Saturday, November 20, 2010
Listening to the delicate shower of detritus as I walked around the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, I felt the crunch of cypress needles underfoot as they fell to the floor boards, along with a substance that looked like brown sugar. As I travelled deeper into the bald cypress forest, the powdery substance became more noticeable and my attention was drawn up to a scattered flock of birds eating something in the canopy. My camera revealed the yellow billed cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus, picking off small white furry caterpillars from the limbs. At first I just saw one but then more arrived until I was made aware that a feasting was going on all around me; caterpillars eating cypress and cuckoos eating caterpillars. Every year around this time the trees are fed upon by caterpillars known as webworms that will eventually morph into moths starting the whole process over again. They form webs in the trees around the leaves and eat until they are ready to pupate. This is also the time of year that the migrating warblers start arriving. The warblers must have been in a different part of the sanctuary taking part in a feast of their own because the cuckoos had the caterpillar food market cornered. Normally, the white “hair” on the caterpillar acts as a deterrent to predators but the cuckoo snatched them up. Normally a solitary bird, they were arriving one after another. Not only an interesting sight but the cypress fragrance together with the scent of bayberry from the wax myrtle mixed with our cool dry air was reminiscent of winter holidays. What a contrast to the muggy hot days of summer! This weather and this view is a wonderful gift that I will feast on for the remainder of the season.