SPRING!!!

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Winter holds a tenuous grip at best in central Florida, and by late February, signs of seasonal progression are becoming more and more apparent.   "Winter annuals", such as some of the mustards and composites, are beginning to bloom, and the avifauna is changing as well.

Here's one of my favorite signs of spring -  snakes emerging from their winter doldrums and starting to poke around. This is a medium sized yellow rat snake crossing one of the levee roads around mid-day.   Interestingly, many of the snakes I've seen so far have had prominent signs of healed injuries, such as big scars on the body or stumpy tails.  My guess is that many of the snakes have been attacked by a raptor at one time or another in their life.         

Bud-burst and leaf emergence among the trees is also spectacular - the intensity of green when trees are first leafing out is breathtaking, but it doesn't last long.  Below are some shots of different habitats in the flow-way as new vegetative life is exploding.

The shot on the
right is one of the
larger areas of open
water, where many
of the ducks and coots
congregate in larger
numbers
in winter.  Much
of it fills in with cattail
marsh come spring,
though.

  Lots of small and medium 
  sized gators out basking
  on the shore are another 
   welcome new sight as
    winter eases.

Wintering birds start to dwindle in numbers.  The more abundant the species, the more apparent is their change in population size.  These are two of the more common wintering birds, and its actually a welcome relief when doing censuses to have smaller numbers of these guys to count.  Coots (left) number in the thousands on my daily censuses, while "myrtle" warblers (right) number in the hundreds.  Unfortunately, the myrtles are pulling out just as they are beginning to molt into their much more colorful breeding plumage, so we typically only see them in their relatively drab winter form.

            

Some of the most spectacular changes, however, occur in the aquatic birds that stay here to breed. A few of these can be seen on the following page.

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