Butterflies and Stars all in a morning!

One of the many benefits to getting up sooo early… early being, before Sunrise is that you get to watch the butterflies warming up in the morning light.  Do you like to do photography? Go out early and you will have a better chance of photographing some of the more elusive native butterflies by watching for them resting and doing their warm ups – flexing those wings for flight, on cool Fall mornings.

Here is a Gulf Fritillary in my yard soaking up early morning rays.  When I found myself initially standing outside at 7am gazing around at the night sky one of the first constellations I noticed overhead was Orion the Hunter   Just look for the three belt stars in a row that tell you it’s Orion!   Near the belt stars is the bright planet Jupiter, also overhead and down lower, nearer to Orion is the dog star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major

To obtain a free star chart to print out in .PDF format, to help you find your way around the cool Fall night sky visit the link here and if you are visiting or live in South West Florida book a Star Gazing Adventure via my website located at this link I offer programs for families, homeschool, and many other groups.

Gulf Fritillary ButterflyGulf Fritillary Butterfly

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Eastern Screech Owls -an Album

In early June momma Screech brought two little fluffy Owlets around to show.  They were barely flying – more like bombing around … and they were very needy with their calls for food!    Here is mom below, with one of her fledgling chicks.  I have a long relationship with the screech owls around our neighborhood and every year we get to see them as they perch and hunt in and around our half acre for insects here in Lehigh.  
The tree below is over our Labyrinth and I was sitting under it when she brought them by.  Yes, I try to always have a camera on hand in the Backyard Universe just in case!  
Mom and Owlet

Mom and Owlet

Above and below a fluffly barely fledgling Screech closer up, sitting in the tree above with mom.  Mom had left them up in the tree overhead while she went off to hunt in daylight.  The only issue is, during daylight hours they can be attacked by other birds that find them and this was an open area.  I helped mom out and kept the mocking birds and jays away while the little ones sat up in the tree calling for mom to bring them yummy beetles from nearby backyards.  They were not that far from their nest in a clump of Sabal Palms behind our lot.  (We let our native yard grow tall and wild in the back for cover and hunting areas for the little ones.)  
Fluffly chick

Fluffly chick

In the below images they are much older but still sporting some pin feathers.  The don’t need mom to watch after or protect them from attacking birds.  They know to hide in the shadows during daylight hours until nightfall.

Fledgling1_01

Hiding in among the Bombax tree leaves… a wide eyed fledgling Screech.  300mm Nikon lens

Other Fledgling

I am outside, after dinner looking for the screeches.  Sometimes after a rain I hear them or late at night calling with their soft whinny call…  Eventually they will move out to other areas of the neighborhood to hunt over the Summer.  I hope they are greeted with as much awe, enjoyment and safe haven as they are met with here on the half acre.  Owls like this hunt insects, small bats, mice and snakes.  In yards sprayed with pesticides, they may suffer through their food sources that are impacted by the pesticide applications.  
I have found that when our rodent or snake numbers go up here at the Backyard Universe that we often see an influx of hawks and owls to feed on them.  It’s an intricate, connected age old cycle that will balance itself  out if we allow it to and don’t interrupt it via artificial and deadly means.  If you would like to build Screech Owl Nest Boxes for your yard, go to this link  in my prior article and read down it for the link to the nesting box instructions.
 

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Screech Owls New Diggs, up in the Bombax Tree.

Screech Owls New Diggs

The Backyard Universe is truly a hub of activity lately…   every evening the mockingbirds are giving the little Screech Owls a difficult time when they make their appearance known.  You can’t miss the disturbed calls of the mockingbirds and the hisses of the Screech owls.  It was at this latest activity that I decided to read online about Screech Owl Boxes.  They had a nest last year in an old palm snag however that snag fell over this year.  After doing some research I ran across a website for the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center located in Palm City Florida.  They actually had a .PDF file with information about Screech owls AND how to build nesting boxes for them.  It just happens that the boxes for the Screech Owls can also be used by the American Kestrel.  Click here for the Download .PDF link to make your own Screech Owl Nesting Box.

We placed our box up onto a Bombax  (African Floss) Tree, part of a stand of them that is along the back of our half acre.  Now we watch and wait to see if the box is noticed and who takes interest!  The box took only a couple hours to make and cost us $13.00 in pine.  It will weather over time.  Please be sure to follow the directions of the .PDF, don’t paint the box.  Now when I go outside I have yet another possible source of activity to keep an eye on.   We have raised other clusters of Screech Owls here, watched them grown up…  I hope you will consider placing a box in your neighborhood backyard.   A big thank you to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center for making the easy to follow directions available.  Check out their website!     AND be sure to visit my new Photo Blog called Metta Nature Photography  Click on the images there for full page views of everything else *outside* of my  BackyardUniverse coverage.    

