Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sandhill cranes dancing-prancing and jumping around

One member of a pair of sandhill cranes feeding in our yard suddenly erupted into a wild display of bowing, jumping, running, wing flapping and stick tossing.

Although such displays are usually associated with courtship, dancing can occur at any age and season. Scientists who study bird behavior believe this kind of activity is a normal part of sandhill crane motor development and helps the birds relieve tension, thwart aggression and create a stronger bond between male and female mating pairs.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bluebird versus caterpillar. Guess who won...

I took this short video (0:17) of a bluebird just after it caught a caterpillar.  Because of the way the morning light was shining, you can only see a silhouette of the bluebird as it struggles to subdue the insect and manipulate it into the proper position to either eat or - more likely - take back to the nest to feed its young.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Breakfast with the birds

I wasn't the only one eating breakfast this morning.

As I sat outside watching the morning wildlife activity, a male cardinal flew into the sycamore tree and perched on a branch with some sort of insect in its mouth.

I took pictures in the hope it would help me figure out exactly what type of insect it planned to eat.

Unfortunately, it remains a mystery.  Even when the cardinal turned toward me, I was unable to tell what he held in his beak.


It was easier to tell what this male bluebird planned to have for breakfast.  I was glad to see him holding a mealyworm.  Yesterday I refilled the feeder with dried mealyworms, a high-protein, high-energy treat that bluebirds seem to especially favor.

Meanwhile, not to be left out, a few feet away from the mealyworm station, a little chickadee landed on the tube feeder in search of a sunflower seed.

A red-bellied woodpecker followed suit - or should I say, 'followed suet,' landing on the suet feeder to peck at a sticky meal of its own.

I shared breakfast hour with one more feathered friend this morning. A tufted titmouse few onto yet another feeder near where I sat.

It sure is nice to have breakfast with the birds. What a great way to start the day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bluebird nesting update

Lots of bluebird activity lately.  The male and female bluebird keep going in and out of the nesting box.

They are busy feeding babies. Below is female bluebird on a windy day standing on top of the nesting box with what looks like a spider in her beak.  Click the image if you'd like to see a larger view.

One time while I was watching, instead of carrying food as the bluebird was entering the nesting box, I noticed one of the birds leaving the nest with something in its mouth.

It turns out that bluebirds are meticulous housekeepers.  The white object in the beak of the bird on the right is a fecal sac containing the waste products of of her nestlings.

Ma and Pa Bluebird spending some quality time together before their baby birds fledge

After hatching baby Eastern bluebirds remain in the nest for 16 to 22 days.  I don't know exactly how many days have gone by since the babies in our nesting box hatched but considering how busy the parents have been bringing food, their offspring must be almost ready to fledge I am so looking forward to seeing the little ones leave the nest.  I sure hope I'm here when it happens!

Bluebirds sure do spend a lot of time guarding their nests

How convenient to have a perch so close to the nesting box

The male bluebird checks to make sure everything is okay

Monday, May 18, 2015

I found a secret garden!

All I wanted was to find was a peaceful spot outside to eat breakfast. As it turned out, I found so much more.

My granddaughter Trillian had spent the night at our house and in the morning, I needed to drive her to her preschool in Winter Garden. It’s been quite a few years since a little one has slept over so I’d forgotten how long it takes to get going in the morning. To speed things up, I fed Trillian but abandoned my own morning routine. Rather than rush through breakfast, I packed it up to take along.

After dropping Trillian off at school, my plan was to find a pretty park somewhere nearby where I could eat a slow and peaceful meal. Calm mealtimes gained importance once our children grew up and left home. I’ve come to depend upon them.

Everything worked as planned. I delivered Trillian to school on time and I even managed to unfasten her carseat with minimal fumbling. None of the foods I packed spilled and I found a clean and unpopulated park where I could eat my breakfast calmly while listening to birdsongs and beneath towering shade trees in the town of Oakland.

Even before I carried my bowl of food and cup of tea to the picnic table I knew something was different. The table I picked was sheltered beneath a pavilion. From a distance, I could see three small round protrusions at one end of the picnic table. I couldn’t tell what they were but they were definitely something the other tables lacked. My curiosity was piqued.

When I arrived at the table, I set my food down and took a closer look. Someone had affixed three bowl-shaped, ceramic pots to the end of the table and filled them with an assortment of small succulents.

I had stumbled upon the work of a guerrilla gardener.

Guerrilla gardeners are people who install plants on land that they do not have the legal right to use. It’s a term used to define covert efforts by individuals wishing to beautify space that they do not own such as abandoned lots or public parks.

The park where I chose to eat my breakfast didn’t fit the stereotype. It was by no means rundown. Lawns were freshly mown, concrete walkways were smooth and the infrastructure was relatively new and in good shape. If anything was amiss, it might have been a lack of individuality. Everything might be considered just a bit too uniform and homogeneous.

Maybe that’s what the person who installed the guerrilla garden must have thought. In addition to the three tiny flowerpots attached to the table, the secret gardener installed a fourth succulent-containing planter beneath the metal roof and attached an orchid to the trunk of a large oak next to the table. 

An Oakland town official said the tiny garden was installed and is maintained by a person who lives near the park. 

