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A bit of North Florida color for those deep in the winter snow.

- Curious about something you saw while walking in the woods?  Spot the coolest bug ever?  The prettiest flower and butterfly?  Stumble on a rock and found a fossil? Or was it? This is the place to show your discoveries and share in the knowledge of the natural world right outside our doors. Join in the fun everyday at The Daily Bucket.  
Early Winter 2014

It takes awhile for all the leaves to drop around here. The big trees are mostly bare but the leaves at the very top, like the black cherry holding a dozen pale red leaves way way up high, are the last to go. As the canopy opens, the understory trees get a bit of sun and slowly change to yellow, sometimes red and eventually dead brown.

Sweetgum can be quite striking and of all the big trees they hang on the longest. (Not counting the boring brown of Water Oaks that seem more likely to blow over than drop leaves. I got 2 and a half of them to clean up this year.)

My favorite tree is the Yellow or Tulip Poplar with its symmetrical leaf. Their bright yellow is a vivid contrast on the forest floor.

More photos below the fold ...

Here's a shot of the bottom of my hill where the trees are dense and more acclimated to occasional standing water. Sourwood is the highlight of December.

Most of the Sourwood I see are long skinny trees prone to leaning. They reach a point of being too tall and start to fall and angle their trunks across the ground and hang on for decades with limbs growing straight up from the prone tree. Closeup of a sapling.

You can't have what is called a Beech-Magnolia Upland forest without Beech trees. Here is a small one changing from green to yellow to brown to off the tree. Out hiking this time of year can be challenging as the leaves from Beech trees cover the trails. Add in a mess of Swamp Chestnut Oaks and the path is often a guess.

Lurking around the Beech trees are Blueberries. Notes the green stems on the younger branches.

And growing among the Blueberries are Ferns - here's one of the more common ferns with only its spore stalk remaining. I might remember the name by the time I get to the end of this. It's not Cinnamon Fern or Southern Lady Fern which also thrive down in the bottom.

Bird #2 for 2014 out my window right now - an Eastern Phoebe resting on a fence before zooming off and then returning.

Hickories are common in these woods too. This is either a Pignut or Mockernut - hard to tell at this young age. I also love their spring color when the big fat deep-red buds open.

Another sapling, a Red Maple. This will be one of the earliest spring trees to bud out and bloom in displays of red. I expect to see some along the interstate in a few weeks.

Back to understory trees - a Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum). At this time of year I can see lots of them thru the woods but in the middle of summer they disappear in all the green.

Eastern Hophornbeam - and yes its fruit does look like hops. Common name is Ironwood while American Hornbeam, also in the Birch family, is known as Musclewood for the bulges along the trunks

Ahh - another bird for my list, a Mockingbird feeding on Beautyberry seeds.

And finally a favorite of mine that is not long for the South - Sassafras - soon to succumb to the Ambrosia Beetle and Laurel Wilt Disease as that invader travels westward from Coastal GA. This photo shows the 3 forms of its leaves - lobes are 1, 2 or not at all.

Photos taken with iPhone 5S and then cropped and resized for DK.

Update 2 weeks later: The wind and rain is knocking down what color remains - like this morning with heavy rain (lightening too) keeping me inside and not out at another volunteer day in the woods.  Today would have been invasive plant removal at Gholson Nature Park in Chattahoochee FL. Most this week was at nearby Spring Canyon finishing up the intensive manual labor of cutting down small hardwoods and underbrush (man am I worn out on scrubby sparkleberry {but I do have dozens of nice walking sticks to give away on hikes}). Ms Helen is deep into learning about and planning for a prescribed burn end of January. I'll be on the mop-up crew. AND if anyone in the area ever wanted to see or help in a prescribed burn, come on out, we could use the bodies.

If'n y'all wanted to know, I've not been around BYS much lately because: Sunday is a 12-mile hike at St Marks NWR; Monday is planning for invasive plant removal (ardisia) at Tallahassee's only Frank Lloyd Wright house; Tuesday is at Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve (privet); Wed-Fri is back to Spring Canyon; Saturday is the FLW event and Sunday I get a trip to St Vincent Island near Apalachicola. Golly what a great winter!

And The Daily Bucket is now open for your thoughts and observations...

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