Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Little Swimmer

Robinson Preserve, Bradenton, Florida June 2022

This was the first time I’ve seen an Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) swimming and this little “saucepan” was cruising! This is not the normal way they swim. Not sure how but apparently, this one had been turned over. Or maybe he’s just a unique creature that likes doing things differently.

I do know that being upside down on land can be fatal, there’s even an outreach program in Delaware that asks people to flip them over (complete with a catchy theme song).

Four O’clocks

My very generous neighbor recently gave me a couple of these small bushes, Four O’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa). She’s lived in this neighborhood for 27 years and as a fellow plant geek, her garden is now out of control. In exchange for me doing some light yard work she sends me home with plants. Talk about a win-win!

During the heat of the day, the flowers close but as the common name suggests, in the late afternoon they burst open. And not only are they stunningly bright but the scent is amazing. Almost as fragrant as a gardenia. They are now my third favorite floral scent, after citrus and gardenia (sorry jasmine, you’ve dropped down to fourth).

The first part of the binomial is Latin for wonderful, which is really quite fitting. I wasn’t previously familiar with this plant but I’m so happy to have it in my yard!

Glory Be!

Last fall I collected a handful of seeds from a field of Cutleaf Morning Glory (Merremia dissecta) vines and planted them in my yard. So far, two have sprouted and the larger of them just bloomed.

Unlike their common name, these tend to flower in the middle of the day, adding a cheery pop during the heat. I’m hopeful that these groundcover vines will continue to spread along the outside of my fence. Especially since they are native and won’t require any attention from me.

Orange Dog

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly larva, St Petersburg, Florida May 2022

Discovered another welcome addition to my growing pollinator habitat this week. I was about to trim a branch off my Meyer Lemon tree but once I noticed this caterpillar (cleverly disguised as bird poop) I changed my mind. My little tree will remain lopsided until after my “orange dog” completes metamorphosis.

It will be worth the wait, the aptly-named Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest on our continent!

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?”