damselfly.

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Sun's getting a little higher.

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We met at a Burger King and I get out and see this spray-painted on the side of the Checker's next door.

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R.I.P. Blinking Not quite the message I was looking for. I could tease this as an ominous warning, but you guys know I'm still alive.

Continuing the theme, there was a Mourning Dove up on the power line. Oh wait, that's a Eurasian Collared Dove. The Grim Reaper can't have me, yet!

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The orchids were nice, but I was chasing this Dainty Sulphur.

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Then, I saw one of the Blues with its wings open which is so rare around these parts. I never thought I'd be yelling at a Blue to close its wings so I could ID it. Pretty sure this is a Ceraunus Blue.

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And I saw this Tropical Checkered Skipper. I haven't seen one of these in a while, but I guess it's about time for them to show up.

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My first dragonfly of the day!

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So we saw some orchids and by this time we're at Fort Christmas Park. Apparently, there's a family that holds their reunion the same weekend our tour guide does these walks every year. There was also a birthday party and we tried to get ice cream and cake, but no deal. Rolling on the floor laughing

The next sighting was a couple of Sandhill Cranes. I was trying to figure out why they looked more brown than gray, like I'm used to. My books says they get that color due to staining from mud while preening. I guess Orlando has more mud than Tampa? Or different color mud?

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Okay, this is a Mourning Dove. Wait, did I want to see one of these? Hilarious! It's cool; I'm not a superstitious person.

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Dragonfly on the tip of a Tillandsia bloom. The stuff on the tree branch is Resurrection Fern. I guess they haven't gotten rain lately. Well, the forecast says that's going to change!

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So I'm straining my neck looking up at orchids on trees and I see something in the sky. Two vultures, but a third bird was...different. Because it was a Swallowtail Kite! I don't often - wait, make that never - try to take in flight photos, but that was the only way I was going to get a shot. Check it out! Butterfly folks, you can see how the bird got its name!

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There were quite a few birders on the trip, and someone spotted this Red-Bellied Woodpecker. It looks bigger than the ones in my yard. Maybe I need to fatten mine up?

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There are always White Ibises.

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Next, we were on our way to Orlando Wetlands Park! They have a native plant garden right outside the welcome center where I found some Gulf Fritillary cats. Two died of that virus, but one was okay. For now. You can see one of the dead ones in the far left of the pic, on the other side of that leaf.

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Black Bellied Whistling Duck. There were so many of these guys. We will see them again. But I like it up on the tree where you can see the whole body.

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Here's one for the butterfly folks. It's a Viceroy! I had a guy ask if it was a Queen, because you can see Viceroys in our area mimic the Queen in color and the Monarch in pattern. I got to be the butterfly expert on the trip. I knew a lot of the native plants, too because I know my host plants. Thumbs up

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Speaking of host plants, there was a lot of Water Hemlock growing around. It's very poisonous, but it is a native host for the Black Swallowtail. I saw plenty of them flying around, but never did get a picture. Thumbs down

Great Blue Heron. Need I say more?

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And because this is Florida, yes, there are alligators. It was so hot they were doing the correct thing and hanging out in the water. I also learned a bit of trivia. Apparently, to estimate a gator's size you use a ratio of one foot for for each inch between the eyes and snout. A guy in our group asked if anyone wanted to get closer so we could get an accurate estimate. Hilarious!

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We'll see more of these guys, too. I believe this is a Common Gallinule, but we will see a Purple Gallinule later.

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More Black Bellied Whistling Ducks. I like when I can get more than one in a shot.

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Someone said this was a Leopard Frog. I just know it was hard to get the camera to focus on it! Good camouflage!

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This is about the time of the hike Melanie was fading fast. It was supposed to be a half mile, but I know we walked more than that. At least a mile. Mom and some of the other folks looked pretty fatigued. Oh, and our guide and some of the more adventurous folks stopped to look at a couple of Pygmy Rattlesnakes and a Ribbon Snake, but I was like, "Where's a comfortable tree to lean against?"

We made it back to Mom's Ford Escape and filled up on drinks and snacks while blasting the air conditioning. I thought Dad was being sarcastic when he asked if we needed more than ten bottles of water in the cooler, but now I think he was serious. Stay hydrated, folks! And wear sunscreen. And a hat!

Oh, someone saw this Dung Beetle playing near the parking lot so I got up the energy to take a pic.

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I felt like I hadn't taken nearly as many pictures as I wanted to, but Mom looked really tired. I asked if she could sit at the pavilion while I just walked out to the intersection of two of the trails. She could still (mostly) see me, plus I had my cell phone on me.

There were a lot of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks.

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Watch the Great Egret extend its neck!

