Friday, May 29, 2015

So many butterflies!

I've been taking lots of pictures of butterflies now that the weather is warm and butterflies are out in full force.

The optimum body temperature for these cold-blooded creatures to fly is between 82 °-102° Fahrenheit.  It certainly has been that warm lately and butterflies are responding by fluttering from one bloom to another.

As much as I don't like the sticky, pointy seeds of Bidens alba, aptly named Spanish needle, butterflies sure do.  Below are four pictures of a common buckeye butterfly sipping nectar from Bidens alba flowers.

A Red-banded Hairstreak also likes visiting the Bidens alba plant.

I'm glad I saw this Great Southern White butterfly before my husband did.  He doesn't like them because they lay their eggs on plants in the Brassicaceae family such as broccoli, cabbage and Asian greens plants.  The eggs turn into caterpillars that devour the leaves of the plants Ralph works so hard to grow.  To him they are nothing more than a pest but I appreciate their beauty and hate to see them destroyed.

Great Southern White on tropical milkweed

A Checkered White butterfly looks similar to the Great Southern White

This American Lady butterfly looks especially pretty perched on the cheerful bloom of a bush sunflower.

The bush sunflowers attracted many flutterers including this Tiger Swallowtail

And of course the Gulf Fritillary butterfly is out in full force. I'm not sure which I see more of  - the Gulf Fritillary or the Zebra Longwing - but both are regulars here at our tucked away homestead.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A few snapshots from the beach

We just came back from a short trip to the beach (New Smyrna Beach) and although we weren't there long, I finally managed to catch a sunrise over the ocean. 

Within a few minutes, the sky changed dramatically as more and more of the sun became visible.

Bright light over rough water

The morning light over the rough waves was well worth the early wake-up and fast pedal to the beach.

Biking on the sand

I'm so enjoying biking again, even if our pedalled trips are relatively short.  Biking on the sand is a blast (a sand blast?) - almost as much fun as going for swims, photographing birds and playing with the shells and seaweed on the beach.

The waves were so steady and strong I had a hard time keeping track of Ralph and Tim in the water

Tim tells Ralph, "That last wave was this big!"

After he finished swimming, Timmy did a bit of acrobatics on the beach

Pelican on the wing...

Pelican in the water, about to take off

A month ago when we were at New Smyrna Beach, the sand was dotted with jellyfish.

Jellyfish were everywhere

This time, we didn't see any jellyfish but the sand was covered with lots and lots of seaweed.

I like seaweed MUCH better than jellyfish!

Greetings from the beach

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Plant a carrot. Eat a carrot.

Looks like Ralph's love of vegetable gardening is being passed on to our granddaughter Trillian.

Trillian asked for a carrot to eat the other day when she was visiting. Instead of looking in the refrigerator, Ralph suggested they pick one from the garden.

Trillian wasted no time following her grandpa to the garden.  The vegetable plants are raised off the ground in containers so Ralph lifted Trillian up so she could reach the plants.

"I told her to reach down low and pull hard," he explained.

Trillian did just that and out popped a beautiful orange carrot that they then rinsed off with the hose.

"She picked it herself," Ralph said when they came back inside with a beautiful carrot.

Trillian poses for a picture with a carrot as long as her forearm

Not only did Trillian pick it, our almost 4-year-old grandchild ate the whole carrot up.  Well, all but a nibble she shared with her stuffed bunny, Baboo.  What a considerate little farmer.

Baboo liked the carrot Trillian picked from grandpa's (Papa's) garden too

Monday, May 25, 2015

A cool creature no matter what it's called

It's small, somewhat furtive and green. Sometimes it’s brown. It has a voracious appetite for insects and spiders but is completely harmless to people. It clings to walls and screens and sometimes finds its way into a house, but its real home is outside on trees and plants.

What is it?

I call it a green anole but its proper name is Anolis carolinensis. As the only species of anole native to the United States, Anolis carolinenis is one-of-a-kind. However, it’s often misidentified as a chameleon, a brown lizard or a gecko.

It’s easy to understand why. Because our native lizard changes color, people think it’s a chameleon. 

A green anole that has changed color to a grayish-brown to blend in with its surroundings

It’s also confused with the invasive brown lizard from Cuba, Anolis sagrei, because both look similar, share the same territory and are active during daylight hours.

