Trouble in Cedar Key: Time for a field Trip

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By Gene Benedict

It was time for a field trip. Some days past, not that many, I set out over Number Four Bridge. It had been a couple days since the rains of recent weeks had passed and the onslaught of more rain was some time in the future. This was in the in-between time. The weather was nice, bordering on hot, and were it not for the midday breeze, it would have been tepid. It was perfect for a ride through the countryside and the woods.

With the Refuge in mind, I headed up the road toward Fowler's Bluff. Just past the turnoff to Shell Mound, a turkey hen, young ones in tow, crossed the road. This year's brood is about half-grown. Ten or so of them followed Mom across the road, not hurrying but never letting Mom get out of sight.

A bit farther, a hawk, or a falcon, passed low over the road a couple times. Her stubby wings beating rapidly, her tail spread wide she hovered, slowly moving forward. She was black and dark brown and small for a hawk. I haven't yet identified her although I can still see her in my mind.

The grass along the road is greener than any time this year. It's full and growing rapidly because of the recent rains. Lighting strikes tend to ionize the air. Nitrogen, which makes up about eighty percent of the atmosphere is "fixed" or "fixated" into a form that, when mixed with rain, has an effect of adding fertilizer to the soil. And the grass gets green, deep green.

Daisies are growing in the grass. In the Refuge, yellow daisies are the dominant ground flowers. Most notable are the buttery yellow ones with ten or so petals, a small tan-yellow, brown crown in the center. The petals lay out as flat as a saucer about an inch in diameter on a given blossom.

The blooms branch off a thin stem nearly two feet long, with small thin grass-like leaves hanging near the base. They are most abundant where daylight, sunlight, can reach them. Blossoms bend toward the sun and move around as the sun circumvents the sky. They seem to turn open areas into a sea of yellow.

A red-shouldered hawk is somewhere nearby. His call is distinct, loud, and harsh trailing off in pitch in successions of four, five, six, or so notes. Wrens with their repetitive calls, "veejer, veejer, veejer, veejer" can be heard here and there. How can a bird so small have such a loud, piercing call?

The recent rains brought out the frogs, frogs of all kinds. Tree frogs seem to dominate with a chorus up and down, far and near, loud, then hushed. A friend on the Keys told me of seeing a different kind of frog on her porch. It looked like a tree frog but it was white in color with dark polka dots. She eventually identified it as an immigrant, a non-native Cuban tree frog that seems to be overrunning Florida. I've seen none yet.

Water lilies are back, the kind with broad thick leaves above the water, the yellow blooms below. Most of the time they seem to be closed up in tight little balls. I wonder if they open at night. Other lilies are blooming too, the wild ancestors of those white, long thin wiry spider lilies, seen on the Keys this time of the year. Their blossoms spread out and fall down like thick strands of white hair.

And the large, full creamy white mallows, five broad petals per blossom, a hand's breadth across and wilty looking, line the ditches and the wet areas.

Wow! Quite an experience. Let's talk more about it as we pass each other this week looking for Trouble in Cedar Key.

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com