Eastern Screech Owl

Image of an Eastern Screech Owl sitting on a stump in the BackyardUniverse.   All images are by me, Linda S. Jacobson unless otherwise noted.

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Lining up Projects for Summer..

 

aBackyard Universe has been humming right along, beginning with the Painted Buntings learning about their new spiffy feeder I picked up at Tractor Supply.  It’s squirrel proof and just the right size for smaller birds like Buntings.  I’ve had two males and a female hanging around, daily, this year.  Now they come and go in the feeder with ease.  A feeder like this keeps the larger birds out that can drive Buntings away, birds like Cardinals and Blue Jays whom I’ve seen directly challenge the Buntings as well as other smaller birds for feeder access.

The Buntings

 

On Saturday, while attending the CREW Land and Water Trust Wildflower Festival  (I also led two children’s Wildflower hikes) I met a new (to me) Native Plant Nursery called All Native Garden Center, Nursery & Landscapes.   I have to include, I LOVE the name of their website, NO LAWN.   But then I am a proponent for yards and spaces that can feed us, that can feed communities and be a home and shelter for wildlife.  I made quite a haul of new plants for the yard and Labyrinth and I’m going back for the Native Pennyroyal plants tomorrow.

I also visited a table sponsored by the Florida Wildflower Co-op.  I came away with seeds galore to work on starting in pots as we head into Summer here in South West Florida I have: Southeastern Sunflower Helianthus agrestis, Chapman’s Blazing Star Liatris chapmanii, Yellow Sneezeweed Helenium amarum and Partridge Pea Chamaecrista fasciculata ::

 

seeds to start!

 

I think these will keep me busy for awhile.  Around this time every year I end up with the same issue as I approach the hotter and more humid Summer months…  Withdrawal from giving programs to the Public, and Volunteering.  I literally go from “full force” Volunteering and giving Astronomy presentations for four months to – a clear schedule.  And I see it fast approaching again this year in my appointment book as I “run out” of things to do and places to be.

Should  you find yourself in “The Summer Doldrums” as well try planting a Butterfly or vegetable garden and invite Nature in.  She will certainly keep you busy!  If you have a lack of space – or not,  try planting a butterfly garden in a container!  These make wonderful family projects that everyone can participate in, and they add a lot of color to a small space with little effort and cost.

While you are at it, make a basket up to attract neighborhood Hummingbirds!   -I think I will be doing this as well over the Summer.  I’ll add it to my list of things to look for plant wise when I go to All Native tomorrow.   Watch here for updates to aBackyard Universe.  Feel free to share your Native Gardening experiences here as well.  I am located in Lehigh Acres Florida.  Just inland from Fort Myers on a half acre.  A very BUSY half acre!   Meanwhile, visit my AVON  store online via this link  Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and in purchasing from my  online store you will be supporting small business.  Thank You!!!!

 

 

Something Fishy in aBackyard Universe this morning..

I had just mentioned to someone last night on my FaceBook  “Pay attention to birds because THEY will tell you what’s going on in the neighborhood or on the trail”   And it’s true, IF you do choose listen to Nature, she will share important things with you.  Like this morning as I was walking out onto the lanai to let the Chihuahuas out I heard this very distinctive call to my left…  

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The neighborhood Osprey was a lot closer to me than the last time I blogged about him – when he was 200′ distant in another neighbors yard…  So I quietly stood and fired off images until the Mockingbird chased him away.  That was a very narrow window I had to enjoy his presence in and I’m grateful for it!  I do hope someone else had the enjoyment of watching him with his meal, that everyone was not glued to the TV and missed an opportunity.

Seeing an Osprey close in like this is a rarity for me.  I’m not near a large body of water such as a beach or lake, so the Ospreys I see occasionally here have travelled to and from larger water sources, or perhaps fished the deep canal that runs along behind (to the East of)  Lehigh Acres Middle School, which isn’t far from me.  I do hope YOU had a chance to get outside this weekend and soak up some wonderful Vitamin N – the Nature Vitamin, and I hope you enjoy the photos.    Visit my website here to see what else I am up to.  If you are in Lehigh Acres Florida and enjoy Nature too, send me an e-mail and say hello!  OK, now a Catbird is screaming my way….  It’s a busy place here!

The Grackle Tree!

A group of common grackles decorate an orchid tree in a McDonalds parking lot. Please do not feed wild birds human food.

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the Rearview Spider

There is a Spider that travels with me, she lives in the back of my Saturn’s rear view mirror and builds her web outside of it to trap insects in.

