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)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Solar Energy for the Butterflies

It's been a hot and muggy August (who am I kidding this has been going on since June) here in Florida. Even so, I managed to spend lots of hours in the garden this week.

  • My empty vegetable beds got a good dose of bone meal and dried blood mixture worked into the soil. We'll let that rest for a few weeks before we plant some seed for a fall harvest.
  • I planted some tomato seeds in small containers too.
  • There was some attention needed at the back of the property.

One of the keys to keeping the garden from getting out of hand is to keep up with trimming and cutting back. This time of year it is especially important with everything growing at rapid speed.

Even in areas where I want the foliage to blend together creating a lush density, boundaries are required for a sense of order. In this particular area, my solution is to trim the plumbago (which would literally take over its neighbors if left to itself), the snowbush, and the philondendron from the bottom up. This way the tops of the shrubs still have a free-flowing appearance but the base of the shrubs are nice and tidy and not growing into each other. When looking straight on one's eye takes in all the layers of gently varied textures and forms rather than one massive planting.

Even though the skies have looked like this many times this week we haven't had any significant rain. That's the way the weather pattern goes in the summer. The afternoon thunderstorms roll in and rumblings of thunder and lightning can be heard all around but the showers can miss specific areas and neighborhoods all together.

It wasn't our turn this week, I guess. Hopefully, next week we'll get a good drenching or two.

Butterflies Were Abundant This Week in all the Sunshine
Our summer sunshine is giving the butterflies lots of flight energy and they are plentiful. Of course they have to fly to search for food and escape from predators so they are dependent on good weather.

Their wings are their muscles, so to speak, and their bodies have to be heated up to around 82 degrees in order to fly. You might have noticed you don't see too many butterflies flitting about on a cloudy cooler day. Even on cloudy warmer days we don't see them in great numbers.
Giant Swallowtail slurping penta flowers with its exacting proboscis.

Fat and full of milkweed are these fellows ...

... which turn into these dancing wonders of beauty.

During sunny daytime hours, you may see butterflies basking with their wings open to catch the warmth from the sun. When it gets too warm a butterfly may fold its wings and situate its body so the rays of the sun land on the edge of its wings rather than its fully extended wings.

It's a good idea to place some rocks (especially flatter ones) in your garden. When the sun isn't shining butterflies can use the stored up heat in them to raise the temperature in their bodies.

In Florida non-migratory populations of monarch butterflies can be seen all months of the year.

The prize of the week for me was capturing a Cassius Blue which happens to be among the teeniest of butterflies we have in our garden. They are especially attracted to the Leadwort; blue plumbago shrub on which they lay their eggs. Each kind of butterfly has its own unique way of flying. These little fellows are quick and rapidly flit about sometimes in two's and three's and if one didn't know better one would easily mistake them for a moth.

At one point just as I was about to redirect my camera this most amazing fly-in just 'happened'. First the female and then the male with wings spread widely (adult wingspan is 1.4 to 2.5 cm) open. Right there next to each other and my camera already pointing in that very spot. Okay... that was thrilling enough but then to actually capture a clear photo before they flew away in all of about 5 seconds... definitely makes for some wild excitement in the garden. Yeah... I know... I'm getting old.

My Camera Was Noticing all Kinds of Critters This Week, Too

Some of them we are familiar with like the happy red male cardinals that sing their cheery songs and daily visit the feeders.

Then there are strange beings like this grey insect I've never before seen. Stirring around in some bromeliads I startled it out of its roost I suppose. Anyone have a clue what it might be?
Blogger's note: Thanks to a Boyd Hill Nature Preserve commenter the mantis has been identified as a Grizzled mantis.

Never can resist an attempt at photgraphing a brilliant green dragonfly.

Don't let me interrupt your crunchy dinner, sir.
For mature audiences only...

Who knew? The voracious foliage/flower eating nemesis of my garden get started reproducing already! And I thought this only went on in the spring. Just after this photo these two love-hoppers met their demise. That's one less litter I'll have to track down later.