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This is a juvenile White Ibis because he still has the brown feathers. And that's his butt. Rolling on the floor laughing

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Then, I saw a Hawk eating something on top of a tree. I think this is a Red-Shouldered Hawk. They're the most common around here. Pretty sure it was eating a frog.

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Some of you know I'm mad at blue dragonflies because one ate a freshly released Checkered White a few weeks ago. This one landed on my boot and I told it we still weren't friends.

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Hey, it's the juvenile White Ibis again.

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The Glossy Ibises were hiding in a little corner behind a lot of vegetation. Hard to get pictures!

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So I'm standing there and out of the corner of my eye, I see a little tour car coming at me. I have social anxiety and I was really tired so I prepared to turn and give a little smile and a wave. And that's when I see Mom in the front seat next to the driver and she asks if I want a ride! Apparently, they give free driving tours! Wha....? In the middle seat was a couple who had been on the orchid tour with us. Mom jumped in the third row so I could sit next to the guide and ask questions. Plus, I didn't realize it, but Mom didn't have her camera on her. I was so afraid the other people had paid for the tour and Mom somehow got caught up in it because that happens sometimes. But apparently it was cool. Here's the electric vehicle we rode around in. They have a newer one, but it has a windshield so you can't see as well. Or take pictures out the front!

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I told Mom I would give her much kudos on the forum because she really came to the rescue! Not just because I really liked sitting down, but because we got a nice, personal tour around the place! Hurray!

FYI, as we were driving around the man in the vehicle tells us about how male dragonflies have a scooped tail so they can literally "scoop" out the sperm of another male and then mate with the female. I was like, "That's cool. Some male butterflies emit a waxy substance that acts like a plug so the female can't mate again." You want to talk about insect sex? Bring. It. On. Rolling on the floor laughing

So first we see a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. FYI, you're going to have to forgive some of the blurriness. I don't even want to know what my blood sugar was. And I was tired. Hence, holding the camera steady was getting difficult.

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We saw lots of Grackles and the nice guide lady (Jane) was explaining how the males look different from the females. We saw quite a few and I got to where I was shouting out things like, "Female grackle", as I pointed. I think I just heard the bird people give a collective cheer. "She's learning!" Rolling on the floor laughing Nah, you know I'll still be asking for ID confirmation. But this is a male Boat-Tailed Grackle.

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Mom pipes up from the back row asking about some white birds and one that looks a little different. Keep in mind, Mom has been fishing with Dad for years. So she knows a few things about water birds. And she knows when she sees a Roseate Spoonbill! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

This one is a juvenile so it's not quite as pink as they usually are. There were some other markers Jane mentioned, but I was a little busy taking pics. Hilarious!

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But like I said, the Roseate Spoonbill had friends. Like this Snowy Egret with it.

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There was an Anhinga that kept popping its head up out of the water. I managed to get one pic of it. Here's the original, and where I circled the head in orange for those of you who need a little help. Honestly, I was looking at the picture at first thinking, "What was I taking a pic of?"

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More Snowy Egret pics.

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Female Grackle hiding in the vegetation.

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At first, we all thought this Great Blue Heron was dead. But then it moved its head! Don't know what it was doing unless it was overheated like me.

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This Great Blue Heron was a little more active.

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Partners in crime? Snowy Egret and Great Egret.

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I made a promise to the bird thread there would be baby birds. Look at the Gallinules!

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird! Hurray!

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Jane said this Great Blue Heron wasn't quite full grown. He needed to be a little more afraid of people, I think.

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More baby Gallinules!

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And then we saw a Purple Gallinule! The color came out a lot better than I thought it would. Hurray! Don't know what it has in its beak.

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More baby Gallinules (the common, not the purple) just because.

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Male Anhinga

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About this time I asked Jane if there were any Coots, or if they were just here in the winter. She said she had seen a pair this morning. We turned a corner, and there they were! I just think they're so cute.

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This Green Heron was really far away! Glad I had a tour guide. I knew it was a Heron, but I'm not sure I've seen the green except maybe once.

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Finally saw a Little Blue Heron.

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We had been talking earlier about how the juvenile Little Blue Heron looks a lot like the Snowy Egret. I've never seen one that I know of, but we spotted this Little Blue Heron going through "the change". Honestly, does he look like acid wash jeans, or is just the 80's music I'm listening to? Rolling on the floor laughing

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Finally, the tour ended where it began. Does that mean this is the same Hawk that was eating that frog? We may never know!

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I wanted to go in the visitor's center so Mom drove us across the parking lot. Rolling on the floor laughing We were very tired. But we parked right in front of some Passion Vine (probably P. incarnata) with a Gulf Frit caterpillar on the bud!

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Inside they had a gator in a tank.

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And a Florida Softshell Turtle.

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And some nice butterfly displays.