She leads the fast life, going around town with me to meetings, classes and through drive throughs. It was during my trip through the Starbucks drive through that she surfaced again. So I parked to get a photo of her to share.

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February brought the Ladies Tresses..

a chill February found me exploring a lonely trail in search of flowers and their attendant butterflies…  Possibly a bear if I could see one.  It was after all why I had picked an early morning and this particular trail that skirted a vast South West Florida marsh   As I rounded an area looking down as I hiked I came across a small grouping, just a very few plants, of Nodding Ladies Tresses  (Spiranthes odorata) Orchids.  I had never seen these in my travels so it was pretty exciting!   Nodding Ladies Tresses grow low and are rather  small and they tend to blend in with the rest of, well, everything in the grasses.  The blooms only last about a week or two so I was very lucky to come across them.  Nodding Ladies Tresses are a ground orchid with just a few leaves and this wonderful flower spike that comes up about a foot.  My book on Wild Orchids of Florida says that these are seen from South Dakota, east to Nova Scotia, south to Texas and in Florida.  If you are lucky to see them in your area, take only photos and leave nothing behind but footprints…   Orchids are protected in many States.

Nodding Ladies Tresses

Nodding Ladies Tresses.  Linda S. Jacobson    AstronomyGal.com

Picked too soon.. in aBackyard Universe.

The little garden has been plodding right along, regardless of the intermittent just-under-a-freeze-warning type temperatures we have had here in South West Florida (today it’s warm out!)  I got home last night from my Avon Rep Meeting  and hubby had decided on his own to go pick one of the tomatoes that was barely starting to turn red!    It’s sitting here on the counter  more than likely destined for (gluten free) Fried Green Tomato to go along with dinner tonight.  I wish he hadn’t picked it.  His excuse;  “I thought I’d pick it so the animals wouldn’t get it”   WELL….  The only animals likely to get it around here are an errant wood pecker, blue jay OR human.  The Nasturtiums I planted from seed last month are still coming along.  The lettuce and collards are still producing as well.

a tomato alone..

Picked Too Soon!

The rest of the tomato bunches are doing OK…  so long as no one decides to pick any or take a bite…. The above and below are Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomato, Determinate.  They get 8 to 10 oz and are a good handful.  Maturity is around 75 days.  Water Tomatoes daily!   Check periodically for worms and bugs to pick off.  Interestingly enough, my Bonnie Tomato “Mortgage Lifter” and Black Krim are undersized plants with small fruits – they do receive the same treatments with water and fertilizer.

Tomato Bunch

Bonnie Select hybrid Tomatoes

The Cauliflower is just starting to head up.  I was taught that when it starts to head up like this you take some of the leaves and you cover the head up so it stay a nice white color.  Do you do this with your Cauliflower?  (I also like to put some of the leaves in salads for a little different flavor.)  Store bought Cauliflower does not compare to home grown!  It’s easy to grow, try it out in your Zone!

Cauliflower

I had no idea that while I was planting and taking care of the garden, the birds were also planting a Sunflower Garden.  OK, they were in cahoots with the squirrels hiding seeds..  The Black Oil sunflowers are almost as tall as me (5′ 4″) and are wonderful to see every day as they track the sun across the sky.  I’ve included another photo.  The two below are the tallest.

The Birds Flower Garden

photo 2 copy

The most cool bird I have seen in the Backyard Universe  has been an American Goldfinch I sighted in the Labyrinth tree last month.  He was part of a small flock that passed through one evening.  You just never know what you might see from your backyard!  Spring is coming so get your small (or large) garden in, feed the birds and watch the magic happen around you!   Get the family involved!   If you need suggestions, drop me a note.  I am located in Lehigh Acres Florida.  Part of South West Florida.  Visit my website here if you are visiting!

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2,000 words+ that flew over me in an instant….

Great blue heron color morph - White

Great blue heron color morph - White

Great blue heron color morph – White

If one picture is worth a 1,000 words.  This must be at minimum 2,000 words.  

I was sitting, reclining actually all bundled up and gloved for Winter on a swamp buggy at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp   I was looking all around us, as well as overhead at the Cypress trees, the alligator flags and into that icy blue sky scanning for photo targets; gators, butterflies.. small things  when out of somewhere he flew up and over us.  What a magical moment of surprise…..  Look how the sunlight streams through his feathers…..    Looking at the photos and re-visiting the moment I can feel him flying even now…    

Image of a Great blue Heron Color Morph – White.    Image by Linda S. Jacobson    Visit my website here

 

Jessica Gowling's creative lifestyle blog. "nature's my friend; we make art together."

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