There is nothing more therapeutic to the mind and body than a walk among nature's glories.
Since my jogging days are in the past due to unforgiving knees, I find that a quiet walk in a natural setting to contemplate whatever chance offers the inquiring mind is among the greatest pleasures that life can offer.
Although I was never much a fan of beaches because there was too much disturbance by humans, it is ironic that some beaches now offer a wonderful place to observe birds, which have become so familiar with people that they show little fear.
Yellow rat snakes are remarkably beautiful if you can bring yourself to examine the head in detail.
Of course, this is only true if dogs are excluded in compliance with state law.
So I walk regularly on the beach along northern Palm Island where I watch for flocks of the rare shorebird that breeds in the Arctic, the red knot. This small bird winters in Florida and then flies up the eastern coast of North America, stopping in Delaware Bay to recharge on a diet of horseshoe crab eggs, before flying to the Arctic coast to breed.
I found a flock of about 55 red knots Feb. 2 of which three were banded. It is not easy to figure out the band numbers but I was able to get a photo, which clearly identifies light green flag No. TU3. I entered this information into website report.bandedbirds.org/Search.aspx, which told me this red knot was first banded Jan. 1, 2007, on Sanibel Island, and subsequently re-sighted in the general area plus in Clearwater.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, splits time between Southwest Florida and his farm in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Knowing the identity of an individual bird now allows us to vicariously think about the amazing migratory path of this tiny bird.
Beaches are a harsh place with a highly variable environment for plants to live and thus few species grow there, making it easier to learn their names. One of my favorites is the sea rocket, a tasty relative of the cabbage with a remarkable strategy for dispersing its seeds.
The pointed seed capsule is divided into two sections made up of two seeds. The top seed breaks off from its Mom and seeks its fortune at sea, eventually being washed up on another new beach habitat or not. The bottom seed remains with Mom and will germinate subsequently along with many of its siblings in the home site. This is an exceptional example of a bet-hedging strategy in which a plant allocates its progeny into two distinct groups with different chances of survival.
I had another a close encounter with the most beautiful of dragonflies, the exotic male scarlet skimmer. This one was sitting on a twig at Wildflower Preserve to warm on a relatively cool, overcast day. This suggests a method that can be productive in observing dragonflies, which can be so active they are difficult to watch: Go on a cool day in the morning as the dragonflies are warming up. Such a brilliantly colored male is designed to flaunt its virility to the world to attract females and deter rival males.
As a long-term ophidiophile (snake lover) I rarely get a chance to indulge in my passion to enjoy the sight of a wild snake. This is amusing in Florida where most people would assume there is a snake under every bush.
I found a yellow rat snake in a pine flatwoods. This snake seems to be able to exploit arboreal and terrestrial habitats. They are also remarkably beautiful if you can bring yourself to examine the head in detail. The lack of external ears and the spectacle covering the eye are remnants of the subterranean existence led by primitive snakes.
If snakes are the most despised reptiles, turtles surely must be the most beloved. Why is this?
They are no threat to humans and they are thus considered the "meek of the Earth." They are the most ancient of living reptiles and thus have shown an amazing persistence throughout the history of vertebrate life on earth. They can exist in close quarters with humans in Florida as does the lovable gopher tortoise.
These strangely shelled creatures can be slow-growing and long-lived, which adds to their pleasing persona. Look at the annual growth lines on the scutes of a tortoise to see if you can count the years.
Get outside and walk every day. Contemplate and be awed by the mysteries and wonders of nature.