Friday, November 12, 2010

Sweet and graceful

A sweet smell wafts through the yard as I walk around to take photographs of natural things that catch my eye.  It is the scent of Florida native plant, Dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium). Considered a weed by many, it is a goldmine for wildlife in my book.  It shakes it feathery green head in a light breeze throughout the year showing a graceful elegance and during the fall it goes into bloom producing white flowers which shimmer in the sun and seem to light the way in the dark.  The photo shown here reveals a spider and an ambush bug.  It is also a favorite of green lynx spiders who raise their young and grasshoppers where it shows little, if no damage from their taking up residence.  Ladybugs seem to find plenty to feed on and the birds always stop by for a morning and afternoon snack of what is held within.  It is one of the many overlooked wonders for wildlife.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lynx Spiders: It's a boy and a girl and a boy etc....

I guess by now, if you've read my articles at Wildlife Garden or here, you have figured out that I am all about gardening for wildlife and appreciate when the critters procreate.

Some people consider spiders creepy....I don't particularly want them populating in my house....that would mean I must have bugs in the house...but I do try to encourage them outside, so I don't blanket my garden with pesticides or chemicals.

October, it seems, is green lynx spider maternity month in Florida. I have many of these gals on the plants in my garden, including the bidens alba, solidago (goldenrod), wax myrtles and dog fennel all with nests in various stages of production. There are fascinating "quick facts" about these pretty arachnids over at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-48_green_lynx_spider.htm

Today, the sac on the beautyberry successfully came to life.....mucho life. How many will survive is an unknown, but I saw the lizards close by and I'm sure the birds are preparing for the feast as well. Wasps, other spiders and praying mantids all partake. Since it is the return time for lots of migratory birds from the north, I'm glad I provided a habitat for the spiders that will feed them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day - WATER!

I just found out it is Blog Action Day 2010 and the subject is water. A very important subject, I might add, especially here in Florida where we rely on the aquifer for our drinking water and every other kind of water. As can be seen in this 30 second video, during rainy season water isn't much of an issue.


However, I just was out in the yard and the pond is lower. We haven't had measurable rain for days. Dry season arrived suddenly and early this year. Soon the four-foot deep section of the pond will be empty, luckily the 15-foot deep section never has run dry...but it always is a concern. Once the four-foot section empties out there really isn't enough circumference for me to paddle the kayak around any longer and these days the extent of my paddling capabilities is limited to my backyard pond. Hopefully rain will arrive soon to replenish so I can continue to get this exercise. It serves a reminder that we really shouldn’t be using our potable water for gardening. It can all to quickly disappear.

I keep rain barrels and rain buckets and I took a scoop today to rinse out the compost container I use to transfer coffee grounds, veggie peels, fruit stems and my daily sudoku page from my kitchen into the compost bin, strategically located next to my brush pile in a corner of my property. I always make use of the collected rainwater whenever possible.

The compost was drier than it should have been, but is now revived with beautiful rainwater...water that is perfect for bringing it back to life. You should consider rainbarrels in your own garden. It is great for watering your container plants or your veggie garden. It's free and easily maintains itself…running down the teacup rain chain from the gutters all on its own. Leave the water from your tap for drinking and make use of mother nature's wonder for your garden. The plants will appreciate not having additives and the aquifer will appreciate not being overtaxed. Reduce, reuse, recycle…it makes sense for water use too!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ceraunus Blue FINALLY return

It's been a long time since I've seen a Ceraunus Blue Butterfly (Hemiargus ceraunus).  As a matter of fact, it was last winter when a week long freeze made them all disappear.  I've been watching daily and finally their return has come.
 
This is a fabulous time in Central Florida.  The White Peacock butterflies are back in abundance.  I looked out today mesmerized by 7 all at once sipping nectar from the Frogfruit (Phyla nordiflora) which also serves as one of their larval hosts, although I'm pretty sure mine use the bacopa.  The buckeyes are abundant as well.  The Green Lynx spiders are becoming more and more plentiful and I've seen several females guarding egg sacs which can only mean more on the way.  Cooler nights and warm but breezy days makes it a great place to observe nature when the north is getting ready for the gardens to go to sleep.  My garden is just beginning to reawaken from the hot summer.  Stayed tuned!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A new venture!