The invasive brown lizard, Anolis sagrei, from Cuba is often confused with our native green anole

Finally, the anole-gecko mix-up probably stems from an insurance company’s highly effective advertising campaign to depict a Cockney-accented cartoon character as a gecko even though it strongly resembles our native green anole.

The cartoon image of a Madagascar Day Gecko used as the insurance company's mascot can be easily confused with our native green anole

Despite what the anthropomorphic insurance mascot suggests, Anolis carolinensis is not a gecko. Geckos belong to the Gekkota family while green anoles are members of the Iguanidae family. Anoles are diurnal reptiles, active during daylight hours, but most geckos are nocturnal creatures who go about their business in the dark.

Unlike green anoles, whose eyelids can open and close, the eyelids of geckos are fused open and immobile. To keep them clean, geckos wash them frequently with their long tongues. 

Another difference between geckos and anoles is the vocalizations geckos make. Green anoles are silent, but geckos emit a range of noises that sound like barks, chirps and even duck-like quacks.

A madagascar day gecko - video by koshplappit

Green anoles and brown anoles are often considered one and the same. They live and are active in the same places and look similar in body shape and size. One thing they don’t share, however, is skin patterns. Dark stripes, bars or spots mark the brown skin of Anolis sagrei and their backs — especially those of the males — often sport a raised ridge crest. None of these characteristics is present on the bodies of green anoles.

Note the raised ridge crest and patterned body on the brown anole, Anolis sagrei

The confusion between green anoles and chameleons is due mainly to the ability of our native green anole to change color from green to brown.

A pair of green anoles mating.  One anole is in its green form while the other has changed into a grayish-brown coloring

However, true chameleons, which are native to Africa, Madagascar and parts of Asia, belong to a completely different family of lizards. While green anoles can change only from green to brown, a chameleon’s skin can exhibit a broad spectrum of rainbow colors.

Video from ChamalotChameleons

The two types of reptiles also differ physically. Instead of having slender bodies, chameleon bodies are thick and stubby. They have short, tightly coiled tails and extremely long curled tongues that they use to catch prey. Another distinguishing characteristic is that chameleons have two large bulging eyes that can open and close independent of each other, something green anoles cannot do.

Note the chamelion's curled tail and bulging eyes (Photo credit: Michel Milinkovitch)

Despite all the confusion, Anolis carolinenis — the little green anole — remains a fixture in the Florida landscape. But it is not without challenges. In recent years, populations of our only native lizard have declined primarily because of the increase in brown anoles. Brown anoles have taken over green anole territories, and adult males occasionally prey upon green anoles. Pesticide use has contributed to population loss as well.

As far as I know, no geckos or chameleons live on our property near Groveland, but we have a healthy population of both green and brown anoles. They frequent our gardens, woods and fields. One little green lizard even lives in my rowboat and accompanies me when I go rowing.

My rowing companion in the process of changing colors from green to brown

It’s important to know your neighbors — even green ones that occasionally turn brown — but even more important is to care for the environment, so the insect-eating little green lizards of the world will continue to exist.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A honey of a find

I was sitting at one of the outside tables in the newly opened Plant Street Market in Winter Garden with my daughter Amber, her two children, and my son Tim when my not-quite-6-year-old grandson Atom spotted something special in a nearby oak tree.

What's special in this tree??

"I see a beehive!" Atom exclaimed.

I turned around to look where he pointed but at first, I didn't see it at all. After a few more seconds of careful looking, I focused in and sure enough, my junior naturalist grandchild was right.  A swarm of bees was buzzing around a large knothole in the oak.

High up in a knothole Atom spotted a swarm of bee!

"Wow, Atom!  What a find," I said.

A closer look at Atom's find

He shrugged as if it were no big deal.  But to me, it was. I love knowing my grandchildren are growing up in touch with nature.

Grandma's little naturalist

I'm proud of Atom for being aware of his surroundings, for knowing what a beehive is in the first place and for noticing it at all. Lots of kids wouldn't, but he did.  It make this grandma proud.

  A very short (0:05) video of Atom's find

If you're ever in Winter Garden, check out the Plant Street Market.  It is home to several eateries, a meat market, craft beer house and numerous boutique shops.  A fun and attractive place to visit.  If you go, see if you can find the beehive too.

The newly built and Plant Street Market in Winter Garden sits beneath a canopy of towering oaks, including one that boast a buzzing beehive

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