The beauty and biodiversity of creatures is marvelous at the recovering golf course now called Wildflower Preserve in Englewood just outside Gasparilla Island.
Six years ago the landscape was predominantly mown fairways with lakes dredged from former wetlands.
Nature has begun to return with a surprising vigor that gives me hope for the future of the biosphere.
The warty Cuban treefrog is loud during spring mating season.
Here are some small creatures that can escape your notice if you quickly hike through the preserve. Power walkers become impatient with my progress since I find quiet contemplation of the surroundings often reveal unsuspected wonders.
Here's what I found on a recent walk:
The cowpeas are starting to bloom and their small yellow blossoms are quite attractive to butterflies. One attracted a grass skipper, a tiny butterfly relative, as we passed.
What: Wildflower Preserve nature walks
When: 9 a.m. Dec. 3, 14 and 31
Meet: In the parking lot at 3120 Gasparilla Pines Blvd., east of Placida Road.
Nearby, a mangrove buckeye spread its wings on a cool morning to warm up. It resembles the much more widespread common buckeye except for subtle differences in size of the eye spots and the tan coloring on the forewing. It is restricted to mangrove coasts since the caterpillars feed only on black mangrove.
Moving on. Although you might think walking sticks are thin, the two-striped walking stick is rather plump with an attitude out of proportion to its size. It moves rapidly and can squirt a toxic liquid into the eyes of attackers. It is sometimes seen in pairs with the smaller male on the back of the female, hence the common name of "devil rider."
The six beautiful freshwater ponds and tidal creeks of the Wildflower Preserve attract a number of dragonflies, some of which are spectacular beauties, although the male attracts the most attention.
The native roseate skimmer is a remarkable pinkish color whereas the introduced scarlet skimmer from Asia is brilliant red. Such bright colors and the aggressive behavior shown by male dragonflies illustrates a breeding system in which males fight for territories, the females choose their mates and the chosen males guard them while they lay eggs in the water.
Moving on. In the non-breeding season, frogs are not obvious unless you carefully look in crevices of palm leaves and grasses. The exotic Cuban treefrog, with its characteristic warty skin, and the native squirrel treefrog, were found that way.
Once the late spring rains start, the volume of their calls will surprise you, as will the numbers present.
The process of yard work carried out by park volunteers often reveals interesting critters and a seldom-seen ringneck snake was found under grass debris as it was raked up. They are an iridescent blackish color due to the fine structure of the skin so characteristic of burrowing snakes) with a yellow ring around the neck and bright red under the tail. When the snake is disturbed it hides its head under its coils and raises the coiled tail showing the red underside. This behavior is designed to distract a predator with color vision (likely birds) from attacking the vulnerable head.