I've been invited by beautifulwildlifegarden.com to be a voice from Florida with a weekly blog post on Fridays on providing for wildlife. I'm an eternal procrastinator as you can see by the lack of recent posts here. Given a deadline I meet the challenge and maybe it will inspire me to keep up a little more often here as well. It is a grand group of bloggers and tweeters who all care about wildlife and I'm honored to be a part. Click on their logo on the left side of my page to go read the fabulous information on gardening for wildlife that has already been posted. I've picked up great tips from these environmentally conscious writers and I'm sure you'll learn a thing or two from every post no matter what area of the country you live.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Twigs2Fledge™ the Sequel -- Not as good as the original

Well, only two of the four eggs hatch and the two babies are getting big and fat.  This brood was by far the strangest I've ever monitored.  Mom spent a good deal of incubation time with her nose out the hole of the box....something I never encountered before.  I wonder if the heat caused this and thus had to do with the eggs that didn't hatch. 
 
The two seem quite content and it definitely makes a difference in behavior when mom and dad only need to provide enough for two.  Well fed babies are boring.  I peak every day but they don't do anything.  When the brood is larger, there is always at least one who gapes or peeps looking for food any time you get near the nest box.  These two are asleep every day that I have checked, mostly because I check after I see Mom do a feeding in the morning.  I pause for a minute to make sure they are breathing....but I know they are active at some point because their positions change ever so slightly each day.  There also isn't the constant back and forth of mom and dad entering the box to feed and again to clean up.  Not as good as the original 2010 brood, but still rewarding.  Hard to believe it is already Live Day 11.  Two more days and no more peaking.  Just will wait and use the binoculars to try and approximate when fledge day will be.  I've yet to see the birds hop out...maybe this time!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Twigs2Fledge™ the Sequel

My kitchen windows overlook the backyard where the blue bird nesting box is set up. Currently I am monitoring the progress of brood number two of the 2010 season.  There were four eggs and incubation has be ongoing over the past couple of weeks.  I've pretty much been ignoring the box so that momma is not disturbed as she was spending many hours cooped up "cooking" the eggs. 
 
Today, after finishing up breakfast I noticed momma exit the box and my camera was within reach, so I quickly headed out back, grabbed the step ladder and took a quick peak.  Based on the timeline I have been following, I knew that they should hatch sometime this week.  I was thrilled that I caught the event when a single baby has hatched.  Pappa has been checking in pretty regularly today...and I hadn't seen him in quite some time.  Now I will check again tomorrow and see if we have progress with the other three eggs.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Batting a thousand!

A few days ago I noticed a mockingbird quietly leaving a groundsel bush in the front corner of my yard.  They are usually so noisy that I decided I needed to go check what was up.  Lo and behold, I discovered a nest.  Now mind you, I couldn't see into the nest, I could barely see the nest as they are very adept at disguising and blending in.  I reached my point and shoot camera in between the leaves and took a shot.  I checked the camera and saw that there were four eggs inside the nest. 
 
Since Momma chose to build it in the "dog area", instead of the back where the dogs are fenced out, I figured I better put up a temporary fence so the setters don't have wings for lunch. I did that early yesterday. Today, as I passed by to see if mom was keeping the eggs warm, I noticed a small beak sticking up.  Again, I stuck my hand in between the leaves and clicked.  Looks like 4 healthy babies.  4 for 4. 
 
I'm a little amazed that I only found the nest a few days ago.  It has to have been there for quite some time.  Nature certainly knows how to protect itself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lacking common "scents" or how I learned from nature

I was walking around the backyard taking pictures like I do every day. The batteries had just gone dead so I wasn't looking too closely at things because I hate missing a "once in a lifetime" photo. I passed by a small sapling that a bird planted a year or so ago. I always assumed it was some sort of holly since it retained its leaves through winter and there is a dahoon right close by in my neighbors scrub area. I really never gave it much thought until today, when I was surprised to see a large caterpillar resting square in the middle of a leaf. Now, I've learned to identify some caterpillars and this one obviously was in the swallowtail family but I thought...what the heck is it doing on a holly? I ran inside to get the spare set of rechargeables when suddenly........... DUHHHHHHH! A lightbulb went off in my non-working brain. I returned to the tree and immediately snapped off a lower leaf. I was intoxicated by the spicey smell brought forth when I crushed the leaf between my fingers. The tree is a RED BAY! Florida native persea borbonia with it's lovely smell and leathery, glossy leaves. Mind you, the tree is not even my height (about 5 foot) and is one of the "bloom where God planted you" additions to my yard bought on when I I had little luck in buying and planting things around my yard.


