Welcome to my "Florida" blog

Being a third generation Florida native, I'm completely enamored with the diverse beauty of this gorgeous peninsula. For most of the year the weather is divine which makes exploring its unlimited nooks and crannies fun and easy.

Wherever I go I appreciate nature and the world around me. Come along with me as I share the places I visit and perhaps a few other amusements I find interesting along the way.

(FYI: Every post prior to January 1, 2009 was previously published and imported from my garden blog)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Scarlet Pimpernel

There is a flurry of activity going on these days in the garden. It seems everywhere I turn something else has made its way out of the ground... That overnight this or that has filled in, plumped out, bloomed up or some such. These are the days when the emotions of gardeners run very high as we make new discoveries by the minute.
Miss Muffet

There will be numerous blabberings over the coming months referencing my beloved caladiums. These are the wonderfully performing heart-shaped and multi-varietied leaf plants that I have come to depend on over the years here at Hoe & Shovel. I leave the bulbs in the ground all year and then sometime in spring - usually after we've had a spell of warm weather- they emerge once again to brighten the landscape. Just thought I'd give you a peek at the first sightings. There will be more!

Yesterday, just when my excitement over the lettuce bounty was sending me over the moon, my attention was diverted by all the vocal activity of birds coming from my front garden. I knew I was hearing red-bellied woodpeckers and it sounded as if there were lots of them. This blue jay was perched close by watching me thin out the lettuce so I returned the admiration and snapped his photo.
Just as I was wishing his attractive blue feathers would show up in the photo- he did a little hop onto the next branch so we could get a good look at his full attire. Blue jays are very common around here but pretty none-the-less.

It was as I suspected. The red-bellied woodpeckers- male and female- seem to be having a play- date in the trees that canopy our street. As I made my way to the end of the driveway to get a closer view there were six or seven of them flying back and forth from the oaks to the Jatropha tree in my front garden.
Little did they know they were putting on quite a visual and musical show for me. I was trying so hard to get two of them at one time but they were having too much fun with their flirting games to stay in one place for very long.

Believe it or not every one of these shots is of a different woodpecker.
Oh, the love of gardening! Everywhere our eyes can see and our ears can hear there is beauty and wonderment to embrace. I don't want to miss a thing!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Valuable Cypress Wetlands

So many times when engaged in my gardening I'm quite distracted by the birds, butterflies, bugs, and just about any crawling, hopping, or flying creature around me. Why just the shadows & sounds overhead are enough to prompt me to stop what I'm doing below to take a gander at what's going on above. And the truth is I never mind ... quite the opposite. It is part of the pleasure and joy of gardening. Not only that but it is my intention to attract wildlife of all kinds in my garden.

Spring growth on a Cypress Tree.

At the end of my street, which dead ends into a cul-de-sac, two of my neighbors' large backyards border a cypress head conservation area. There is a fairly wide drainage swale that runs between to the two houses allowing for clear vision to the water beyond from the street.

I've lived on this street for 24 years and never have I walked beyond the street down the length of the swale which opens to the water supplying the cypress stand. It is technically easement that belongs to the county but walking down it is kind of like walking in someone else's backyard... if you know what I mean.

Oh, one more tid-bit about the water... I can see it in the distance from my back patio and often I have noticed large birds flying over or foraging in the waters edge for food. It is far enough away that I can't necessarily identify the birds or distinguish the variety of species hanging out 'down there'. I've always kind of assumed they were the common Great Egrets.

Which brings me to the point of my tale today.

This morning, while taking my morning jog which I do up and down my street, I rounded the cul-de-sac. Nothing out of the ordinary. Next, also part of my routine, I take a gander out to the water beyond the easement to see what I can see. All these years and all I've ever seen from the street are ducks or occasionally groups of white ibis or perhaps a Great Egret.

You can imagine my shock as I spotted these three birds (above photo) wading together and fairly close to the beginning of the open water area. I just kept jogging to my house -4 houses away -right into the house to get my camera and back to hopefully get photos of these amazing creatures. And they were in my neighborhood! The sight of the wildlife was empowering me all of a sudden to cross the boundaries I had set for myself all these years.

Not in all the time I've lived here have I seen a Wood Stork or a Spoonbill from my streetside vantage point to the water. The sight of them drawing me down the path and into what felt like another world to see what else I might be missing by obeying my imaginary boundaries. I found a whole new place I never knew nor would have imagined so beautiful and well occupied...

I trailed along the length of a wooden fence about 50 feet to where the water opens up beyond the swale/easement. This (above) is what I saw to my left as I neared the end of the fence and rounded a small grassy area to the open water. Now imagine I have seen those same cypress trees from my back patio for all these years and THIS is what it looks like on the other side of them.

Did you know? Cypress (Taxodium distichum) wetlands like these are extremely valuable ecosystems because they filter pollutants from water, provide habitats for wildlife, and recharge groundwater.

Standing 20 feet away from me was this grand and beautiful Wood Stork(above photo). An endangered species because of its sensitivity to water levels during the nesting season, but its numbers are stable. In order to feed their large young over the protracted nesting period, Wood Storks need receding water levels 6 to 10 inches deep to concentrate prey in pools and other easily accessible areas.

The Spoonbill is really what I got excited about currently fascinated by their beautiful tufts of pink feathers covering their body and tail AND the unique way they forage moving their bills from side to side. This was as close as I could get. (By the time I returned initially with camera in hand the three birds I had spotted had moved to the far side of the water.)
**The sun was shining brilliantly so some of these photos are hazy & fuzzy because of the angle of light as well as the distance to my subjects being a hindrance.**

I looked to my right and there was a lone Little Blue Heron foraging through the lily pads.

The entertainment continued as I looked further out to my left and saw another sight I've never seen. A Sandhill Crane sitting down. They are typically strolling up and down our street foraging in the ground or flying overhead audible by their very loud rattling call. I'm certain she is nesting.

Mallards are a common sight flying overhead and in the ponds and lakes around here. Even so, I never tire of seeing them sporting their gorgeous coloring and watching their peaceful moves as they travel along the water.

There's more. I flushed out a Great Blue Heron which I didn't see sitting in some brush near where I was crouched snapping photos. I don't like to do that if I can help it. I try always to respect them and keep my distance when photographing wildlife.
Near where the Sandhill Crane was resting, the above Great Egret has just caught a wiggly thing in its beak which it quickly gobbled down the hatch.
Later this evening and after I had written most of this post, I walked back down the end of the street to talk to my neighbor. They did give me permission to walk back there anytime I want to. Now I won't feel like I'm trespassing.

The Great Blue Heron (above) was back.

I managed to get a little closer to the Roseate Spoonbill, too.

So, tell me, would you get as excited and downright silly about a few birds wading in the water for their morning breakfast? Maybe there's something else that causes you to interrupt your routine to run grab your camera. I'm learning so much better these days to take in the moments... To notice the world around me with fresh eyes and to appreciate what's right in front of me. What about you?