Changes are afoot, but so much remains to be savored
Last Jan. 1, I walked Lower Lake Road at Myakka River State Park. A mild sunny afternoon: Flocks of robins were feeding in the dried grasses of the prairie and towards sundown they roosted in the oaks. A beautiful way to welcome in the new year.
Rain was the major theme in 2016, an El Nino year. During the winter, area parks were underwater, the Myakka River overran its banks and my back yard flooded. Although we lucked out with minimal hurricanes during the summer, thunderstorms were heavier and more frequent. One evening after Hermine had passed by and the skies had mostly cleared, a microburst lifted my van in the air, set me back down and I went on my way. A month later, I got caught in a heavy hailstorm in Sarasota.
Much of the year it was hot. Fetterbush was forced into bloom earlier than usual. Maple trees along Interstate 75 in south Florida could not take the heat. The shadiest places could be stifling, and I was forced to seek refuge in air-conditioning.
What I was not seeing was a concern: fewer rabbits, wood rats, raccoons and “herps” — lizards, frogs and snakes. I rarely saw them and heard fewer rustlings in the brush, which would let me know that creatures are there. Loss of habitat due to development may be causing this problem. This year, acres of pine flatwoods were scraped clean for building projects. Increased use of pesticides could be another reason.
I could walk at dusk in Myakka River State Park, unbothered by mosquitoes — convenient for us but injurious to birds, bats and other animals which depend on mosquitoes for food. At the height of the aerial pesticide spraying, bees and other pollinators disappeared from my garden. Without pollinators we do not eat.
With the exception of deer, I saw fewer large animals. Bobcats are spreading out into suburbia, where they scrounge for food in garbage cans.
Despite what we humans have been doing, there is still a lot of magic, as my friend Becky Long calls it. At Carlton Reserve, an American bittern, a secretive bird that hides in grasses, was tossed high into a pine by hurricane winds. After the wet winter, hundreds of grass pinks popped up in a ditch at Goethe State Forest. Miami’s venerable old trees continued to thrive despite heavy traffic. At Lake June in Winter State Park, I expected to hike miles to see things, but it was all laid out for me in the parking lot, where dozens of swallowtails nectared on palafoxia. All to delight us, and may it ever be so!