On December 17, 2012, Ryan and I paid a visit to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Usually the star attractions here are alligators and other reptiles of a certain size, but we found ourselves fascinated (or, rather, I did, while Ryan was at least good-natured about it) with smaller creatures: lizards, small birds, dragonflies and, especially, butterflies.
In the small bird category, it would take a hummingbird to beat the Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea), at 5-7g. one of the tiniest birds in North America.
Gnatcatchers are common in Florida, but they are very active little birds. Getting a decent photograph of one can be difficult, so I was happy to find this reasonably cooperative individual. I'm inclined to think it is a male; you can just make out a hint of the black eyebrow-line the male develops in the breeding season.
The lizard was a common one, and not even a native: a Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei). I was puzzled, though, by the bright orange crown. Apparently this is a color variant that can show up more or less frequently in Brown Anole populations, particularly in juvenile males.
On to dragonflies: I believe this is a Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami) rather than the extremely similar Golden-winged Skimmer (L. auripennis) based on the thorax pattern and the change in wing colour (or to be more specific, the colour of the costa or leading edge of the wing) at the node, the "break-point" about halfway along its length.
I took this at first for a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), a species I have seen many times, but the long, narrow abdomen suggests that it is, instead, a Great Pondhawk (E. vesiculosa), a species with a huge range (from Kansas to Argentina) but a new one for me.
The butterflies were taking advantage of a heavily-flowering clump of Climbing Hempvine (Mikania scandens) behind the visitor centre - a sort of single-species butterfly garden. This is one of south Florida's most ubiquitous butterflies, the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae).
The predominant butterfly at the clump, though, I at first identified as the Queen (Danaus gilippus),
the darker southern representative of the familiar Monarch (D. plexippus) (and
that is how the file names for these photos read). I now believe,
though, that this is another, very similar species, the Soldier (D. eresimus). These photos show a row of pale yellowish patches on the hindwing, typical of Soldiers, not Queens.
From above, the dark wing veins are much more prominent than on the Queen. The two are very similar, though, so I would be glad to hear other opinions!
One of the interesting things about the Monarch-Queen-Soldier complex is that their principal mimic, the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is much darker in areas dominated by the two southern species than it is in the breeding range of the considerably brighter Monarch. I kept my eye out for Viceroys, but didn't see any; this is another Soldier.
The Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus) is a tropical butterfly that normally ranges only as far north as South Florida, although wanderers have turned up as far away as Colorado.
This individual has lost one of its "tails", presumably to a hungry, but unsuccessful, bird.
Just to show that we did not totally ignore larger animals, here are a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) exploring a cypress trunk...
... and a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) catching a bit of sun.