Since that time I learned about the Florida Native Plant Society and joined the Pine Lily Chapter (Osceola County). I studied up on ecosystems, "right plant, right place", the importance of choosing native over exotic and about two years ago I started letting various sections of my yard just grow to see what had been chopped prior to my buying the property. Once again I have been rewarded by my new "garden addition" attitude. I also learned today that I should snap a leaf off of the things I'm not sure of the identification and take a whiff.....or maybe I'll just wait to see what creature of nature can clue me in. In this case, I initially thought spicebush butterfly, but a check on the internet clued me in to its relative, the Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) this guy will grow up to be.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Embrace your bugs

Most gardeners love birds, butterflies and the like. A lot of gardeners think they are doing their part in offering a habitat for these beautiful critters to enjoy by providing annual flowers, trimmed landscapes and bird feeders.

Unfortunately, sometimes they do quite the opposite. If you use pesticides to kill grubs well, you are poisoning a food source for birds. If you spray your plants to remove what is eating them, you are poisoning a food source for birds. You probably wouldn't consider spraying insecticide on a butterfly, yet, if you spray caterpillars, you are doing that very thing. You wouldn't put fertilizer in a bird bath yet if you put too much weed and feed on your lawn and it runs off into a culvert or storm drain, somewhere down the line you are poisoning a water source that birds use.

Monocultures (vast expanses of the same plant) can wreak havoc by enticing one type of feeding insect resulting in an esthetically damaged looking garden. Avoid the problem! Diversify! Plant several different types of native plants. Like the look of all one color? Match up native plants of a similar color but different species to avoid the potential of having a damaged looking landscape. Different insects feed on different plants so if you have a lot of diversity, chances of an area being bare due to insect feeding will be lessened. Insects play a vital role in helping birds rear their young since insects provide better nutrition for fledglings which can't be found in all the store bought seed or berries you can provide. A bird feeder full of seed is nice so you can get a good view of what passes through your garden and is a great help in supplementing natural food sources during times of cold and snow, but the fact is, if you'd plant a landscape of native wildflowers and grasses and just not mow toward the end of season, the plants would go to seed and feed the birds naturally. Nature tends to provide what the local wildlife thrive on so think about stopping the fight against mother nature and embracing what she had done so well for years before we began tinkering and deciding "what looks good". Personally, I look at a yard with a manicured, green lawn and think it is just plain mean. No food potential for wildlife!

If you are unwilling to provide plants for caterpillars to eat, you are selfish if you call a spread of nectar plants a "butterfly garden". To only provide nectar source without providing plants used to rear their young is again....just plain mean. Relish in the fact that you are providing a continuation of a family when your plants slowly get eaten by the caterpillars. Consider the resulting chrysalis and the beautiful butterflies as the price for a little chewed up area of the
garden. If you aren't crazy about seeing your plants with some insect damage, well, hide them in a far off corner of your property. I personally love watching the process of life as it was intended and chances are that area of your garden would be my favorite.

No where in nature do I ever see carefully manicured lawns. Insects are an integral part of biodiversity. Pristine green lawns were created by humans....probably those with control issues. Nature wasn't designed that way, so design your garden the way mother nature intended...the resulting wildlife will be your reward for taking a different garden path!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Twigs2Fledge™

It's been just about a month since the bluebirds were scouting the nesting box. Construction of the interior is well underway. I'm putting up a picture or two each day at Twitter under the hashtag #twigs2fledge...sort of a mini-blog...so you can see the progress from...well....twigs to fledge...when the babies leave the coop. I've decided to name Momma and Poppa "Twigs" and "Fledge", respectively.

I got involved in monitoring my bluebirds when I first moved here in 2006 and saw an article in the local paper by one of our extension agent experts. She wanted people to report where we saw bluebirds. I had them in the yard and was surprised that they were a rare occurrence. I reported in that they were always flitting around my yard and Eleanor Foeste (the extension agent) inquired if there were nesting boxes in the area. I never heard of a nesting box so I looked it up on the Internet, read up quite a bit on how bluebirds are dwindling in numbers due to habitat loss and decided that would be the perfect gift for Santa to bring me for Christmas 2006.

