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 !  

Butterflies and Stars all in a morning!

One of the many benefits to getting up sooo early… early being, before Sunrise is that you get to watch the butterflies warming up in the morning light.  Do you like to do photography? Go out early and you will have a better chance of photographing some of the more elusive native butterflies by watching for them resting and doing their warm ups – flexing those wings for flight, on cool Fall mornings.

Here is a Gulf Fritillary in my yard soaking up early morning rays.  When I found myself initially standing outside at 7am gazing around at the night sky one of the first constellations I noticed overhead was Orion the Hunter   Just look for the three belt stars in a row that tell you it’s Orion!   Near the belt stars is the bright planet Jupiter, also overhead and down lower, nearer to Orion is the dog star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major

Gulf Fritillary ButterflyGulf Fritillary Butterfly

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.

The Grackle Tree!

A group of common grackles decorate an orchid tree in a McDonalds parking lot. Please do not feed wild birds human food.

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the Rearview Spider

There is a Spider that travels with me, she lives in the back of my Saturn’s rear view mirror and builds her web outside of it to trap insects in.

She leads the fast life, going around town with me to meetings, classes and through drive throughs. It was during my trip through the Starbucks drive through that she surfaced again. So I parked to get a photo of her to share.

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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

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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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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

an Osprey for an Eagle.

I had really really really wanted to go pack a lunch and drive across the County today.. into another County  to see if I could photograph this Bald Eagle that I knew hung out in this one area..  Well, I found out he was there from some other people I was along with and we all saw him and they said “Oh he’s been there for-ever.”  SO I had got up with the Eagle on my mind… however I didn’t have the gas funds to get over there so I decided to stick to my original plan to go work in the Backyard Universe weeding and trimming around the garden putting in my Tropical Sage plants I had grown.  The tomatoes I found to be doing good.  I check them daily for insects to pick off.. and so far no blossom end rot  

My Tomatoes are coming right along!

My Tomatoes are coming right along!  

I was in the process of making this Tropical Sage filled  Humming Bird garden around the Sabal Palm for the Ruby-throat Humming birds that visit my feeders:

Newly planted Tropical Sage seedlings I started.

Newly planted Tropical Sage seedlings I started.

When I had just got the area weeded and dug up for the sage and I heard one of the occasional, distinctive calls of the neighborhood Osprey    So, being a gal who packs cameras at-all-times I hastily washed my hands in my bucket of water, dried them and grabbed my trusty Nikon D5100 in hopes of seeing the bird…  I looked around and then I saw him – or her, about 200 feet away sitting up in a tall Slash Pine tree snag in a neighbors backyard.  I often hear Osprey calling as I live down the street from a Middle School with a good sized, deep waterway running behind it that the wading birds – and Ospreys love to fish.   

Yes, the Backyard Universe was a busy place today!  There’s allot that goes on here day and night with animals, plants and insects… even the skies overhead are busy with meteors, the ISS, and constellations wheeling overhead.  I can’t imagine not being able to go outside and spend at least part of the day or night in the yard – I consider it a part of the house.  

Our yards can be a part of our living rooms if we include them.  Thousands of years ago, they WERE our living rooms – around a good fire to ward off carnivores.  Somehow many of us got away from that “outdoorsy” need.  Why?  What purpose could it possibly serve to exclude nature in our lives? To be glued to the TV (and news) as much as some are.  For me, I have to go outside and get my hands in the soil… walk barefooted around in the grasses, and take interest in what is happening in the trees, on the ground around me, and in the sky overhead:  

a Black Vulture flies a little too close to the Osprey enjoying his or her meal.

a Black Vulture flies a little too close to the Osprey enjoying his or her meal.

Osprey having lunch!

Can you get any further out on that limb!?

When I looked over I saw this Monarch Butterfly sunning on a native Milkweed…  

I grow a variety of natives in my yard specifically for the Butterflies and Hummingbirds.

Monarch sunning on a native Milkweed today.

Monarch sunning on a native Milkweed today. 

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.