Happy almost New Year!  I’m not sure about you, but it seems like this past year flew right on by.  In my mind, I’m still picking tomatoes from my garden but when I look outside, I see snow.  Before you know it, spring will be here so let’s get outside and try to enjoy every minute of it!

I know that I enjoyed just about every minute of the past week because I was fortunate enough to get outside and enjoy nature in Florida.  I visited some family who recently moved there, so sit back and let’s take a quick virtual tour of what’s happening outside right now (a little further south)!

Brown pelican

One of my favorite critters to watch on my trip were these brown pelicans.  They reminded me of home in Wisconsin where we have American white pelicans.  Just hop over to Patrick Marsh in the summer and you’ll see hundreds of them loafing about and hunting for fish.

Brown pelicans on the other hand are found in places with saltier water.  They’re smaller than white pelicans, are much darker, and don’t have that bright orange beak.  They also fish a little differently than our white pelicans in that they dive into the water from the air to catch fish.  Seeing such large birds dive into the water from great heights was quite a spectacle!

Brown anole on palmetto

I don’t even have to ask what my 6-year-old’s favorite part of the trip was.  Seeing these small brown anole lizards around every corner and attempting to catch them was definitely his highlight.  Did you know that Wisconsin is home to four different lizard species?  There’s a really good chance you’ve never seen any of them though.  However, these brown anoles were everywhere we went and that’s not surprising considering they are an introduced and very invasive species.

We have our own invasive species in Wisconsin (many of which I work to control), so it was interesting to learn about invasive species in Florida.  These brown anoles displace the green anoles that are native to the state.  The brown anoles are more aggressive, are better at adapting to the environment, and won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Manatee migration

The highlight for me was getting to see migrating manatees in the wild!  The whole experience was incredibly bizarre because we simply have nothing like this in Wisconsin.  These slow-moving sea cows were such graceful swimmers and were much larger than I had thought (~10′ long)!

When I think of migration, my mind goes straight to birds even though there are tons of different species of wildlife that migrate.  One of those species is the manatee which, like many people, travel to Florida in the winter months.  Manatees are not able to tolerate water temperatures below 68F for long periods of time, so when it gets cold, they swim to natural springs (like the one pictured above) where the water stays at around 72F year-round.

Baby alligator

It would be hard to talk about Florida without mentioning the alligators.  Wisconsin has quite a few different species of reptiles, but none as large as the American alligator.  We kept a ‘gator tally’ for the whole trip and ended with 18 of them!  The alligator pictured above was a juvenile and only measured to about 2′ long.  The mom wasn’t too far away so I snapped a few quick pictures from a safe distance and we got out of there ASAP!

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.

P.S. Give a year-end gift to Groundswell today! Thank you for helping to protect special places and connect others with nature. 

See you next year!