The Colorful Florida Summer

I feel sorry for the “snowbirds” who leave Florida when it’s really starting to heat up.  These are the people who go back “up North” after the Easter/Passover holidays and don’t return until around Thanksgiving.  I think they are missing some of the best things that Florida has to offer during the summer. 

My wife, Meryl, always describes South Florida summers as “oppressive.”  Nevertheless, we adjust to the heat and humidity by going for our early morning walks even before sunrise.  If we’re lucky, we’ll begin when it’s only around 75 degrees but within the hour, you can feel the temperature rising.  When you finally return home and feel that comforting blast of air conditioning, you experience a sense of relief! 

On our walks during the month of May, we began to see the beginning of nature’s finest color display.  The frangipani trees go from bare antler-like branches to a few terminal yellow flowers and eventually become full of bright yellow and white blooms.  If you’re lucky, the ground beneath them is like a colorful carpet of fallen blooms especially after a heavy rain. 

The branches of the frangipani tree with
some early blooms at their ends
Multiple blooms of the frangipani flowers

But the best demonstration of color is yet to come!  We’re now just getting the early blooming of the king of flowering trees, Delonix regia, known here in Florida as the Royal Poinciana. When my kids were young, I can even remember driving them around just so that we could find the best and brightest example of this magnificent tree.

The Royal Poinciana begins its show with just a few buds opening early in mid-May on the ends of some of the branches.  Within a month the tree is covered with large flowers reaching toward the bright blue sky above.

In the past, I can remember arguments about whether the flowers are red-orange or orange-red, as if we’re trying to match the color with the names of the Crayola crayons from childhood.  In reality, the shades of red and orange do vary from one tree to another.  Supposedly due to the soil conditions, the color of the large flowers is indisputably brilliant! 

The complex individual flower

The Royal Poinciana originally comes from Madagascar, the place where many plant and animal species developed in isolation ever since the island separated from the African continent.  It is popular as a flowering shade tree and it is easily cultivated throughout warm climates.  It goes by many different names, all attesting to its bright coloration.

In Australia it is known as the flame tree; in other English-speaking countries it is known as the flamboyant tree or flame of the forest tree.  In India and Pakistan, it is known as the peacock flower tree.

Is it red-orange or orange-red?

Even after living in Florida for more than 40 years, I still get excited at the end of May when just a few trees are showing their early bloom.  When in past years, my wife and I have been traveling during the month of June, I felt bad that I would miss out on the Royal Poinciana bloom. 

It’s definitely worth traveling around South Florida to see these amazing specimens.  It makes staying here in the summer an exciting visual experience.

A Mother’s Day Surprise

We had an interesting, but sad, experience on Mother’s Day last week.

My wife and I live on a large lake in Palm Beach County, Florida.  I’ve referred many times to the wildlife shows that we are privileged to view on a daily basis.  When we think of the money that we have spent while on vacations to go to bird sanctuaries or animal refuges, I have to laugh.  Right in our backyard, we have a never-ending display of the richness of the world of nature.

Young otter on our “beachfront”

Last week, for example, we had a family of lake otters playing on our “beachfront.”  Since the lake is at its lowest level before the rainy season starts in June, we now have a strip of sand which is about six feet wide.  The two young otters were rolling around in the wet sand while their parents were nearby eating the fish they had caught.  

About two weeks ago, we noticed that there was a large male duck hanging around the kayak that we keep just on the outside of our screened-in patio, only a few feet from where we have been having almost all our meals for the past year.  We figured that he had defined our backyard as his territory. 

The view from our patio

One morning while having breakfast, we started to hear occasional knocking sounds from inside the overturned kayak. We hadn’t been in our kayak in about a week because it had been very windy.

Later that morning, I decided to investigate the source of the noise and I discovered that there was a lone duck egg in a carefully dug out depression in the grass under the kayak.  Surrounding the egg were several feathers the mother duck had plucked to provide cushioning for her future clutch.  We figured that the noise we were hearing was the bumping of the mother duck against the sides of the kayak as she constructed her nest. 

One egg…….

As the week progressed, we understood why the male duck was guarding the area.  A few times we would see the female squeeze out from under the kayak and the two of them would “go for breakfast,” as we called it. 

As the weather improved, we were anxious to get back to our excursions on our lake in the kayak, but we were reluctant to disturb the nest.  We checked it several times over the course of the week and discovered that each day, the nest was deepening and there was a total of four eggs along with more of her feathers and some repositioned garden stones.  

Later that week, three eggs……

On Mother’s Day, we remarked that we hadn’t seen the male duck standing guard over his incubating progeny.  When we turned the kayak over, we were shocked to find the female dead lying next to her four eggs.  Her neck had been slashed.   Her eggs were untouched.

Dead mother duck and her four eggs

Although we were sad to see the carnage and the incomplete incubation the eggs, we understood that this was a perfect example of the cycle of nature.  It was just that we had become such close observers of the potential miracle of life, and ultimately, the reality of death as well. 

We gave the mother duck and her eggs a proper burial on the shore of our lake.  An alternative could have been to leave her to the army of turkey vultures who are always nearby to do the clean-up job as nature’s ultimate recyclers.   

The proper burial on the beach

The only benefit we had from this “event of nature” was that we were able to reclaim our kayak.  After giving it a thorough cleaning of the scattered feathers and blood, we had a beautiful ride on the lake.  It was especially poignant on Mother’s Day when we saw several other mother ducks and geese carefully leading their babies behind them.