Species Conservation begins at home

 

Species Conservation begins at home, in our yards.  Every day we walk over things we may not see because we are too hurried but if we slowed down and looked we would find below our feet (as discussed in other blog entries here) that there is a whole other World of Adventure below our upright field of view, waay down at our feet and it relies on us for its life and very existence. Why should conserving species not begin at home in our own yards?

My yard is a cacophony of tangled native grasses and plants. I have no immaculate, pampered lawn devoid of life…  This half-acre is a vibrant ecosystem that is amazing to get out and explore in.  But occasionally, I miss things..  Those little things hiding at my feet.  Sometimes it takes a strange little teeny-tiny-PINK flower to poke its head up and saying, like Horton’s friends; “I’M HERE !”  This is what happened two weeks ago.

I was walking along in the yard one early evening when I spotted this tiny beautiful little pink flower poking its head up out of the native grass.  It was under a Sabal Palm tree in part shade.  Just a small mass of low growing thick leaves with two pretty little flowers…  Excited, I hit my books looking for an ID.  I went back out into the yard to do a survey, could I find any more of the plants?  I then did several more surveys.  I didn’t immediately see any others so where did this one come from?  Did a passing bird, my hiking shoes or pants bring it in to my yard from CREW? or from other places I go hiking?  Or did one of my nature geeky friends bring it in on their clothes?  It was growing in our sitting area… One thing was for sure, I had to carefully dig it up and pot it so it would not be trampled in its current location, or fall victim of the mower or a nibbling, passing Chihuahua (I have three.)

Its Species name is   Stenandrium dulce (Cav.) Nees  Author Roger Hammer in Everglades Wildflowers states that Stenandrium is Greek for “tight anthers” and dulce means “sweet” referring to sweet-smelling flowers.  It is usually solitary but spreads quickly from seeds and will form dense colonies in container culture – as I have it now.  It blooms all year-long.  Another common names is Sweet Shaggytuft or Pineland pinklet.  It is suitable for growing in containers.  Pinklet grows from Florida to Mexico to South America.

As I was digging the plant up I noticed a root system larger than the plant composed of some tubers.  I was amazed with how large the plant was underground It was an iceberg!  I always say, if you want to learn more about Native plants, you have to grow them!  Watch them, and live with them.  At least that works for me being Dyslexic, I learn and experience things differently. I find immersive, tactile experiences help me to remember and understand things with more depth vis limiting myself to only reading about a subject.

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My section of yard the Pinklet comes from is reminiscent of Pine Uplands, with sandy, well-drained soil (sand) so I wanted to be sure to pot it in the same type medium, from my yard.  Not commercial soil.  I water my potted plants with rain water – or tap water that I have let sit out for several days.  I’ve let this little guy sit out in the rain each storm.. to get that extra Nitrogen boost that rainwater provides.  I’m so happy it’s doing well.  I’ve provided several images of the plant so you can see its interesting stem and low growth of leaves.  The little Pinklet flowers reaching out to the Sun…

I hope the next time you go out into your yard, you take a survey to see who is around… what butterflies, birds and plants.  You might just be surprised at what and who you find out in your backyard.  Have no Native plants?  Visit your local Native garden center and bring some home.

TURN OFF THAT TV AND GET OUTSIDE IN NATURE !  

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.

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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.
 

Something Fishy in aBackyard Universe this morning..

I had just mentioned to someone last night, “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.    

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

Image

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.

a Little Bird Said: Go Star-Gazing!

I woke to the calls of a brilliant red sentinel Cardinal sitting up in the tops of the Mulberry Tree..  Today I’m planting out Nasturtium seedlings into pots and then  working on tonights Observing session for CREW Land and Water Trust.  Jim is busy adding a new Telrad to the LaVigne  10″ Dobsonian telescope for tonights use.

If you miss this evenings (Feb 9) Public Observing Session (Registration for tonight is closed)  at CREW we will offer another observing opportunity March 9th so if you happen to be in South West Florida visiting, or you live here, consider signing up via this link to attend our Family Star Gazing session.    

