Friday, August 2, 2013

Mission Accomplished, or Why We Haven't Posted in Awhile

You may have noticed it's been quite some time since a new post on My Florida Backyard. This is not because we've fallen into a sudden sinkhole or been swept away by one of those crazy waterspouts that keep cropping up in Tampa Bay this year. No, My Florida Backyard is right where it always is and even much less weed-filled than last summer. Butterflies are visiting, birds are singing, and flowers are blooming, and every trip around the yard gives us something new to discover, just like always.

See? We're right where we've always been, and not even buried under the usual summer weeds!
So where have we been? Well, right here, but very very busy. And in many ways, I have this blog to thank for it.

You see, when I started this blog four and a half years ago, I had three major goals in mind:

1) Keep my mom and other up-north relatives posted on the cool stuff happening in my garden
2) Keep my writing skills sharp after losing my job in communications during The Great Recession
3) Create a portfolio of nature-based writing I could use as I started a job search with new goals in mind

After many years working for a bank, first doing training delivery, then instructional design, and finally internal communications, I had decided it was time for a change. Like many folks, I decided to turn my job loss into an "opportunity" and pursue work that really interested me. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew I was done with corporate 9-5 jobs (especially in finance) that involved cubicles and phrases like "Interest-may-be-tax-deductible-consult-your-tax-advisor".

Isn't this much nicer than a cubicle, or even an office with a window?
Who needs windows when you can sit on the back porch and write about what you see?
So, with the full support of a wonderful spouse, I took some time to just explore what interested me. I started My Florida Backyard, and within a few months had an opportunity to blog for a larger site geared toward Tampa Bay (which no longer exists). Through this, I met the Coordinator of MOSI Outside and began volunteering, spending time at the butterfly garden and gaining a lot of specialized knowledge.  Eventually, my volunteer work turned into a paid part-time job. Now, you'll find me at MOSI at least three days a week, and online at the MOSI Outside blog.

The BioWorks Flight Encounter at MOSI, where I spend much time with sweat in my eyes and hands full of caterpillars.

After endless prodding from friends, I decided to join Facebook a few years ago, and it turns out that it was one of the greatest things I ever did. (And I don't even play Farmville!) One of the magazines I was following, Birds & Blooms, put out a request for "regional reporters" to turn in bi-monthly updates to be featured in the magazine. Eventually, this expanded into the opportunity to blog for them several times a week, and I recently had my first by-line in the magazine. (Look for "Diary of a Monarch" by Jill Staake, in the September issue of Birds & Blooms Extra! Coming soon to a news stand near you!) I've taken on some other responsibilities for them too, especially in social media, and now spend a good chunk of my time writing about birds, blooms, and butterflies - for pay!

Hey, that's my name! Check out the blog by clicking here.

I'm extremely proud of the career I've managed to create for myself over the last few years. The pay isn't the best, but the work is something I feel passionate about. I'm allowed to be creative, to dig in the dirt, to photograph butterflies and birds, and to share my knowledge with others. I've had the chance to travel for Birds & Blooms, and to make interesting contacts around the Tampa area and beyond.

Of course, this is all keeping me very busy. And when too much is happening at once, something's gotta give. In my case, it was My Florida Backyard. It's been harder and harder to find time to write posts for it, when other writing jobs (the kind with paychecks attached) are awaiting my attention. So days slipped into weeks, which slipped into months, which brings us to now.

I thought about calling it quits on this blog, and just leaving it up as a resource for others. After all, I send my mom pictures from my phone all the time, and my Birds & Blooms blog posts are frequently about things going on in my yard. Why not just let this particular blog's activity come to an end?

But I find I'm not quite ready to do that. I think that occasionally, I'll find topics that are very specific to Florida backyards, ones that I really want to write about but that only a very few people might care to read about. I love writing for B&B, but their audience isn't always the right fit for more technical posts, or for those about very specific regional species. And in those cases, for the right special people, I want My Florida Backyard to remain active.

How else can I justify posting yet more photos of white peacocks?

So you may not see a lot of new posts from this site going forward. But I hope you'll join me in several other places around the web, to see what's going on here and what I'm up to in general. And I hope you'll continue to subscribe, or leave me in your RSS feed, or just check back every once in awhile, because plenty of amazing things still happen in My Florida Backyard, and from time to time, I'll be sure to let you in on some of them.