I put up my box in February/March 2007 and was surprised to have residents almost immediately. It is of cedar construction and was purchased at a local big box store. I had read that it can sometimes take years for the bluebirds to find and be comfortable enough to use a nesting box. I guess because I maintain a good deal of my yard as a natural landscape which is in a semi-remote rural location, the birds were happy to move in quickly. That first year I had two broods. In 2008 I had four broods (the last a mere two babies) and in 2009 I had three broods. I follow the tips I found on http://www.sialis.org/ and I do check the babies for parasites and last year provided meal worms to help momma when she had a rather large brood (6). It is a well written and informative site and I even asked a question one time and received immediate (less than a day) answer when I thought I had an early loss (apparently they were older than I had initially counted and fledged on time--I need to go back and relearn arithmetic).

Bluebirds are fascinating and fun to watch. They are tolerant of human help (although they will dive bomb your head...without making contact).

I hope, at the end of this first brood of 2010 venture, to put together a video slideshow containing all the pictures. You can follow along as I go by searching twitter.com for the keyword "twigs2fledge" or Google it...both Twitter and TwitPic feed the keywords into Google search. I hope you all enjoy the journey! I know I will!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Survivors

Over at Facebook where I maintain a page for our local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (http://www.Facebook.com/PineLilyFNPS), I just had someone ask what plants I have seen in bloom or green in our area (Central Florida) since their yard was hit hard by the freeze. I dashed off some pictures of my St. John's Wort (Hypericum tetrapetalum), Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) and Shiny Blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) which I had just taken a day or two ago.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

I was pleased to report that my Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum), though not in bloom, were green and they are considered an ANNUAL. As a matter of fact, I had remarked to the local nursery operator how nice they looked in the sea of brown that was my mowed area.

I suggested Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine), both of which reared their heads at the freeze and laughed loudly. The birds are feeding off of the berries of these two choices regularly.

Recommended for wildlife: DAHOON HOLLY Learn more about this ... on Twitpic

As a side note, shortly after the freeze I headed out to Maple Street Natives in West Melbourne, Florida (http://www.maplestreetnatives.com/) to shop for a tree to be planted in honor of Florida Arbor Day which was January 15th this year. I purchased a Red Cedar and planted it the next day (January 16th). I also bought some Twinflower, Ironweed and Horsemint all of which looked healthy enough at the nursery, so appeared to make it through the colder times. They are in the ground and seemingly happy.

My Bidens alba (Spanish Needles) are not cold tolerant and died back completely, but have already started to show signs of renewed life from the vast amounts of seeds they spew forth. Not every native is cold tolerant, but if they are recommended for your zone, they will come back. The Fogfruit (or Frogfruit) (Phyla nodiflora) was unaffected and I already saw Phaon Crescent butterflies fluttering around. These tiny beauties use it as their host plant, as do White Peacock Butterflies.

Another native, often considered by some to be a weed, hasn't bloomed yet, but the green and red tinge of its leaves indicates that it won't be long...that is Wild Geranium or Cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum). The butterflies will use this low grower for nectar.

There still is a smattering of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) that is in bloom and I spotted some Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis juncea) and Toadflax (Linaria sp.) beginning to blossom so the Little Metalmark, Common Buckeye and Sulfur butterflies who are already making an appearance have some nectar sources.

Life is returning after our dreaded hard freeze...and the native plants stood up boldly to it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How a Bluebird House Hunts

I got a new camera which has a decent zoom to take photos of birds.  I captured a few bluebird pictures that I was satisfied with and was in a "fun" mood, so I put together this 1 minute video slideshow with some tips on attracting bluebirds.  Hope you enjoy!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It Doesn't Have to be Fancy to be Effective

Birds and nature don't care how much money you spend on ornamentation for your yard.  They appreciate functional.  I had a garden clog that cracked and started allowing in water so I tossed it aside and came up with a perfect recycle use.  I drilled a hole in the toe for drainage, nailed it to a snag, put some screening in the toe to "prop up" the feed and added bird seed.  Free, saved some space in the landfill and as you can see, the red-bellied woodpecker loves it! 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Assessment of what grows in my garden!

