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.
 

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.

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.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy

This Gallery and Blog is in response to The  Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge.  I just felt I had to make that clear since I normally write about Backyard Nature topics  🙂   and normally include some imagery in it from my backyard – you know, spiders, mushrooms, butterflies, birds  etc..  those type of things.  Not the Happy Faced Chihuahuas, Rosie Doodles and Luna, running around in my yard while I’m out there   🙂    Word Press has rolled out a new cool Display Mosaic that I had to include with the new Weekly Photo Challenge.  I think it is pretty neat.

But back to the topics at hand!   Luna and  Rosie Doodles….
They BOTH have their own FB page  and following, and are total hams.   And very photogenic I might add.  I got Luna first she is AKC, and the most docile laid back easy going Chihuahua you will ever see.  She loves to go to Home Depot and ride in the cart  and she contrasts totally with Rosie Doodles, who is also 100% Chihuahua (big attitude)  Rosie being a feisty, bossey  little thing.  I got Rosie through my Vets office, she was surrendered to them by a gal who said Rosie “was not affectionate.”   Well I can tell you, Rosie has a HUGE attitude, typical of Chihuahuas, and she is VERY affectionate.  Rosie is originally from Oklahoma where she was used in a breeding operation.  She’s had three moms, and I’m the only one she has stuck to.

They are our fur kids and they go everywhere with us including Glamping in the Florida State Parks.  When I’m out in the yard photographing some new butterfly or a new cool insect, they are out there with me in the half acre running around with those happy smiley faces on.  If you’d like to keep up with them, join their Face Book page.

New overnight surprise in the labyrinth.

Fall is coming!   another sure sign is this little Stinkhorn (Order Phallales)  that popped up in the Labyrinth overnight.  Stinkhorns are found October through March from North Carolina to Florida, to along the Gulf Coast as well as in Mexico.  I love mushrooms, in all of their variety, both canned or grocery store fresh on my pizza as well as along the trails that I wander.  

Stinkhorns are comprised of several columns that are fused at the top.  Supposedly they stink and are “fetid”  although I didn’t get down-that-close to see if it had an odor to it  (getting up would have been another matter. )  

However I did notice that it had ants under its cap and if you click on this image, you can see the fungus up close, along with the ants.  These strange little guys rise out of the ground from a body or “egg” that is hidden underground.   Long cords help to form the arms that reach skyward with the interior of the arms covered with a slime.  It’s this slime and the smell, which attracts flies, that helps to disperse the spores.  

I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this one today to see how it’s getting along.    Just another reason to always be looking for the little things underfoot.  What’s happening in your yard today?     This is an iPhone4S image taken with ProHDR

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. 

Monarch Butterfly – Just passing through..

 

I spend my mornings not in front of the TV…  but usually outside on the lanai, out in the half-acre looking for things to photograph and explore.  This morning was clear, wonderful out!   

My yard is a haven for birds, butterflies, insects and all kinds of critters.  I supply food, water and cover for many species.  I have a butterfly garden and Labyrinth.  This morning was also a little cooler but  then we just came off of a Full Moon and I know from experience that Full Moon makes for a usually clear overnight.  

I caught some images of a Monarch catching the rays of the Sun around the Labyrinth this morning.  I don’t see Monarchs too often, but when I do I can usually find them going from one Milkweed to the next.  This particular Monarch was moving a little slower, perching to feed and Sun on the flower heads.  Monarch Butterflies have a lifespan  of   7  to  8 months, making them the longest lived of all the butterflies. 

Fall is the best time to see them as the temperatures dip, and they begin their epic  2,500 mile, generational migration across the United States into Central Mexico.  I say generational as it takes several generations for Monarchs to reach Mexico.  You can help them along their way by planting out milkweed and other butterfly attracting plants.  I encourage you to turn off your TV, and move out into your yard, and make Nature a part of your home and your routine.  At least until it hits 90 out there….    

 

 

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