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

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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.  

     

 

 

    

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 

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

 

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