Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Birds on the Block

Stopped at a tiny pocket park before work this afternoon. While the neighborhood kids played on the swings I was surprised by some feathery friends: Great Egret in breeding plumage, juvenile Wood Stork, and a Muscovy Duck with two of her ducklings.

This is one of many urban park spaces that provide for both people and wildlife in the St. Petersburg area. Interestingly, at the beginning of the month, the Trust for Public Land released its 2022 report and St. Petersburg is ranked number 14 in the nation. Pretty impressive!

Side note: Did you catch that the birds represent the various stages of life? From young to teenager to mature adult.

Goober Pea*

I recently removed some elderly hedges that were at the end of their life expectancy. After cutting down the five foot bushes I spent a couple days chopping and digging up the roots. I smoothed out the soil and covered my new planting bed with mulch while trying to decide what should go there.

This week, I walked out my front door and was greeted with a couple pops of green. My first thought was that somehow I missed a few persistent roots. Upon closer inspection I discovered that I am now a peanut farmer.

I already know who the culprits are, my noisy local flock of Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata). I don’t know anything about growing peanuts but I’m about to find out.

I figure if it’s good enough for a couple of our former Presidents (Jefferson and Carter) then it’s good enough for me! If all goes well, in four months the jays should get a 4000% return on their investment.

*Brought from Africa during the slave trade these legumes were originally called goober peas (derived from nguba, a Congolese word).

Star of the Day

Hit a favorite fishing hole Sunday afternoon for a little relaxation. It was a very mellow outing, the fish decided not to bite until just before sundown (which is right when all the nasty bugs come out for a bite as well). We only caught a few Hardhead Catfish, not really edible but fun to pull in.

It doesn’t matter to me if I catch anything, I just enjoy being out in the fresh air and sunshine. Plus, I get to watch all the wildlife. A sleepy Red-breasted Merganser was the most unusual of the nearby birds. While I know they winter around here I don’t often see them.

But the highlight of the day was this smallish sea star (Echinaster sp.). Unlike the rocky coastline in the Pacific Northwest where I regularly spotted sea stars during low tide, I rarely encounter them here. This shallow, sandy coast offers less suitable habitat (there are offshore reefs but as of yet I haven’t explored those). It was a treat to watch this one shuffle among the rocks in an effort to stay under the outgoing tide.

I’m Gonna be a Momma!

I have happy news to share, some of my Gulf Fritillary caterpillars have pupated! I’m looking forward to seeing more of these beautiful flutterbies* flitting around my yard soon. Butterflies and other pollinators are the reason I tore out my front lawn over a year ago so I’m delighted to see them thriving here.

*I will continue to say it this way until it catches on – because they are not flies and they do not eat butter but they do flutter by. Just sayin’…

Native Son

Met this Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) in a friend’s backyard during my visit to Atlantic Beach this past weekend. Like the one I encountered a couple of years ago, he was quick to closeup.

Endemic to this state, they are now considered a vulnerable species due to rapid habitat loss. While common in the pet trade, Florida has instituted a two turtle limit per household (unless you have a special permit).

As for the gender of the turtle, I observed a slight concave dip in the plastron which typically indicates a male (though I could be wrong). Don’t worry, I gently returned him to his spot under a bush after the photoshoot was over.

I can imagine him telling his story to fellow turtles, “Dude, this one time I was abducted by aliens. I went flying through the air – super fast. And when I woke up I was back in same spot. Maybe I was hallucinating, maybe it was something I ate?”

My Secret Garden

I arrived early for work this past Saturday (it was a new location for me and I’ve learned to allow extra time because of this insane Florida traffic). Since I had some time to kill, I wandered behind the shopping plaza toward a little drainage in the hopes of spotting some interesting birds.

As I slipped through a break in the shrubs, I found myself in a forgotten orchard. Three large mango trees towered overhead and a spindly avocado was bearing fruit but they were all overshadowed by the flowering citrus trees.

Citrus blossoms are my all time favorite scent! I wasn’t alone in my appreciation for them, there were a number of pollinators busily flitting from bloom to bloom. As I stood there savoring the scent I tried to imagine the old home that once existed on that land.

The roar of traffic from the busy road nearby interrupted my daydreaming. I gathered a couple treats to take with me, some fragrant blossoms and a couple ripe citrus fruits. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to that little corner of disappearing Florida.

Passion Butterfly

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this Gulf Fritillary caterpillar (Dione vanillae) in my front yard last week. As their other common name denotes, they use passion vines (of the genus Passiflora) as their host plants.

I converted my front lawn into a pollinator garden last Spring and have added more plants over time. My sister brought me two passion vines when she visited back in October (cuttings from her vines in Tucson).

Thankfully, the vines survived the frost in January and they are now supporting the next generation of flutterbies (my preferred word for lepidoptera). I’m a happy girl!

Sea Greatest

I came upon this Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) one sunny afternoon. It didn’t seem too concerned about my presence as the ablutions continued unabated for at least another ten minutes.

This is one of the largest tern species in my area. Easily differentiated from the similar Caspian Tern by the bright white forehead which is visible outside of breeding season.

The Latin binomial translates as sea greatest (though personally, it’d make more sense as great of the sea).

Sea Pie

I snapped these photos of an American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) last January. Sadly, they were lost in the shuffle until now (in my defense, I have over 3,000 photos from last year – and those are just the ones I deemed worthy of keeping).

As their common name implies, they munch on oysters as well as other bivalves. The key to success is to stab into a partially open mollusk and detach the muscle. A mistake could cost the bird its life if the shell closes around the bill and holds the bird under water.

The historic name of Sea Pie comes from their coastal residencies and piebald coloring. They are decidedly more colorful than their cousin, the Black Oystercatcher (found along the Pacific coast of North America).

Wherever It’s Warm

During January, the water temperature along the Gulf Coast dropped to a cool 60 degrees. Like me, our local sea cows (officially known as West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus)), aren’t fond of cold water. Though they appear quite blubbery, manatees do not have a thick layer of fat, most of their chest cavity contains their massive lungs.

Therefore, these floating potatoes migrate seasonally to warmer waters, often up rivers to one of Florida’s over 700 springs. I don’t blame them, those natural upwellings average 72 degrees year round.

Fortunately for the manatees residing in the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Electric’s Big Bend power generating station releases warm water every day. Even better, this output raises the local water temperature to a balmy 78 degrees.

I finally had a chance to visit the adjacent manatee viewing center this past weekend. Considering it was a chilly and breezy day, the manatees certainly were more comfortable than I was! While I’ve encountered manatees before this was my first time with such a large number of them.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t the most action-packed morning. Manatees can rest up to 12 hours a day. The highlights of the visit were watching Sheepshead fish eat algae off the backs of manatees and giggling over the constant stream of bubbles from manatee farts. Riveting, let me tell you!