One of the major features of the natural history of summer around Boca Grande is the progression of breeding in which some species breed once and then stop while others reproduce all or most of the summer.
In my rambles on Blue Ridge, Va., near my farm in Galax, it is also a great pleasure to observe this sequence of the rejuvenation of life. The fun is in finding "old friends" that you know well from previous years, or in occasionally encountering something new.
Thus I was surprised to find a plant in fruit that I did not recognize on a south-facing forested hillside with rich soil. After some page-turning in plant guides and some web searching I discovered that this was a goldenseal with fruit. Goldenseal or orangeroot is a buttercup relative, which is a famous and valuable plant with a long history of medicinal use by humans.
Mourning dove babies nearly ready to fledge (leave the nest).
In contrast a common plant which I found of interest is the black-eyed Susan, a coneflower we planted in large numbers in fields along with other wildflowers to replace exotic pasture grasses. This particular flower is a color variant with a reddish brown pigment encircling the inner part of the petals.
I was particularly interested in watching the progression of blooming in the disc flowers that make up the "cone" of this composite/aster family flower. This family is one of the most highly evolved in producing a reproductive "flower" that is actually made up of many smaller flowers specialized to make petals or to reproduce (disc flowers).
In the photo you can observe the tiny yellow disc flowers blooming in a circular pattern, which will gradually progress to the top of the cone. It's a remarkable process occurring even in something so common.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, usually winters in Southwest Florida although he was here in June and July to help observe and suggest improvements to the tarpon fishery around Boca Grande. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Nearby, on a black-eyed Susan, there was a common buckeye butterfly perched with its wings open showing the interesting pattern on the inside. The so-called eye spots are believed to scare away bird predators, or divert their attacks to peripheral areas of the wing, which are less vulnerable than the body. Note the three separate holes in the edges of the hind wings, which are likely peck marks made by birds.
An insect usually heard rather than seen is the annual or summer cicada. The buzzing call of the males is a characteristic sound of summer.
The "annual" cicadas actually require 3 to 5 years to mature from a subterranean nymph, but this is far less than the periodical cicadas that remain underground for 13 to 17 years. I am enthusiastic about the sounds of nature, not only because they allow us to identify many creatures that are only rarely seen, but they add an extra level of interest and complexity to the tapestry of life.
One of the most distinctive sounds of summer is the jug-of-rum call of the male bullfrog, which simultaneously defends its territory and attracts females with this vocal display. Bullfrogs call every night. Bullfrog eggs are laid in a matrix of thin jelly that floats as a film on the surface, quite unlike the globular clusters of woodfrogs or leopard frogs. This is likely related to the differences in temperature of the water at the time of breeding and the smaller amounts of oxygen present in warmer water.
Male bullfrogs have a huge eardrum, much larger than that of the females. This seems important as sound is defense of the pond-edge territory.
Females are also known to rely heavily on sound to judge the body size and thereby the quality of the territory of the mate they choose. When you listen to bullfrogs, the big boys have the deeper voices.
Mourning doves are a species that breeds almost continually. Is interesting to watch their nests.
Their nest is minimal but obviously adequate for the purpose and they normally lay only two white eggs, which would be extremely obvious to predators if the adult were not covering them. An advantage of the tiny nest is that when the parents are away, the nest is not easily visible and the babies are rather cryptic in color. The nest shown on the fence post is rather open, yet the babies are quite inconspicuous. These nests are usually discovered only when the adult flushes.
So see if you can hone your listening skills this summer and tune into the extravagant sounds made by insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. Another benefit of listening to creature sounds is that you can often observe and study while being lazy.