Spring is in the air down here

I've felt pretty busy lately, but I've managed to get out a few times to see some neat stuff in the past couple months. This is a really nice time of year in the FL panhandle. Amphibians have been breeding, flowers are beginning to bloom, wintering birds are beginning to sing before heading North, and the first breeding birds are beginning to arrive from further South. For those of you living in MN, we've had your loons for the past 5-6 months, and they're starting to look good, and should begin their long journey back to you in the next few weeks.

This Chapman's Butterwort (Pinguicula planifolia) is a rare plant that grows in some of our ephemeral wetlands. It can easily go unnoticed when not in bloom, as its leaves stay very close to the ground and are usually overshadowed by grasses and other plants during most of the year.

This Hog? Plum (Prunis umbellata?) was attracting some small and uncooperative butterflies with its fragrant blooms. I like how the blossoms on this twig form an arc to the left, and the lichen growing on the twig forms almost a mirror arc to the right. The lichens don't hurt the plants they grow on.

I've always liked spiderworts, and this hairyleaf spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsutiflora) is no exception. I like the effect created by the numerous filaments in the center of the flower.

I've been working toward finding all 27 anuran (frogs and toads) species in this area. Going into 2009, I only had two to go, Dusky Gopher Frog (Lithobates sevosus), and Little Grass Frog (Pseudacris ocularis). I recently visited a known breeding pond for the gopher frogs with some FWS biologists. We caught some of the tadpoles, though without good photos, and as an added bonus, we also found three Rough Earth Snakes (Virginia striatula), which I'd never seen before.

Rough Earth Snake (brown individual)

Rough Earth Snake (gray individual)

Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata) larva with hind leg buds

This year has been another dry one in a long series of drought years in the Southeast. Last year was the first in seven that our flatwoods ponds held water long enough for the endangered Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi) to successfully breed in three of the roughly 20 historic known breeding ponds. This year has been just good enough for the best pond to hold what appears to be enough water to get the salamanders through to metamorphosis. One pond is pretty bad, but it's a lot better than the zero we had for six consecutive years.

larval Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander

The next two species are closely related to the flatwoods salamander.

Larval Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum)

Adult female Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

I'll end with this video of a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) excavating a nesting cavity in a turkey oak (Quercus laevis) snag while its mate keeps watch nearby.

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