Have no idea the name or the intent of the green insect with the antennae practically as long as its body. Any one know what this guy is or what he's up to?

And ... the ever present Argiope aurantia (thanks again to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve commenter for ID) just hanging out between the salvia and the coleus. Don't mind me... I'm just trying to get some deadheading done.

This little flourescent green variety of spider is all over the garden this summer.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend and fitting in all your own gardening fun! Happy day.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Florida: Rain, Beach, and Birds

Did someone translate me to Seattle and forget to tell me?
Was it me who was whining about the drought all last summer and just a few short weeks back? I do detest whining but I'm sure it was me guilty of this intolerable habit.
Okay, I am VERY grateful for all the rain we've gotten over the last few weeks. Really I am. It's been sweet relief after so many months void of the heavenly moisture. Dragging hoses around the garden every day is a minor trouble compared to the overall reasons our state was desperate for rain.

It isn't just our typical afternoon thunderstorms we are dodging lately. Rains are showing up all times of the day and often more than once a day.
This week hubby and I ended July and began August taking off a few days and doing some fun day trips together. Knowing how much I love the beach, birds, and eating breakfast at the open cafe, he took me down (south about 1 hour) to Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island.

Crossing the Skyway Bridge at 7:00 am under clear, sunny, morning skies is an invigorating way to start the day. As we made our way toward the beaches and over the shorter bridges the atmosphere rapidly changed to dark clouds and drizzly rain.
Beach Morning Glory (left)

Sea Oats (below)

No matter, we are accustomed to the way this weather pattern unfolds and we agree to make the best of it.

My favorite beach destination never disappoints. Even on a dreary day the crystal clear waters are green and the sand is sugary white. Ahhh, the smell of salt, the sounds of gulls, the plantlife that can only be found at the salty shores.

The Sea Oats were as pretty as I've seen them in years. So lush and plump and happily flowing in the breezes. See, even the beach dwellers that normally do so well in the extreme heat and drought burdened climes thrive with steady amounts of rain.

Sea Grapes (above left)

Oleander (above right)

The stunning bloom of a schefflera (below)

We waited-out a heavy downpour before we could get out of the car initially which makes for a very deserted beach. Oooooh, just the way I like it. There were three separate rainbows appearing across the horizon in the course of a couple of hours. Often times there will be showers off shore that never reach the land.

The one seen in the distance was obviously coming toward us as the gusty winds preceded it onshore to warn us. This one let us know it was going to be a doozy. Already quite wet and by this time hot from walking up and down the beach, we didn't mind at all a little trot in the drizzly rain in our attempt to outrun the fastly approaching downpour.
Some of the shorebirds that were not the least bit bothered by the drizzly morning and quiet beaches that day.

Immature Laughing Gulls
(thanks to a correct ID from my friend Sophie Mae who is a birding genius... really... I always count on her expert eye).


Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls

The gulls are a common sight all over Florida. Black skimmers aren't all that uncommon but I had not seen or photographed them in the past.

Willet sitting and standing (right)

White Ibis
Another common sight ... even inland. We see these birds in our neighborhood all the time. But here, with the striking color of their beaks and legs against the backdrop of the water, they look especially fitting.

Other birds from this week of being out and about...

I never tire of watching the sandhill cranes around our neighborhoods. This one (there were two actually- almost always seen in two's) not at all letting the soft showers deter from its foraging.

Anhinga (right) drying its wings after diving deeply into the water for its afternoon meal.

At a nearby golf course on another rainy afternoon this week, the shorebirds who make the nearby waters their home were basking in the lightness of showers.

Snowy egret (left)

Little blue heron (right)

Thanks for coming along with me and my rainy day photos.

It's back to the garden bright and early in the morning to get some serious work done.

Next week the showers are predicted to get back to their normal pattern. That simply means every afternoon/evening thunderstorms roll through with typically heavy rains. Once all that atmospheric craziness subsides all is calm again.