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.   

The Backyard Universe is all a Buzzzzz!

I spent most of my day, once it warmed up and the grass dried off, outside working on the half acre.  I watered the little garden, checked the plants for “pests” to re-locate, watered around the labyrinth then decided to clean out and re-fill the Hummingbird feeders.  On walking past our next-to-last declining citrus tree in the yard, a Citrus Greening victim, I noticed pollinators busy at their jobs.  There were the usual bees and various wasps, and then I saw a beautiful little Red Banded Hairstreak butterfly.  (I knew by the shape  it was some kind of a little Hairstreak.)  Hairstreaks are a common butterfly in South West Florida but they are rather small (compare to the bee) and easily missed if you don’t really take the time to LOOK for them on your flowering plants or trees:

02-03-13 Red Banded Hairstreak Bee3Best

Look at the beautiful orange on the wings.. the eye spots and what looks like an M on the hind wing.  If you’ve never watched a Hairstreak before,  try it!   You’ll notice they do some interesting things with their back hind wings.  For one thing, they are usually in motion, being rubbed together much like we’d rub our hands together.  GO ahead, try it!   Now take a much closer look at the picture and you’ll see the hind wings have little “tufts” looking outgrowths on them that stick up.  These will also wiggle around.  Now combine the wiggling tufts on the wings and the wings rubbing together with that big black eye spot and a predator just might think it’s looking at the front end of the butterfly instead of the back end!   Allot of times Hairstreaks will be missing part of their lower wings because this worked so well.  Hairstreaks don’t move around so fast when they have a good source of nectar.  I’ve noticed they like to hang around the area and take it easy usually resting on the blooms like this.

If you have a yard with some citrus in it consider watching and exploring there for Hairstreaks as well as other cool insects like this beautiful  Paper Wasp.



02-03-131 PaperWasp

Look at his coloration what does it tell you?  There’s lots of hot colors there red, oranges, yellows and black in bold arrangements of color.  The colors say “Keep Back”  “Stay Away” “Leave me alone” or I might hurt you to protect myself.  That’s a fair warning!   So just stand back and watch him in the tree or bush and see what he does.  Why is he on the leaf?  Is he getting pollen or hunting for worms?  If we take time to explore and listen, and question – and do a little research later, there’s allot we can learn. 

Insects truly do receive a bad rap for “intruding” upon “our lifestyles” when  in fact, they are just minding their own business!  Outside even!  Whether it is an ant patrolling a counter or a wasp outside in a tree, or a spider in a web a most common thought is Ewwww!   followed by trying to figure out the best way to dispose of it and that is really a shame for we are all part of this same living, macro organism called Earth.  The outdoors are an amazing place to explore with your family or by yourself so go outside and see what you can find.  There are beautiful creatures and plants to see and explore right outside your home.  





What the Fairies left behind…



Like little cabochons of exquisite crystal, dew decorates a little leaf looking all the world like a fairies brooch, ready to wear.  I like to think the fairies will be back to collect this jewel, left behind in the Labyrinth for all to enjoy. 

Beautiful but deadly.. Three leaves, let it be.

I don’t know about where you live… but here in South West Florida Poison Ivy can be a deceptively beautiful plant reaching great proportions!  I’ve seen is covering Sable Palms and good sized bushes for support.  The red color does not seem to be specific to any particular season down here either… I know of some trails here in SW Florida that have the beautiful red leaves strewn all about bushes.  As a Trail Guide, it’s one of those things that you make sure every kid and adult knows how to identify, right up there with the poisonous snakes.   While the plant is lovely, it has a bite that can ruin your day, your week and month if you get it bad enough.

Found in every State, in a variety of forms it was first written about by Captain John Smith of the Jamestown Colony.  Poison Ivy, as a toxic substance, was considered right up there with White Snakeroot to have possibly  caused the Milk Sickness experienced by Abraham Lincoln’ s  mother and many other people who drank tainted cows milk.  While very rare today, Milk sickness, also known as tremetol vomiting, was a serious problem up until 1928 when it was first recognized by the medical establishment as being an issue – why did it take them that long?   Today it seems the consensus is that it was white snakeroot that killed Lincoln’s mother.

There are many noxious plants out there and if you are going to be out in the woods, or you have a small herd of grazing animals, you need to be aware of what the poisonous plants are so you can avoid them or in the case of your small grazing herd, remove the plants as a possible food source.  (it’s always greener on the other side of the fence)  In the case of Poison ivy, ALL parts of the plant right down to the roots are poisonous.  That includes dried leaves…  even brushing against the leaves can release the oils from the plant onto your clothing, your tent, your jacket, your walking stick… you get the idea.

A good start to figuring out what plants are poisonous in your area would be a trip to your local County Extension Service, Speaking to a Master Gardener at your local Native Plant growers, and/or checking out  the USDA’s Poisonous Plants By Toxic Syndrome website  and please, make sure the kids know what Poison Ivy, Sumac and Oak look like.  Dr. Cathleen Clancy, associate medical director at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C. said that across the United States last year, there were 63,000 cases of exposure to poisonous plants and of those, “About 43,000 of those were children under the age of six,”  Dr. Clancy said.  (2009 figure)

Pink Hibiscus Monday


It’s a Pink Hibiscus Monday here in SW Florida!   Well, at least from my Backyard Universe it is.
This Hibiscus is sporting two brilliant red and black, harmless seed eating insects, Jadera haematoloma 

Sorry but no photos of the Perseid Meteor shower from me.  It stayed cloudy and rainy the whole day
and overcast all night.  Which is a good thing as like many places, we need the rains.

Nikon D5100 image.


Weekly WP Photo Challenge: Growth

Cypress Knee “hand”


The cypresses keep their secrets from the prying investigator.
-J. E. Rogers,1905

In 2012, Cypress knees have remained an enduring mystery to Botanists and Tour Guides alike..   The “Knees” are found around the base of Cypress trees and can take on a variety of strange and wondrous forms such as  Circles, and singular perhaps scary looking specimens like this, reaching for the sunlight and – growth.   There are some camps who see the knees as stabilizers that help the trees to stay upright in their sometimes wet environment.  Others believe they help the trees to breathe.   Whatever their true purpose, (do we really want to know?)   they also provide a window into the mythos of the swamp and how swamps can still be perceived as scary to humans on a visceral level.  After all, who wouldn’t be slightly, pleasantly spooked by seeing this mysterious hand reaching up from the water while on a sunset boardwalk or wet walk though a swamp?    It’s OK to admit, that if you saw this eery hand reaching up toward the sky you too, would look around  to see what else might be lurking under the tannin rich water near you…..


To read more about Cypress Knees, I suggest this .PDF from Harvard.