Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Better late than never

Someone's building a nest.  It's a little late in the season.  Most sandhill cranes in Florida already have babies by now.  But this pair finally decided to settle in on a tiny tuft of land in the north end of our lake.

It takes 32 days for sandhill crane eggs to incubate, which means if all goes well, we should be seeing hatchlings on May 18th.  I'll keep you posted.

The cranes spent all day preparing the nest site

Settling in

Monday, April 14, 2014

Renovation project yields unexpected benefits

We are in the process of replacing our house’s 22-year-old wall-to-wall carpeting with flooring less likely to trigger allergies.

It’s a big project, so we’re doing it in stages. We began with a room on the south side of the house that used to be my office. After removing the carpet and tiling the floor, we moved our bed there. It’s a small room, but that’s what we were after. We wanted an uncluttered space that we could easily keep free of dust and allergens. So far, the experiment is working. I’m sleeping better, sneezing less and waking up with eyes that are no longer watery.

I had hoped sleeping in a carpet-free room would help my sinuses, but I didn’t anticipate another positive change brought about by our recent room rearrangement: The view from my new bedroom is spectacular. Just outside the large picture window is a mature bottlebrush tree (Callistemon citrinus) that draws wildlife like a magnet. Birds, butterflies, lizards, bees and wasps are constantly coming and going in and out of the tree’s flower-bedecked branches.

The first thing I usually hear when I wake up in the morning is the sound of a male Carolina wren. The wren, a small bird with a loud voice that belies its diminutive size, likes to sit on the uppermost branches of the bottlebrush tree and welcome the day with his trilling tune. Although his song rouses me, rather than getting up quickly, I find myself staying in bed longer to see what other treats the tree will provide.

Although the Carolina wren seems uninterested in bottlebrush flowers, it likes to perch in the uppermost branches in the morning to sing its wake-up song

Lately, I’ve spotted yellow-rumped warblers landing on the red, bristly blooms. I’ve yet to learn whether these pretty birds are there to enjoy a sip of the sweet nectar or to eat tiny bugs caught in the sticky substance. It could be they’re after both.

The yellow-rumped warbler can't seem to get enough of the sticky sweet nectar

Cardinals also are drawn to the tree, although they don’t frequent it as often as the warblers do. When they do come, I usually see both male and female cardinals feeding together. If I didn’t see them fly in, I’d probably miss them entirely. The male cardinal’s coloring is exactly the same shade of red as the bottlebrush blooms, and the bristles are about the same length as a cardinal’s body. I wonder why cardinals don’t spend more time in the bottlebrush tree since it provides such excellent camouflage.

The male cardinal and the bottlebrush bloom are the exact same color 

In past years, I’ve seen hummingbirds hover over the blooms, but I’ve yet to see one arrive on the tree outside my new bedroom’s window. Hummingbirds like bottlebrush trees since they are such a rich source of nectar. One of these mornings, I’m sure one will appear.

A hummingbird rests on a bottlebrush branch

I may not have seen hummers yet, but I sure have seen bees. Yesterday, the tree was abuzz with pollen-gathering insects. We’ve all heard about bee colony collapse and the shortage of honeybees worldwide but in our yard, especially around the bottlebrush tree, bees are working overtime. Along with them, various wasps zoom in and out of the tree. Like bees, wasps also are pollinators, but because they lack a bee’s fuzzy hair, they aren’t as efficient at gathering pollen.

Although it is already heavily laden with pollen, a honeybee approaches yet another bottlebrush flower

One recent afternoon, I watched a male green anole try to attract a female from his perch on one of the tree’s thin branches. The native lizard bobbed up and down displaying his bright pink dewlap. However, I don’t think he was rewarded since I didn’t see any females approach. Instead of trying to attract a mate, the anole might have been marking his territory or trying to intimidate another lizard. Regardless of whether his efforts worked on other anoles, he succeeded in attracting my attention, putting on a show I was happy to have witnessed.

"Look at me!  Look at me!" says the green anole

Butterflies tend to flutter about the bottlebrush tree a little later in the season when the weather is warmer, but the other day as I was still lazing about in bed, I noticed a beautiful blue-colored butterfly land on one of the uppermost blooms. Few things motivate me to move faster than a wildlife sighting. As soon as I saw the butterfly, I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera and ran outside. Since moving into the new bedroom, I’d gotten into the habit of keeping my camera in the room with me. I took several pictures that morning and later identified the flutterer as Limenitis arthemis astyanax, commonly known by the descriptive name, red-spotted purple butterfly.

