Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent. ~ Rumi

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Swamp Fishing

Water surrounds us now…the air is thick with it and the rains are coming more frequently, bringing that southern moisture from the equator. The cicada’s voices are louder during the day and those tiny tree crickets are more frequent at night. Pools of water are forming in every available spot filling with invertebrates and frog’s eggs and in some cases even fish. It’s a delight to hear the ensemble of frog’s voices before and just after a rain and disheartening to still hear that squeaky shoe voice of the invasive Cuban frog. This morning they were falling out of the cabbage palms!

As I entered the swamp, looking closely on the bark of the cypress, I can spot the usual suspects; green anoles and five lined skinks. I even glimpse a rat snake reluctantly crossing over a narrow strip of water to get to the next tree.

But something else catches my attention. At first, I think I see the spent holdfast of a bromeliad but as I get closer I recognize the fishing spider, Dolomedes okefinokensis almost the size of my hand clasping what appears to be a shrimp. Although their main diet consists mostly of insects they have been spotted feeding on small fish and frogs. Their velvety hairs are hydrophobic which allows them to use surface tension to sit on the water with their forearms extended and with their vibration detecting organs, grab their meal. Because of their specialized covering they are also able to submerge themselves, a possible adaption to capture prey or evade predators. A thin film forms around them from the air that gets trapped between the hairs. This underwater air supply allows them to stay buoyant and even breathe under water. Once they have grasped their meal they move out of the wet onto dry land or in this case the trunk of a pond cypress, to eat.

I continued my walk and noticed another possible wonder. Nestled into the hollow of a branch was another invasive Cuban frog. Mm… if only he was in the water!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blue Neighbor

I have a dream to make a nest for myself in the pond cypress. The needles are soft enough and the young branches are pliable. It would be just big enough for me to sit and feel the wind rock me from side to side and get a bird’s eye view of the swamp. I’m always down looking up and out. I think the view point would be dramatically different if I were looking down and into the treetops.

This was one of my views looking up one morning. Walking by, I witnessed a blue heron fly up into a pond cypress where I took this picture. I am amazed at how his feet are adapted for wading and perching! I have watched this one grow up over the past year. First, with his all white plumage I would spot him amongst the white egrets foraging at the forest’s edge. Then his feathers would start to turn from white to blue in patches.

These birds can walk for hours it seems stirring up prey from the water and grabbing a snack. Their success rate is greater when they stir up prey together with a flock of other wading birds but even alone at this time of year he seems very successful. But when they are in the trees like this, what are they thinking? Studying me no doubt or taking a moment? After awhile he got tired of eyeing me and began to preen and eventually returned to foraging. Watching the eating habits of this bird is like witnessing a meditation of sorts, punctuated occasionally by a squawk like call when feathered neighbors drop in for a bite to eat.

Since building in these protected trees is out of the question, I will let my imagination be guided by the actions of this beautiful bird that is at peace in his surroundings, and always ready to stir up a good meal with friends.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

After the warblers have flown north and the leaves have filled in, the cypress swamp becomes a darkened secret garden. This sanctuary has a hushed day time tone in the summer months with certain sounds louder and more distinct than others.

Walking under the canopy, lush foliage surrounds you and the light filters down through swaying branches. If you look carefully you can begin to make out the fingered leaves of the hibiscus catching some of that falling light. With growth following the surge of water and warmer weather these bushy plants can reach six feet in height. Some visitors experience a flashback and take a second look thinking they have spotted some errant cannabis on this trail but the flower brings them back to the present.

This one flower in particular rewards the patient observer with a perceived song triggered by the brilliant scarlet against the mixed shades of green from the leaves and the dappled bark of the cypress trees. Let the flower’s voice hold you for a while for a chance to see butterflies and hummingbirds visit for nectar, a wonder filled high if I say so myself.