What will we see?  Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, various Star Clusters.. Galaxies M31 and M32 as well as pointing out numerous constellations and bright stars as well as telling some star-tails from CREWs beautiful Dark-Sky observing site I simply call Star Gazers Field.  If you go to the above Star Gazing link it will give you all the information about what you need to bring (don’t forget the blankets!) as well as where CREW Gate 5 is located.  Pre-Registration is required so check your calendar for March and include the Night Sky – Star Gazing, in your next family adventure into the Wilds of South West Florida! 

Sentinel Cardinal

Sentinel Cardinal

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.  

     

 

 

    

a Backyard Universe of Vegetables!

I enjoy veggie gardening as much as I enjoy going out on the trails or star-gazing…  not only is gardening, planting things, good for the mind and body, but also for the soul..   Gardening gets you out into the fresh air working with the soil and plants getting  your hands dirty.  You become aware that the space around your house, your yard, the little patch on earth we call “ours” is home to many other forms of life besides ourselves.  Problems become small..  issues go away quickly as you work and become one with the soil, with the earth and nature.   

GardebBlog1

My garden this year (below) is handkerchief sized  at 6′ x 6′  square..  don’t ask me how I got it square, I wasn’t trying LOL.  I spaded the area out, removed the grass, and then added some amendments to it consisting of a couple of shovel fulls of Miracle Grow Gardening Soil and  Osmocoat.   In the background of the image you can see the Labyrinth.  The big bushy plant is Lemon Grass used in my Thai cooking and tea on a hot day. 

GardenBlog3

While the garden area  is small it’s already produced several rounds of  Simpson Elite lettuce  and Georgia Collards.  The tomatoes are still coming along with blooms.  I have two heirloom varieties planted:  Mortgage lifter, and Black krim   I also planted a couple of  Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomatoes which are not seen in the image as they are outside of the garden square proper (for another blog.)   I also tried a new green this year, Burpee Senposai Hybrid.   This is an awesome green that goes good in salads with the Simpson (or bib) Elite lettuce.  The leaves are more sturdy and have a good flavor to them.  You can also stir fry it!  

Try adding fresh young Collard leaves to your salad.  They add a spicy not quite bitter taste that is wonderful!   I’ve planted another row Lettuce and Senposai since this photo for later on.  I stagger my crops and rotate them.     I have a few other things I’ve started from seed I won’t mention yet as they haven’t poked their heads up yet – I just got them started yesterday.  Other things I have growing on the lanai are mint and sweet basil..  also good added to a salad.

SO..  If you are tired of  “the same old  thing” veggie wise, or tired of  bagged veggies, consider growing your own.  It’s healthier  and you will know its Pedigree from your online seed research and choice to planting and nurturing  to your plate, and YOU and your family will have grown it yourselves.   It’s not difficult to do and it’s actually fun for everyone.  If you want the kids to eat their veggies, get them involved in growing them!  I know that works because growing up we kids worked and planted and did “pest patrol” on our own half acre garden.  We ate all the things we grew and a few of them raw right there in the field.   Overages I learned to Can and freeze or dry and sometimes we’d have so much overage we’d drive it around our  Suncoast neighborhood in North Fort Myers and sell it from the back of the truck. 

We loved being outside in the fresh air, exploring new things we’d see out among the corn tassels or twisty vines…  What’s that caterpillar?  that flying insect does it bite or sting? how does it move?   We’d look them up in the books and increase our knowledge and it was FUN.  So much fun and enjoyment that I continue to garden and grow things, and hunt critters out among the leaves –  and I’m 50!   Teach your kids to garden and explore the world and to ask questions and most importantly, have FUN!    We can do this at any age… now go get some plants or seeds and start your Backyard Universe Adventure!  Turn off the TV…

I recommend the following books on gardening:

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting

Florida Home Grown The Edible Landscape

Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens

Online Seed Catalogs I love

Totally Tomatoes Vegetable Garden Seed

R.H. Shumway’s has a Beautiful paper catalog!  and is online as well

The Cooks Garden