What’s going on in the Woods of the Wekiva? Year end summary. Year-End Summary/Wekiva Basin Biological Calendar
On a cool, sunny morning in late February, I realized that I had completed a full year of What’s Going On in The Woods articles. The realization came from undeniable cues that plants and animals had transitioned to spring. Before sunrise, I heard raucous gobbling from more than one turkey in the woods near my house. At about the same time, the most vocal males of several species of birds began to alert us to the awakening of spring. Tufted titmice called incessantly, northern cardinals were perched at territorial locations across several yards and Carolina wrens were singing their “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle” song from shrubby perches all around me.
Numerous spring wildflowers had begun flowering and the bright green leaves of American hornbeam, sweetgum and yellow poplar gave a verdant hue to the Little Wekiva River floodplain as I described in March of last year. Seeing or hearing these early harbingers of spring made me reflect on the biological calendar that resulted from the monthly articles that highlighted natural changes in the basin over the past year. I reflected on the biological changes that occurred during the course of the calendar year and how these changes might provide a better context for seasons in central Florida than simply referencing calendar dates of the four seasons.
The biological changes that I referenced over the course of the past year included distinctive seasonal changes that were noteworthy to me:
Birds – noting the fluctuations in species that permanently reside in, migrate through or seasonally occupy varied habitats in the Wekiva basin is a personal passion of mine, and it is one of the most obvious indicators of seasonal changes. What I noticed during the year included:
- Beginning in February – Singing and displaying by males that would ultimately breed in central Florida.
- March – the return of several species of birds that overwinter somewhere else and breed in Florida, including swallow-tailed kite, yellow-throated vireo, great-crested flycatcher.
- March and April – a cornucopia of breeding birds passing through Florida on their way to northern latitudes to breed. This short, but highly concentrated arrival of dozens of species of birds can seem subtle to those who are not tuned into the phenomenon, and exhilarating to bird enthusiasts.
- May – fledging by most of the resident breeding population of birds.
- August and September – arrival of early migrants headed south for the winter. American redstarts were a part of the story last year. Their striking coloration and frenetic behavior makes them a highly visible, extremely early migrant.
- October through February – winter birds increase the Florida avian population several fold.
Monthly, or annual patterns of other wildlife were documented during the course of the year. I highlighted indicators of the season such as:
- A transition of the species of frogs calling from various kinds of aquatic habitat across the basin. The typical seasons of breeding by frogs was substantially disrupted in certain portions of the basin last year because of the lack of rainfall from late winter through early summer. As a consequence, I documented an extensive array of species of frogs that were affected more by the beginning of a very wet late summer and early fall in Seminole State Forest.
- Annual life cycles in deer and bear are dependable indicators of seasonal changes in Florida. I highlighted spring fawning and late summer initiation of rut in deer. Based primarily on activity from remote cameras at the edge of the Wekiva wilderness, I also highlighted changes in activity levels of black bears. Based on field indicators and casual analyses of bear droppings, I also documented the change in feeding patterns from foraging on new growth of saw palmetto in the spring; through gorging on soft and hard mast in the fall; to the onset of hibernation, particularly in females bearing young.
- Reptiles told their own versions of seasons. I documented turtles and alligators sunning during times when the air temperature was warmer than the water, spring bellowing of alligators and movement patterns of snakes in the spring and fall.
Flowering plants have distinctive seasons, particularly in the early spring and fall in the Wekiva basin. I highlighted the abundance of spring wildflowers and fall colors on conservation lands across the basin. I also documented the transition to dormancy in deciduous trees and perennial plants.
Fruit production and dissemination in shrub and trees – I documented the production of soft mast in shrubs such as blueberry and huckleberry in the spring, and the importance of the timing of fall fruit production in trees such as red maple, several oak species, black gum and cabbage palm on wildlife that depend upon them.
Hydrology – patterns of rainfall over time show a distinctive difference in precipitation over the course of a year. Typically, in central Florida, this involves a distinct dry season between December and March and a marked rainy season from June through September. In 2015, The normal hydroperiod did not occur. Instead the winter drought extended through most of the summer, and then we experienced a concentrated wet season that extended through the fall. This affected the cycles of breeding by frogs as described above, and also affected growth and flowering by plants in marshes and swamps across the basin.
The monthly articles referenced the context for numerous species and/or biological phenomenon over the course of the last year. I also chose to highlight the unique habitats and species and overall biological diversity represented on conservation lands in the Wekiva basin. I focused on unique species from black bear to red-cockaded woodpecker to coyote and provided a context to their prominence in central Florida ecosystems today. I referenced the unique habitats and opportunities for resource-based recreation in the springs, creeks and rivers in the basin, and the commendable management for native biological diversity across extensive and varied habitats in the 75,000 acres of protected lands associated with the basin.
It was an interesting year to capture what I hope characterizes the distinctive natural resources in the basin. I’ve got some ideas about another continuing series, but until then…
As always, I appreciate your interest in the ecology of the Wekiva basin. Hike through, dive in or paddle along, and let me know what you find.
Jay H. Exum, Ph.D.