A slightly damaged wing isn't enough to keep this pretty butterfly away from the flowers

When we decided to enter into a renovation project to free our home of allergens, I had no idea our efforts would result in such unexpected bounty. Not only can I now breathe easier, I also enjoy an endless array of wildlife sightings from the comfort and sneeze-free zone of my tiny new bedroom.

Bottlebrush trees bloom from spring through summer. I’ve seen so much already in just a few short weeks from my new view. I can’t wait to see what the next few months will reveal.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Enjoying the view...

Two chairs face the lake
Metal table wedged between
Wild geraniums
Tufted cushions 
Stake the claim of nature's scheme 

I came for the view - to sit a while and watch the lake.  But when I arrived, I realized it had been a while, quite a while, since I'd sat there last.  Weeds - sprawling, feathery, flower-bedecked greenery - had woven their way in between the chair slats.  

I didn't sit down.

My intention was to take pictures of the water.  I wound up taking pictures of the chairs instead.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Remembering Mary

In addition to being an academic, my mother-in-law Mary Boas was a gardener. She loved flowers as much, if not more, than teaching mathematical physics, a career she pursued well into her late 80s.

Mary Boas

Shortly after her death in February 2010, just shy of her 93rd birthday, my son dug up some of his grandmother’s favorite amaryllis bulbs and brought them back to Florida. I planted the bulbs in pots and placed them outside on a table in front of my office window. Early last month as I gazed out the window, I noticed a bulge in the developing blooms. A few days later, flowers had formed. Three showy pink and white striped blossoms — Mary favored variegated cultivars — topped each sturdy stalk.

The same amaryllises that my mother-in-law loved so much now bloom in my own garden

After looking out the window, I checked the calendar and couldn’t help but smile. In Seattle, where my mother-in-law lived, amaryllis bloom later in the season, but in Central Florida, their petals open to the world in sync with Mary’s birthday, March 10.

Who needs a calendar alarm or email notice when flowers can remind us of ones we love?

Reminders of loved ones surround me. Each time I pass the antique hat rack my Uncle Izzy gave my mother a half-century ago, I think of my favorite uncle, Isador Boxer. I inherited that elegant piece of early 20th century history from my own parents, who both died within the last five years.

An antique hat rack that I inherited always reminds me of my favorite uncle 

From my mother, I have various pieces of jewelry, shimmery broaches, bracelets and stick pins. When I was a child, she also gave me an opal ring to represent my birth month. My father once gave me a ring fashioned from a coin during his tour of duty in the Philippines in WWII. He also introduced me to Scrabble and through that, a love for language.

My father played Scrabble with me when I was young and I did the same with my children.  Above is a picture of Toby (on the left) playing in a Scrabble tournament

When people you love die, what they leave behind isn’t as important as the memories attached to those special objects.

My father-in-law Ralph P. Boas died in July 1992. Like his wife, he was also an academic, a respected author and a professor of mathematics. Although he died more than 21 years ago, I pass his picture daily in our hallway. Each time I do, I wish he had lived long enough to see one of his own grandsons follow in his academic footsteps.

My father-in-law, Ralph P. Boas, in his younger years

Like his wife, my father-in-law was a man of many interests. He loved literature and, as a youth, memorized long lines of poetry, which he recited at the slightest provocation. He also enjoyed reading aloud stories from cherished books from his own childhood. Although my father-in-law is no longer with us, we still have those books. They sit inside a glass bookcase and while their covers are not in the best of shape and the pages smell musty, they’re still usable. My husband takes them out now and then to read to our own grandchildren, the fourth generation to enjoy the stories and develop new memories from texts of old words.

Blooming flowers, pieces of jewelry, antique furniture, cherished books, a game of Scrabble — memories abound wherever I look.

The older I get, the more often I reflect on the passage of time. It seems like only yesterday when my mother-in-law was on the deck of her Seattle home pampering her beloved potted plants. Now she’s gone, but her flowers live on. Life may be all about change, but it also contains a comforting component of continuality, a sameness that never fails to lift the spirits.