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.

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. 

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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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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

This post is in response to the Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge  of the color GREEN.  I  also want to apologize for a month of non postings.  Scheduling issues, as well as health things got in the way of creativity.  But I should be back on track now to pick up the blogging so I hope you’ll stay with me and explore the richness of your backyard and community.  There really is allot to see out there and the first step to exploring it, is to go outside.  

To see the individual images larger, please click on them.

My choices for Green include a selection of small green insects, birds and amphibians you are likely to encounter either in your Florida backyard, or on a boardwalk at your local Nature Center or Preserve.  All of these green critters are quite small and can easily be missed if you’re hurried.  The Green Tree Frogs are found during the day resting up or hidden in leaves or along board walks.  The Green fly pictured on the big leaf is out in our yards daily, hanging around foliage, feeding off of rotted plant material.  The beautiful Iridescent Sweat Bees are normally found close to your grasses.. they move fairly slow so they are easy to follow around and study although I have seen them hovering high over trails at almost eye level when you step into their territory – last Friday I was able to hang around a good while watching their antics over the CREW Land and Water Trust trails.  

The Florida Green Anole can be a bit harder to find.  They have been replaced in many areas by invasive lizards (like the brown ones on your porches and lanais)  and loss of habitat.  This Anole is from Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, there you can find them along the boardwalks and on Alligator Flag leaves enjoying the sun, and looking for insects.  The beautiful, delicate Juvenile (he does not have his red throat yet) Ruby Throated Hummingbird is attracted to red flowers like Native Firebush, Red Shrimp Plants.  Vines, trees, and shrubs that attract hummers include honeysuckle, morning glory, trumpet creeper, albelia, butterfly bush, flowering quince, rose of sharon, weigela, flowering currant, rosemary, buckeye and horsechestnut, black locust, flowering crabs, hawthorns, mimosa, and tulip poplar.  I’ve also seen them feeding on the orchid like flowers of Bombax trees.  I hope you have enjoyed my selection of  “Green” and that it inspires you look around your local habitat for more of… the little things…         all photography by Linda S. Jacobson.

To see the individual images larger, please click on them.

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