Sunday, June 28, 2009

Look For Small Pleasures

I've been trying for days to capture a decent picture of this tiny butterfly who loves to visit our butterfly garden. Finally - success!

This little guy is maybe about an inch and a half across. It's a White Peacock, a common species in Florida, and is smaller and darker in color during the summer's wet season.

One of the things I love best about this species is that you don't really notice the beautiful coloration until it lands and allows you to get a good look. In the air, this just looks like a white blur. But once it lands, you can see the fine detail.

I'd added these and other shots to my Butterfly Gallery on Flickr. We love summertime in the butterfly garden in My Florida Backyard!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Little Bitty

As the hot days of summer approached, the screen of our back porch seemed to be the hot lizard pick-up spot. If I had kids, I guess I'd have spent a lot of time saying, "Well, when a mommy lizard and a daddy lizard love each other very much..."

At any rate, it's clear the lizards went forth and multiplied. Today, when I came in from the store, I realized a tiny little lizard had come in with me. After living here several years, we've come to accept that lizards will occasionally get into your house in Florida. However, we don't really like the idea of waking up to find a lizard curled up on the pillow next to us, and besides, the cats consider lizards to be the ultimate plaything. So, we always catch them immediately and set them free outside.

This little guy was so cute, though, I had to snap a few pictures first. He was barely an inch long, with another inch worth of tail, and very eager to get as far away from me as possible. Still, I managed to catch him in the lizard-catching cup (yup, we have a cup specific to that purpose - an old plastic souvenir cup from the Toledo Mud Hens) and then grab the camera.

Check out how big his head is! Well, anyway, I set him free in My Florida Backyard, and hopefully he'll stay outside where he belongs!

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Too Darn Hot

Summer heat in Florida is pretty much a given, but the last five days or so have been hot, even for us. Daily highs in the upper 90s, with very high humidity and non-stop sunshine, have been giving us a heat index each day of 105 or more.

We can't do much more than stay out of the sun and run the AC nonstop (and dread the upcoming electric bill!). The weeds are running amok in my gardens and the hardiest plants are suffering in the hot afternoon sun.

The butterflyweed on the left is drooping under the sun at midday today, when the heat index was about 107 degrees. The same plant is on the right around 8:00 this evening, when the temperature had dropped back to the mid-80s and the sun was setting. The good thing about such a drought-hardy plant is that it's been able survive this insane heat without any supplemental watering.

Despite the heat, I was able to get out this weekend and replace my snowbush, now completely destroyed by caterpillars, as you can see on the left. I took a ride over to Wilcox Nursery in Largo, which is always worth the 45 minute trip. I consider this nursery to be the best place in the Tampa area for native plants, and as usual, I wasn't disappointed.

Our new butterfly garden resident is a wild coffee plant, specifically the Dwarf Shiny Leaf Coffee. This Florida native has the awesome scientific name Psychotria nervosa and grows best in part sun to shade, so the northeast corner where I've planted it should be perfect.

It has tiny white flowers in the spring and summer, followed by little red berries that resemble coffee beans (but aren't). It is supposed to be attractive to both butterflies and birds. We'll see what new visitors it might bring to My Florida Backyard.

In the meantime, the weather is supposed to shift back to more "normal" temps later this week, with highs around 90 and a 50% chance of rain each day. Strange as it sounds - I can't wait!

Monday, June 15, 2009

What's Going On

It's been a hot and dry week in My Florida Backyard, with nothing really unusual going on. A few items of note:

A local muscovy mamma has some babies. Each time I see her, she has fewer babies than she did before, but of course I can't resist catching some pics of the fluffball babies.

Although I'm trying not to get attached this time around, baby ducks are darn photogenic. If you want to see more, check out my new Duckling Gallery on Flickr.

While I was snapping these pics (and getting a fire ant bite in the process - when will I learn?), these white ibis wandered by. No one really seemed to mind.

Also, we noticed this weekend that, as we expected, the snowbush caterpillars have done their work on the snowbush in the butterfly garden. It's been basically stripped to the bone (twig?) and the remaining caterpillars are eating anything they can get their hands (legs?) on.

This non-native bush is about done for, and that's OK. I plan to replace it with a native butterfly plant - what will I choose? In the meantime, we seem to have created our own small white-tipped black moth colony as the caterpillars morph into their final state - I see literally dozens in the air each day.

And that's what's been going on in My Florida Backyard lately. We look forward to some rain returning soon!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let It Begin With Me

This evening I had the pleasure of taking part in the inaugural meeting of the Greenbrook/Brightside Adopt-A-Pond project. A small but enthusiastic group of residents from the neighborhood met with a stormwater ecologist to learn a little about our lake and what we can do to make it even better.

We learned that our pond is part of two local watersheds, Sweetwater Creek and Rocky Brushy Creek. It's a stormwater drainage pond, which means that it's mainly fed by stormwater runoff. Stormwater ponds serve several purposes, including helping to manage water and avoid flooding nearby houses, as well as filtering out pollutants and trash before it can reach the waters of Tampa Bay.