Find Me on the Web (look for the posts by Jill):

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fly Like an Eagle (Reprise)

Our eagles have been back again! This time, one of them snagged an enormous fish out of the lake and landed in the neighbor's backyard across the water to subdue it before flying off with it.

Check out the size of the talons on this bird - this picture is overly-zoomed and a little pixelated, but you can really see the power these eagles pack in their feet.

Bald Eagles will eat a lot of things, including roadkill, but they do love a good fish. About they only thing they love more than catching a good fish is stealing one from another bird. In fact, although these birds are mighty hunters, swooping down to catch prey in those enormous talons, they'd rather snatch a fish that someone else has already caught. They're frequently seen grabbing the catch of smaller ospreys right out of the sky. I didn't see if this one did its own fishing, but I can say that the fish in our lake are nesting in the shallow waters at the edge right now, and they would be easy pickings for a bird of this size.

Once this eagle was quite sure the fish was dead, it headed off carrying the fish in its talons, perhaps to share it with a mate. It also may eat the fish all on its own, and then not need to eat again for a few days.

Once again, we can't help but be amazed at the size of that fish. Remember that although Bald Eagles are very big, they don't weigh very much - the largest are about 13 pounds, even with a 6.5 foot wingspan. (Birds have hollow bones to make flight easier.) That fish probably weighed at least half as much as the eagle, but the eagle carried it easily, without a bit of a struggle once the fish was dead. The raw power of these creatures is astonishing.

We're really enjoying the eagle sightings in My Florida Backyard, and hope to continue to have more to share in the days to come!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Springtime Snapshot

Whether you're celebrating Easter today or just enjoying spring, we hope your day is as lovely as ours here in My Florida Backyard!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Roll Out the Barrel

Now that we've finally tamed the backyard again, we decided it needed a little color. Since we just finished laying new landscape paper to block the weeds, we didn't want to cut through it and give the suckers a chance to grow again. Instead, we added some half-barrel planters to the yard.

The original plan was to buy wooden whiskey barrels, but I went to the store by myself to get them, and wow - those things are heavy! So, I found these lightweight resin ones instead. They may not last more than few years, but they were much easier to move. I drilled a few holes in the bottom for better drainage first, and then added some organic potting soil.

Then came the fun part - adding the plants! I had picked up a bunch of calibrachoa and petunias on the Lowe's clearance racks a few weeks ago and hand't yet decided what to do with them. I wound up mixing them with some Agastache rupestris, sometimes called Rose Mint Hyssop, making for containers full of butterfly attractants.

Calibrachoa 'Coralberry Punch'

Petunia and Calibrachoa 'Coralberry Punch'

Plants in containers may require a little extra water, but fortunately we had some nice rains last weekend to fill up the rain barrel. This color and plant combination should be irresistible to butterflies now that our Florida weather has finally returned (what's up with 40-degree nights at the end of March, anyway?). These barrels give My Florida Backyard just the kick of color it needs to welcome spring!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fly Like An Eagle

So the other day, I came home from work to find this in the pine trees outside:

The picture is terrible, because I had to grab it through the back porch screen before they flew off. Still, who cares? There were TWO bald eagles sitting in My Florida Backyard!

Once I made it out into the backyard with the camera, they spooked pretty quickly and flew off. One landed a way off across the lake, and I was able to zoom in and grab a few more mediocre shots.

Could this be a mated pair, nesting in the area? We've seen bald eagles in our neighborhood before, and Florida does have one of the largest nesting bald eagle populations in the country (second only to Alaska and Chesapeake Bay, in fact).

But, note the dark "smudges" on this eagle's head and the edges of its tail. These are signs of an eagle that's not fully mature, which takes up to five years for this species. This is most likely a fourth-year eagle, and therefore is unlikely to have been part of a nesting pair.

It's really wonderful to see these representatives of America's healthy bald eagle population. There aren't a lot of conservation success stories out there, but this is certainly one of them. Having bald eagles in My Florida Backyard is a reminder that every little thing we do to help the environment can have a big impact, and it's always worth the effort.