Thursday, April 22, 2021

Turn, Turn, Turn…

Photo by Bob McConville | A lone white pelican flies the friendly skies of Tigertail Beach, enjoying its winter home.

Photo by Bob McConville | A lone white pelican flies the friendly skies of Tigertail Beach, enjoying its winter home.

Stepping Stones

Bob McConville
Master Naturalist                                                                                                 

“To everything there is a season,” a famous quote from the scriptures that definitely rings true throughout the realm of nature. There is a time to plant and a time to pluck out, a time to live and a time to die. There is a purpose and an order to things, an unwritten rule that creatures adhere to in order to assure the survival of the species.

A change is on the horizon in the very near future. It will be an opportunity to say goodbye to some winter visitors and to say hello again to returning guests. Yes, the first day of spring is right around the corner.

On March 12th we will experience the Vernal Equinox, when the northern and southern hemispheres receive equal amounts of solar energy from the sun. From that moment forward, the lands and waters north of the equator will obtain more energy as we tilt toward the sun, warming us for our spring and summer season. In June the Earth will reach its full tilt and reverse itself until the Fall Equinox and the cycle will begin again. Turn, turn, turn.

As this happens, the animals that have migrated to our region to escape the cold weather will now return home.

Conversely, winter will take place south of the equator and that is an invitation for different friends to call our landscape home. Flying here from as far away as Peru and Brazil these guests will bask in our warmth and enjoy the foods available for the next few months.

Leaving us are the white pelicans. Boasting the second largest wingspan of any bird in North America behind the California condor, the beauties will head to their homelands to nest and breed, raising the next generation to make this incredible journey next fall. Turn, turn, turn.

Joining us is the swallow-tailed kite, and they are already on their way. Coming from the deep South American forests, these birds are insect eaters. As the southern hemisphere cools, this food supply is diminished and it becomes a catalyst for them to begin their long flight, some crossing the Andes mountains, continuing to the Yucatan Peninsula and then catching the trade winds across the Florida Straits to finally arrive in our area and other state mating grounds.

The kites will build their nests here, and raise their young that will make the journey back to the far reaches of South America when, again, the seasons change. Turn, turn, turn.

The swallow-tails have an interesting feeding style. They actually eat “on the wing” which means that they locate insects while flying and, with a quick dart to the left or right, catch that prey in mid-flight, eating it immediately.

There is an opportunity to track the long distance travelers online. Some are equipped with monitoring devices that can tell us where they are along the migration path. My favorites to watch are Mia, Day and Lacombe.

Many usually arrive in late February or early March. Some have been seen in the area in past years as early as mid February. They will train the next generation to do what they have done time after time in order to survive. By late summer they will be gone and the arrival of the white pelicans will be just around the corner… again.

Maybe there is something to be learned from these travelers’ instincts. Change seems to be necessary for many creatures on this Earth and changing again assures that the cycle will go on. “To everything there is a season.”

Turn, turn, turn.

Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours, providing educational tours of the Big Cypress Swamp to the public. He is also a naturalist on board a dolphin survey boat on Marco Island. You can contact Bob at Bob loves his wife very much! 

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