While Johnny Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, may have been the first guerrilla gardener, Liz Christy and her Green Guerrilla group coined the term in 1973 when they transformed a neglected private lot in the Bowery section of New York into a garden. In the U.K., Richard Reynolds launched the website,, in 2004 to blog about his efforts to beautify his neighborhood in London. Word of his work quickly spread, and the site now supports the work of guerrilla gardeners around the world where documented cases of guerrilla gardening span more than 30 countries.

What a nice surprise it was to eat breakfast in such a spot. Not only was I able to enjoy a quiet, peaceful meal in a pretty place but my meal was enhanced by the kindness of an anonymous person’s gesture.

One more surprise awaited me at my picnic spot.  A huge nest was in the top of a large oak next to the pavilion where I ate my breakfast.  I didn't see a bird in the nest but judging by its size, I'd guess it was made by an eagle. Maybe the next time I visit I'll see it!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A visit to Biosphere

My daughter Amber and I spent some time this morning at Biosphere Nursery in Winter Garden.  We had fun walking around exploring the grounds where butterflies and bees were busy gathering nectar from the broad assortment of flowering vines, bushes, perennials and trees for sale.

Below are a few pictures I took while we were there. Thanks to Amber for helping me out with some of the plant names.  Her memory for such things is far better than mine.

Tiger swallowtail on yellow cestrum

Gulf fritillary on verbena

Eastern Black Swallowtail on Alba biden (Spanish needle)

And another look at the Eastern Black Swallowtail

Bumblebee on Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Another Eastern Black Swallowtail on verbena

Monday, May 11, 2015

This season makes scents

On my way to town the other day, I stopped by my neighbor's house to pick up some eggs. As I carried them back to the car, my neighbor plucked a gardenia bloom off a large bush by his house and gave it to me.

"Thank you," I said. "I love the way gardenias smell."

After securing the eggs so they'd travel undamaged, I slid into my seat and placed the gardenia on the dashboard. The flower's fragrance filled the air. Instead of being in the cozy confines of my compact car, I suddenly felt as though I had entered a flower shop.

How to freshen your auto's air the natural way:  Place gardenias on the dashboard 

Gardenias are only one of numerous flowering plants that are currently infusing the atmosphere with their aromatic charms. Others include white and purple wisterias, four-o'clocks, butterfly gingers, roses, magnolia blossoms and the small white blooms of Confederate jasmine. While I enjoy each flower's unique fragrance, Confederate jasmine might just be my favorite because of its transformative quality as well as its ability to saturate the air with sweetness.

Confederate jasmine entwined around a pink oleander bush

Despite its name, Confederate jasmine is neither a true jasmine nor is it native to southeastern U.S. Scientifically known as Trachelospermum jasminoides, this Chinese native is a fast-growing, disease-resistant, drought tolerant vine that boasts small, sticky, pinwheel-shaped white flowers from late spring through summer. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, I find its intoxicating fragrance and delicate beauty more than compensates for its toxic features.

Like most vines, Confederate jasmine is a climber. It likes to climb and climb and climb some more. A single plant will quickly overtake a tree, a house, a wall or a fence. Several years ago, I planted a few small sprigs along an ugly clay wall that parallels our driveway. With little more than hope to go on, I stuck the young starts into the ground with minimal care and even less preparation and then promptly forgot about them. Without even realizing it was happening, the clay wall began to disappear. Bit by bit, the plant's coverage increased. Today, the clay wall is almost entirely covered by a screen of green leaves and white blooms. And the air — oh, my goodness — how amazing it smells whenever I step outside!

The clay wall by our house hidden behind an expanding screen of Confederate jasmine vines

Of all the places where I see it growing — and during this time of year, I see Confederate jasmine alongside most roads and in every neighborhood I pass through — the setting I like best is when it covers a fence. Confederate jasmine planted along a chain-link fence not only perfumes the air, it also manages to transform an ugly structure into a botanical showcase.

With so many fragrant flowers to choose from during Central Florida's warm-weather season, the need for artificial air fresheners should be non-existent. Three days after I placed my neighbor's flower on my car's dashboard, the solitary gardenia bloom continues to infuse the auto's interior with floral perfume. When its fragrance finally abates, I probably will replace it with a few sprigs of Confederate jasmine or, if I feel in the mood for a spicier aroma, a snippet or two of rosemary, basil or peppermint leaves will do the trick.

In this period of floral profusion, it's more relevant than ever to take time — to make time — to smell the roses.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Blanketflower abuzz with bees

The small patch of blanketflowers (Gaillardia) in the front yard is attracting a large number of bees. I've tried to identify them but my knowledge is limited. I'd appreciate it if those of you with better honed entomology skills would let me know if I've misidentified any of the bees.   

Female green orchid bee with heavily laden pollen baskets on her rear legs

Pollen covered Honey bee

And another honey bee covered with pollen

A male green orchid bee sipping nectar - only the females have hind-leg pollen baskets

No insects buzzing around this flower but I included it anyway because Blanketflowers are even pretty after their yellow-tipped petals have fallen off. 
I think this is a Green metallic sweat bee

Below is a short video (0:56) of bees going from one blossom to another, mostly on the Spanish needle blooms (Biden alba) growing alongside the patch of blanketflowers.