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.
 

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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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.  

     

 

 

    

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

The first Weekly Photo Challenge of the New Year is here and the title is “Resolved.”  My resolve is to go hiking and exploring more of our South West Florida wilderness areas this year, and to do even more photography.   This isn’t to say I’m opposed to going into the “City” to shoot photos.   It’s just that if  I’m given the choice, and have the gas money to get there  (I’m still looking for that elusive Part Time Job,)     I’d rather be out on a peaceful trail not wondering how I’m going to get across an Intersection in one piece, feeding parking meters, or wondering where to eat a lunch that’s gluten free –  It’s the little things.     I’m certainly content to eat a snack bar out on a trail in a nice Oak Hammock….  To me, hiking is part of my overall “taking care of me” routine.  It is good for the body, good for the soul and it’s allot of fun.  I hope that you will get out into your local wilderness areas more this year too.

 

Me on the Prarie

Make time to see the Stars..

A Star Gazing moment.
South West Florida, All times are in EST.

a Color Star Chart for January to Print out.

 

With the mayhem of the Fiscal Cliff and the rush of the Holidays OVER  (at least for now)  it’s time to make time and do some things to de-compress…  Things like.. take a walk in the woods at a favorite nature preserve, visit a museum, or perhaps just take time out to go outside and look up at the night sky.  Yes, just walk over, turn off that blithering TV, and go outside and look up and relax in a lawn chair or on the ground.  

If you don’t have a good view of the night sky where you are, consider visiting a Planetarium, a State Park, or a local Observatory to Star Gaze from.  Go outside around 8pm and look East you’ll see three bright stars that make up Orion’s Belt all arranged neatly, (from our perspective anyway) in a row.  They are from bottom to top, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The bright visibly reddish looking star in the shoulder of Orion is Betelgeuse.  Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars known, with a diameter over 650 times that of the Sun! (It’s overhead by 11pm.)

By 7:30pm as the evening has progressed and these constellations rise higher in the sky go outside again and look for another bright star Sirius, in the Constellation of Canis Major – this is Orion’s dog. Sirius is also called the Dog Star. An easy way to find Sirius is to take the belt stars of Orion and draw a line down toward the horizon. Bright Sirius is overhead by midnight. At 9:49pm the brightest “Star” overhead from Orion is not a star at all but the planet Jupiter nestled up in the V shape of the horns of Taurus the bull.

Below Star Chart image credit is SkySafari for the Mac.

Orion Taurus Jupiter