After viewing my "Butterflies of Holopaw" video, @HDMarsh asked if I could name some of my native plants. This made me sit down today to organize my thoughts and gather the names from the various files I have created in the past six months on what actually grows in my yard. Well, here goes:

Top 10 Nectar sources in my yard:

1. Bidens Alba : Spanish Needles, Beggarticks

2. Elephantopus elatus : TALL ELEPHANTSFOOT

3. Lachnanthes caroliniana : REDROOT

4. Eupatorium capillifolium : dogfennel

5. Lyonia lucida : Fetterbush

6. several species of Goldenrod

7. Symphyotrichum pilosum : WHITE OLDFIELD ASTER

8. Pityopsis graminifolia : NARROWLEAF SILKGRASS, GOLDENASTER

9. Conoclinium coelestinum : Blue mistflower

10. Poinsettia cyathophora : PAINTEDLEAF; FIRE-ON-THE-MOUNTAIN

Many of the above plants people consider "weeds", but they bring such a rich biodiversity to my yard. Keep in mind that I have just shy of an acre of land and don't have to cater to the whims of a HOA that insists on aesthetically pristine landscapes. I always state: "I garden for wildlife, the benefit to my senses is merely a bonus". Most of what is in my yard just grew when I let the property begin to grow to see what was there. About the only things I purchased to plant were some passion flowers, the tropical sage, some blackeyed susans and a vine or two, that are still in their infancy, growth-wise and haven't begun to show the signs of what fun creatures will appear due to their addition to my landscape. Before I joined the Florida Native Plant Society, I purchased and lost a great deal of plants because I was trying to conform my yard to a vision that I had. Once I discovered the importance of native plants and stopped fighting mother nature, I found a yard full of wonderful plants and happy critters, which in turn made me happy and got me into my hobby of insect and butterfly photography.

Others nectar natives include:

Erigeron vernus : EARLY WHITETOP FLEABANE
Baccharis halimifolia : GROUNDSEL TREE; SEA MYRTLE
Spermacoce remota : WOODLAND FALSE BUTTONWEED
Salvia coccinea : scarlet sage TROPICAL SAGE; BLOOD SAGE
Euthamia caroliniana : SLENDER FLATTOP GOLDENROD
Pluchea baccharis : ROSY CAMPHORWEED
Xyris caroliniana : CAROLINA YELLOWEYED GRASS
Lygodesmia aphylla : ROSE-RUSH
Hieracium gronovii : QUEEN-DEVIL; hawkweed
Liatris spicata : blazing star, dense gayfeather
Rhexia alifanus : savannah meadow-beauty
Lobelia glandulosa : GLADE LOBELIA

I also have various species of tickseed (Florida's state wildflower).

Now for the Host plants, many of which also serve as nectar sources:

Bacopa monnieri : HERB-OF-GRACE water hyssop host for white peacock

Phyla nodiflora : TURKEY TANGLE FOGFRUIT; CAPEWEED host for Phaon Crescent

Chamaecrista fasciculata : PARTRIDGE PEA host for sulphurs

Thalia geniculata : ALLIGATORFLAG; FIREFLAG host for brazillian skippers

Passiflora incarnata : passion flower vine host for Gulf Fritillary

Oxypolis filiformis : WATER COWBANE host for eastern black swallowtail

Sida rhombifolia : CUBAN JUTE; INDIAN HEMP host for Tropical Checkered-Skipper

Buchnera americana : AMERICAN BLUEHEARTS host for common buckeye

Myrica cerifera : SOUTHERN BAYBERRY; WAX MYRTLE host for hairstreaks

Desmodium : hitchhiker plant host for Long-tailed skipper

Mikania scandens : CLIMBING HEMPVINE host for little metalmark butterfly and Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth

Rhus copallinum : Winged sumac host to grey hairstreak

citrus (not native) host for giant swallowtails

I'm sure there are more hosts since i have more types of butterflies appear than corresponding host plants above...I'm just not always sure who eats what, but I'm learning....DAILY!

There are many more species than are shown in this list. A lot I still don't know the names of. I didn't include any of many sedges and rushes that appear or the plants that are in my pond. I'll put together another list when time allows.

Heidi, thanks for asking about my natives. It made me realize just how much I have growing on around here!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Let's make 2010 the year the word gets out that what you plant--matters!


As we begin 2010, I hope that everyone will help spread the word on the importance of native plants in the scheme of things. There is an excellent article entitled "Why Native Plants" in the 2010 Guide to Real Florida Gardeners published by the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (afnn.org). You can get a free print copy by visiting their website or read the entire magazine online. Click here to go to their website!

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did! Here are the excepted pages:










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