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But in my opinion, the "piece de resistance" was the plushie Black Swallowtail with osmeterium. I saw it last time and forgot to take a picture. Also, I need to find one of these.

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Okay guys, that's it for BBB photos. And a few extra. I'll post some plant pics in other forums today.

Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
Garden Sages Native Plants and Wildflowers Xeriscape Organic Gardener I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level
Butterflies Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier Region: Florida Dog Lover Birds
Jun 5, 2016 4:28 AM CST
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!!!! You got a lot of species of birds Melanie! Good Job! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
That new camera really makes a difference doesn't it?

Cool shot of the snowy egret & great egret together!
You got some really great shots of the Great Blue Herons. Thumbs up
Love the babies!

Thanks for the fabulous tour. Green Grin!
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~

Name: Marie
Ohio (Zone 6b)
Jun 5, 2016 5:00 AM CST
What a treasure trove of fabulous photos, Melanie! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

That must have been so much fun despite the heat.

I think I like the pictures of the male Anhinga and the Roseate Spoonbills the best and of course the babies! I'm glad you were able to see some awesome butterflies as well!

Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
[Last edited by GrannyMarie - Jun 5, 2016 5:01 AM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1171960 (3)
Name: Christine
North East Texas (Zone 7b)
The WITWIT Badge Organic Gardener Native Plants and Wildflowers Critters Allowed Birds Bee Lover
Dragonflies Herbs Keeper of Poultry Vegetable Grower Composter Hummingbirder
Jun 5, 2016 8:38 AM CST
Awesome tour, Melanie! Hurray!

Enjoyed seeing all the neat birds and everything else. The baby Gallinules are the cutest. I like how you put them near the end of the tour. Smiling It's been a long times since I've seen Coots! Miss the funny sound they make too, when they sound like a squeaky toy.

The Blue Heron laying on the ground is "Anting", like I was telling you about on our monthly picture forum. Here's wiki's info on anting:

Great pictures of everything. That must have been kinda eerie to see the spray painting that morning... Blinking and then the doves! Oh, by the way, LOVED that picture of the mourning dove. Lovey dubby

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day --Native American Proverb

Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Jun 5, 2016 9:33 AM CST
Wonderful, Melanie. Great job! You can take the rest of the day off . . if you want.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Ginger
Fountain, Florida (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Plays in the sandbox Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Region: Gulf Coast Tip Photographer The WITWIT Badge
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Native Plants and Wildflowers Birds Plumerias Hummingbirder Dog Lover
Jun 5, 2016 10:31 AM CST
Thank You! Thank You! for my summer vacation, Melanie....I had a great time Hurray!
Each cloud has a silver lineing if only you look for it.
Name: Ibis
Florida, Orlando-ish (Zone 9b)
Region: Florida Tropicals Bromeliad Orchids Container Gardener Foliage Fan
Dog Lover Birds
Jun 5, 2016 12:57 PM CST
Looks like a great tour Melanie, and fantastic pictures! I especially loved the acid-washed Little Blue Heron Hilarious!
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
Jun 5, 2016 1:44 PM CST


Thanks, everyone! And thanks for the info Christine! I did wonder what was going on there. FYI, I post my pictures in chronological order because I know I would miss some otherwise. So you guys saw it like I saw it!
Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: Robin
Southern Michigan (Zone 6a)
I'm the gnome in my garden...
Region: Michigan Seller of Garden Stuff Seed Starter Cat Lover
Jun 5, 2016 3:25 PM CST
Wow! What a trip! Thanks for sharing all of your hard earned goodies Mellie, there were lots of things I haven't seen before. I've got to say Ginger said it best for me. Thank You! Hurray!
Name: Jolana
Mountain City, Tx (Zone 8b)
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Bee Lover The WITWIT Badge Region: Texas Garden Art Irises
Daylilies Butterflies Dragonflies Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Native Plants and Wildflowers Hibiscus
Jun 5, 2016 5:24 PM CST
Thanks Melanie, what a great tour, it was just like being there !! nodding Lovey dubby Lovey dubby
Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That's the fun of them.
You're always learning !
Helen Mirren
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
Jun 5, 2016 5:25 PM CST
Me too! Thank You! Thank You!
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Jun 5, 2016 7:44 PM CST
Trust me, Jolana this was better than being there - getting up a 4am, driving in the dark to get there, then hiking in the heat and humidity - I'll take looking at the pictures on my computer any day!

Does Prem give a fall orchid walk, by any chance? Some of the native species don't start to bloom until August.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Alice
Saint Helena Island, SC (Zone 9a)
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Garden Photography Container Gardener Butterflies Bromeliad
Birds Ponds Region: South Carolina Tropicals
Jun 8, 2016 3:05 AM CST
I feel like I was with you on that tour Melanie. Thank You!

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