Ssssupervisor…

I was a bit startled yesterday afternoon while puttering out in my front yard. Not sure what gave it away but something made me look up towards the top of my hedges.

I have seen this Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) a couple times in my yard before (but on the ground). In a manner befitting its name, each time it zipped into the thick tangle of this hedge. Though I know most snakes can climb trees I was a bit taken aback to see this one at eye level.

Basking in the warm sunshine, the snake allowed me a couple photos before it disappeared into the foliage. I’m delighted that this nonvenomous snake resides in my yard, as the species excels at gobbling insects and small creatures (like lizards and mice).

Carambola

My neighbors have a heavily-laden Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola) tree. Luckily for me, they generously giveaway the extras on a little table out by the curb. As you know, I’m not one to pass up something for free, especially when it’s so delicious!

If you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend doing so (if you can find them – perhaps look at an Asian market). The unripe fruit still has a greenish tint to it and makes an excellent garnish for cocktails or entrees (though it will be quite tart and lemony). Fully ripened, the fruit has the texture of a juicy pear (yes, you eat the skin) and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mild apple.

Unfortunately, the Carambola resembles a banana in that it has a relatively short shelf life, once brown spots appear on the fruit it becomes a flavorless mass of goo.

I did just find a couple Star Fruit recipes that sound delightful. Since their tree still has loads of fruit they’ll be worth a try, I’ll keep you posted.

Feeder Antics

I recently added another bird feeder to my yard. This one I placed up front near a bird bath with a small solar fountain. The new addition was discovered immediately by my neighborhood birds (unlike the one in the backyard which took them several months to find).

While I have several species that frequent the feeder (Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, American Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Eurasian Starling) all of them cede the space when the flock of Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday) arrive.

I view their afternoon arrival with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I enjoy watching these noisy and colorful, medium-sized parrots. On the other, I know my feeders will soon be empty.

Originally from central South America, the birds were brought to Florida for the pet trade. The first ones were noted living outside in St. Petersburg in 1969. They have since established breeding colonies and are now found across the south-central part of the state. Though the 1992 Wild Bird Act prohibits importation of this tropical species (along with many others) its reproductive success means that it will remain one of Florida’s 195 non-native bird species for many years to come.

25th Annual

Took advantage of the relative calm before the storm this past Saturday and wandered out to the Treasure Island Kite Festival. When my friend Katie and I arrived at noon the wind was fickle at best, not ideal conditions for flying.

Thankfully, the wind picked up as the afternoon wore on. The bright sunshine highlighted the colorful banners and kites in the sky. While there were hundreds of kites aloft, hands down my favorite was the massive blue whale.

A fun way to spend a winter’s afternoon, especially since a cold storm blew in that night and dropped our temperatures about twenty degrees!

Child of the Sun

Over the holidays, a dear friend gifted me a set of handsome Frank Lloyd Wright Waterlilies tumblers. Not only do they class up the joint but they reminded me to visit the campus of Florida Southern College which houses “the largest and most fully articulated collection of Wright’s work in the world”.

The college sits atop the rolling hills along Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, about an hour drive east of me. I had two other reasons to travel to the aptly named city this past week since that is the location of the nearest Discount Tire (to resolve a warranty issue) and a good friend lives near there.

I distantly remembered my aunt taking my cousins and I to visit Fallingwater in Pennsylvania when I was a young teenager (though I recall little of the visit). So I was looking forward to learning more about one of America’s most influential architects.

I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful winter day for my visit, especially since the famed architect’s buildings are strewn throughout the sprawling campus.

I was fascinated to learn how Wright’s involvement with the college evolved. Founded in 1885 the college finally set down roots when it moved to Lakeland in 1922. In 1938 the president of the young campus telegraphed the 70 year old Wright and requested his help planning an “education temple” in Florida.

Both men were eager to showcase an American aesthetic, incorporating the natural elements of the site with a modern yet organic design. Over the next twenty years, Wright refined his “Child of the Sun” master plan and supervised the construction of twelve of his eighteen proposed buildings.

In 2013, a thirteen Wright-designed building, The Usonian House (originally intended as a faculty residence) was built just off campus to serve as the Frank Lloyd Wright visitor center. A fitting tribute to the pioneer of “organic architecture”.

A Wonderful Bird…

Brown Pelican, Oceanside, California December 2015

Two years ago this month the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) became the official bird of St. Petersburg, Florida. The action was long overdue, since the large avian had been used as a mascot for the city for close to 100 years.

I am fortunate to be able to watch their aerial stunts year-round from my favorite perch at nearby John’s Pass (the channel between the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Ciega Bay).

I see their larger cousins, American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) less often as they are true snowbirds, spending their winters on our balmy barrier islands before returning north in the Spring.

The adult males are especially eye-catching this time of year as breeding season begins. I need to take my camera out and try to get some good shots of them, until then this older photo I took in California will suffice.

Without fail, every time I see them I think of this limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill will hold more than his belican,

He can take in his beak,

Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

Dixon Lanier Merritt

Oyster Balls

This morning I joined a dozen other volunteers to help create oyster balls at Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting our local watershed.

I had volunteered for an oyster reef restoration project back in Texas so I was curious to learn about Florida’s methods. The underlying problems are similar, oyster populations have taken a hit from over harvesting as well as pollution and other human-caused disturbances.

The main difference in this area is the amount of boat traffic in the waterways, from not only recreational vessels but also cargo ships and cruise lines. The oyster shell bags we used back in Texas wouldn’t stand a chance against the larger wake, which is where the oyster balls come into play.

The balls, made with marine-friendly concrete, are placed side by side in the intertidal zone and help dissipate wave energy. Oyster shell bags are tucked in behind the balls to add additional habitat (for oysters and other small sea creatures).

We carefully assembled 28 oyster ball forms and once they are cured they will be utilized in a restoration project at nearby Lassing Park. It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful morning!

Sweet Reminder

I grew up in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by the fragrant puffballs of the Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana). Not only do bees and butterflies love the flowers but birds favor the thorny, tangled branches for nesting, and lots of animals dine on the seed pods.

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this small tree is native here as well. The one I planted in my yard this past spring just started blooming and while not as showy as some of the other plants around here, it certainly makes me smile.