Because we live on a stormwater pond, there are a lot of rules and regulations we'll have to follow as we begin cleanup and planting. Fortunately, we'll have the assistance of the Hillsborough County Adpot-A-Pond program as we begin our project. They'll help us plan what will be best for the pond and our community, as well as provide us with free plants (how cool is that?). In return, we as residents will provide the labor and enthusiasm needed to make the project work.

We're so excited to be part of this project. The Adopt-A-Pond website shows other ponds throughout the county that have been adopted and improved - it's incredible! Our Florida-Friendly mindset fits in perfectly with this program, and it's amazing to imagine what other kinds of wildlife we may be able to bring to our little piece of Florida.

If you live in the neighborhood and would like to get involved, send an email to Paula at The next step will be an education meeting where we make plans, followed by the actual work of cleaning up and planting our pond. Join us as we make the pond in My Florida Backyard a better place for all of us!

P.S. I spotted a new batch of ducklings walking home from the meeting this evening. After my rather depressing experience earlier this spring, I'm not going to get too attached this time, but they are darn cute.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Madame Butterfly

When a rumble of thunder startled me into running outside to bring sheets in off the clothesline this afternoon, I wasn't even thinking about butterflies. A few minutes later, though, the sight of this new visitor sent me flying inside for the camera.

This is the first time I've captured pictures of a female Eastern Black Swallowtail in our butterfly garden. Don't you just love the polka-dotted body?

I've added these and other pictures to my Butterfly Gallery on Flickr. Check them out!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?

Here in My Florida Backyard, one of our favorite things about finding a new visitor is determining just what that visitor might be. We know all the wading birds by sight, but new song birds and migrating water birds send us running for the Sibley Guide to Birds. Each new butterfly prompts a frantic search through Florida's Fabulous Butterflies & Moths. Our National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida is a constant companion at home and abroad, and we treasure our copy of the out-of-print Florida: Ecotravellers Wildlife Guide.

But every once in awhile something comes along that stumps us, and quite frankly - that drives us crazy! While out mowing the lawn this morning (with the reel mower, of course!), we discovered this little guy:

He was just hanging out in the little bit of grass we have in our front yard, and jumped out of the way as the mower approached. He was about an inch long, and due to his bumpy rather than smooth skin, I assumed he must be a kind of toad. Out came Florida's Fabulous Reptiles & Amphibians. Then the Ecotravellers Guide and the Audubon Guide. Then there was an exhaustive web search.

Ultimately, we decided - we just don't know. He could be a small Southern Toad, but it doesn't seem to quite match the pictures we saw. He somewhat resembles the invasive Marine Toad (also known as the Cane or Giant Toad), but he's far too small, unless he's a baby.

Whatever he is (and we will find out!), I was glad to see him. Frogs and toads are indicators of a healthy ecosystem (unless it's that darn invasive cane toad) and I'm happy to have them around. We even have a few "toad houses" scattered around the property:

These are very easy to make, although you can buy them ready-made and whimsical if you prefer. These provide shelter for toads from the hot sun and from predators.

So, I'm glad to find amphibians hanging around My Florida Backyard (well, front yard, but you get the point). Now if I could just figure out what the heck this little one is!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Inch Worm

For several weeks now, I've been trying to identify a tiny black butterfly that visits frequently. It eluded every attempt to photograph it, until this weekend, when I was finally able to snap this pretty unsatisfactory picture:

The picture, blurry and taken through the screen, was at least enough to confirm my initial impressions - black with white wing tips and orange on its body. I set off looking through butterfly books, and websites, and every resource I could come up with, to identify this fine fellow. No dice.

Ultimately, I wound up at and worked my way through several pages of pictures before finally identifying the mystery guest. Turns out it's not a butterfly - it's a white-tipped black moth. It's unusual because it's a day-flying moth, and that's probably why I had so darn much trouble identifying it.

A little more research told me that earlier in its lifetime, my white-tipped black moth was a snowbush caterpillar. "Hey!" I thought. "I have a snowbush in the butterfly garden!" So I headed out this afternoon to see if I have any caterpillars.

Turns out my snowbush is pretty much covered in these little guys. For a fun game, click the picture below to enlarge it and see how many caterpillars you can count.

They're pretty cute little guys, if you like caterpillars. They're almost hard to get good pictures of, because they're so busy inching their way along the branches!

My guess is it's very possible these guys will completely defoliate and possibly even kill the snowbush, based on articles I've come across on the internet. I'm OK with that though - turns out this is a non-native that I planted before I had fully done my butterfly garden research. Besides, the purpose of a butterfly garden is to provide food for both caterpillars and butterflies; I generally expect the plants in this garden to look a little ragged.

We'll see what happens to the snowbush in the coming months. In the meantime, I'm pleased to have a new creature to watch in My Florida Backyard!