By Pat-Foster Turley
It took some news about ants crawling all over places on the Egans Creek Greenway that got me up one morning to investigate the area myself. Last week’s column detailed the finding of those pesky invasive tawny crazy ants found in the middle part of the south Greenway. But there was a lot more to see that morning besides tiny nuisance ants, thank heavens.
For one thing, I don’t usually enter the Greenway from the Residence Inn side off Sadler Road, so this was a chance for me to scan the large retention pond behind the hotel for alligators. One large male alligator sometimes frequents this pond, and, to the amazement of lucky observers, can sometimes be heard bellowing its mating call. But not this morning alas.
But more interesting sights attracted me from there. Rabbits were conspicuous at many places along the path, and the usual suspects of egrets and herons were watching for fish along the watercourses. And, in the morning when I visited, the light was perfect for photographing the vegetation with sun rays streaming through the eastern tree line. This time of year the swamp hibiscus are profusely blooming, with large plate-sized pink flowers, a wonder to behold, with lovely backlighting and live oaks and hanging Spanish moss to offset them.
In the early days of our life beside a retention pond mid-island, I got very involved in planting native wetland plants and shrubs. I’ve got my own swamp hibiscus, a red one, which is doing well. There are other blooming plants in the Greenway now that I also have planted successfully in my own yard. Crinum lilies look great in the woods and along the shores of the Greenway, but my own planted crinum lilies never disappoint me in my own yard too. And I am quite proud of the button bush I managed to find in a native plant nursery outside Gainesville, which has provided me with blooms and nectar for pollinators that are attracted to it as well. In the south Greenway, one of these bushes is labelled, and is close to full blooming time, so check it out.
The passionflower vines are evident now too, with their gaudy purple and white flowers in bloom in various spots along the path. My visiting friends from Hawaii said that these plants are called lilikoi and they run rampant there, but they are not native to Florida or to Hawaii, and instead originated in South America. Once the amazing flowers are past, a fruit develops that is about the size of a goose egg, and provides a tasty treat for those with the energy to extract the juice. I am watching the flowers in the Greenway now, hoping to spot one of these fruits at a later date.
Another beautiful plant in bloom now holds a sinister story. By all means, don’t pick, or even touch those gorgeous clusters of white flowers. According to a helpful sign near the south Greenway entrance these blooming plants found along many of the waterways are water hemlock, a native wetland plant that is, according to the sign, “one of the most toxic species in North America.” Good to know. This is definitely a plant I don’t want anywhere around my backyard.
My biggest discovery that morning on the Greenway, besides the crazy ants of course, was a ravaged turtle nest on the path. Some predator—a raccoon, coyote, crow, who knows?—dug up a pond turtle nest, ate the inside of the eggs and left the scattered bits of eggshells around for naturalists like me to wonder at. I’ve watched this scene a number of times in my own backyard. Our pond turtles like a sandy area of our yard and each year we catch a few of them digging nests and laying eggs. But the crows that are around during turtle eggs times are more vigilant than we are. There is often a sentry crow on top of a nearby power pole that spots the turtles nesting and then swoops in later to tear into the nest.
Every time I walk on the Greenway I notice new things, With the seasons come different blooming flowers, and at different times of day different animals are active so there is always something to catch my eye. In summer the best times to visit are mornings and evenings, when the weather cools a bit. But be sure to bring insect repellent, and watch out for crazy ants anytime you stand still!
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org