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Discover Florida # 3 -- 'Catting' around the streets of North Port
Yes, I've been wandering around my neighborhood with my camera again, and today got some exciting photographs. Wait and see. I was so excited I went through my photo files and put together a safari of my yard. Welcome to my wild-life kingdom.
My 'city' house in the forest
You’d never know you were in a city walking around my neighborhood. It’s quiet, peaceful, full of Florida’s fauna going about their business and above all green.
See the pictures to the right? They can’t give you the true feeling of the area due to the high perspective. Although the neighborhood is thirty years old, it was never fully developed – like much of North Port, Florida’s third largest city in area with a population of around 55,000. We don’t have street lights. We don’t have sewers. Every house has its own septic system.
When I sit on my lanai and stare into the forest around me, I can easily imagine myself out in the country, perhaps a campground in a state park. It’s wonderful.
The woods around here are made up of the spreading canopy of live oak, the tall skinny loblolly pines, cabbage palms and the ever present palmetto scrub. You'll occasionally find a rain tree, seeded from those planted in gardens and the beautiful flowering poinciana trees are also colonizing, though they suffer from the January frosts.
The forest floor is thickly grown with creepers, saw palmettos (that can make you bleed) and littered with fallen branches and tree trunks, casualties of the last hurricane to come through here (2004--Charlie.) Wood doesn't last long once it hits the ground. Kick any old stump and marvel at the dense populations of wood ants capable of turning a thirty six inch oak trunk to sawdust in a year.
The leaf and wood litter is rich in nutrients but only a few inches thick. Under it lies the gray, impoverished sandy soil of the area which I'm told is made up of crushed coral from eons ago. Which probably explains why the dense forests remain. The land is not much good for agriculture, and was probably a nightmare to clear before the age of chain saws, bulldozers and 'palmetto hogs.'
The woods are so dense, you wouldn't get far even wielding a machete.
A fact for which I am eternally grateful.
Our neighborhood abounds with wild-life.
Geckos, anoles, skinks and other lizards I can’t name dart around my garden, hunting and being hunted in turn. Hawks take them. The long legged, S-necked, slow moving egrets love to eat lizards. As do snakes. All it takes is one black racer snake to slither through the yard to send all the lizards scampering up the trees or the walls of the house.
One day a tortoise came marching through the garden while I was weeding. He was about the size of a laundry basket and looked like he was intent on getting somewhere. I straightened up, and he stopped, pulled his head and legs into his shell and hissed at me. I ignored him, and he was soon on his way.
Frogs of all sizes abound in the warm season. Tiny little tree frogs, huge bull frogs, spotted ones, brown ones, bright green ones and at night, pale, sickly-green large frogs with almost a phosphorescent quality come out from wherever they hide, take up a station on the house walls and join the chorus with a voice that sounds like lunatic laughter. Sopranos, tenors and bass, a complete orchestra. For the tympani, the toads add their ‘Ack, ack, ack.’
The most insect-infested place....
And the bugs! I have to say Florida is possibly the most insect-infested place I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to West Africa!
There must be dozens of varieties of mosquitoes alone, along with gnats, flies, and things you can’t see, all wanting to drink your blood. Be careful where you step, too. The sandy soil is full of fire ants – and they hurt!
Look below. Those are my feet the last time I stepped into a fire ant nest.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t find some new exotic looking bug I’ve never seen before in a never ending variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
Butterflies abound in an amazing panoply, beautiful,
delicate and so pretty to watch, you forget they’re busy laying eggs that grow
into caterpillars capable of stripping a bush in a day and bearing whiskers
loaded with poison strong enough to numb your arm, like the lovely blue one to the right. I admired it everyday in the spring, and then by mid-summer, cursed the spine-laden, squirming offspring it left behind . (Ouch!)
Look below at the Florida Zebra Longwing -- the state butterfly-- a common visitor to my yard. It seems partial to the orange flowers of the southern milkweed, a clump of which grows on the west side of my house. (Then it's caterpillars ate all the leaves off my tomatoes.)
- Cicadas: Creepy Creatures From My Backyard
Hubber PegCole tells you everything you ever wanted to know about cicadas.
Not all the bugs are hurtful. Some are just noisy, like the cicadas with their weird songs that ring out all day and well into the night. Or the crickets that serenade the moon.
Others spend their time plotting how to get into your house.
Leave one crumb on the kitchen counter and an army of ants appears from nowhere
to cart it off.There are so many different kinds of ants in this state, it makes your head swim.
Not to mention the cockroaches. There are many varieties of those as well, from small beige ones no bigger than a dime to the huge red ones the size of a lemon that crunch unpleasantly when you step on them.
Yes, the great outdoors loves to come in.
Spiders? Well they’re worthy of their own hub, and they’re going to get one later on, complete with pictures. Otherwise no one would believe me.
Armadillos, possums and raccoons, oh my!
But, I digress. This hub isn’t about the bugs. I got carried away on a tangent. (I’m still kind of freaked out by Florida’s insect population – amazing. Excuse me.)
No, I meant to write about the higher life forms.
My yard is home to a couple of armadillos who come out at night and root around in the leaf litter looking for worms and bugs. Good hunting, I say. Possum live twenty to thirty feet above the ground in the giant oaks around the house, an aerie they share with at least a dozen vocal squirrels.
But it suddenly dawned on me I haven’t seen much of them lately.
Even the raccoons who used to drive my mastiff dogs crazy haven’t been around.
And the rabbits that had me gnashing my teeth by eating everything I tried to grow seem to have disappeared.
It has been rather quiet around here lately.
The answer is below. These pictures are taken in my neighbor's yard, no more than 500 feet away.
- Wikipedia -- The Florida Bobcat
For more information, here's a link to Wikipedia.
The Bobcat (Lynx rufus floridanus)
This is a medium sized cat with a total length of 24-40 inches and a weight of 40-25 pounds. They have a very short tail, relatively long legs, and rather long, loose fur with longer cheek fur forming sideburns. The upper parts are reddish-brown spotted or streaked with black, and white below, spotted or streaked with black. The breeding season is from early January to March, and they are probably monogamous. A litter of 1-5 kittens is born in a den in April or May. This is a good climber, but prefers the ground and is also a good swimmer, but only if forced. It has a swift, distinctive bounding gait. It is very secretive and sticks to cover. It is seldom found in the open except at night, for it is a nocturnal species. It has a range from 5-50 miles in diameter. The life span in the wild is 6-8 years.
They are found in rough topography, in all habitat types. There is little avoidance of any habitat or any habitat type except highly developed areas and those with dense human populations. Clearings and old fields are important for hunting areas.
This species is the primary predator of small game. The cottontail rabbit is the top preferred food. They also feed heavily on large rodents such as the cotton rat. They occasionally kill white-tail deer.
Like I said in the beginning, you'd never know you were in a city walking around my neighborhood. But if you own a small dog, better take care when you let him out.
Come to think of it, the feral cat population has declined as of late, as well.
Now I know why Dick and Remy, my mastiffs, barked so fiercely the other night. They stood in the middle of the yard, bristling all over, tails stiff and high, and barked until I told them off. Then Remy contented himself with a low growl, whereas Dick turned around and ran for the back door.
I had no idea, not until this afternoon.