Friday, December 23, 2011

Do You See What I See?

How many birds do you see in this picture? We see 9, with 4 different species represented...

... 3 limpkins, 2 mallards, 2 muscovy ducs, and 2 ibises. Did we miss any?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Open Up

'Tis the season for amaryllis bulbs! They're incredibly popular (if misnamed - they're really hippeastrum) at Christmas, since these bulbs are prepped by the growers so they will begin to bloom just a few weeks after the recipient receives them. We bought a new one around Thanksgiving - Hippeastrum papilio, Butterfly Amaryllis. It started sending up a flower stalk almost immediately after being planted, and started to open this weekend.

We watched it eagerly, waiting for the spectacular blooms to appear. This hippeastrum is very popular because of its unusual coloration, a lime green color shot through with deep red. And the bloom doesn't disappoint. In fact, even thought its not quite done opening, we just couldn't wait to share it with you.

The bulb is already sending up a second flower stalk, and beginning to produce leaves as well. When it's done flowering, we'll probably move it outside to a partly shaded spot and let it return to its natural blooming cycle. In this climate, hippeastrum tends to bloom in late February or early March, so it will probably be about 14 months before we see the bloom again.

We think it will be worth the wait. Hippeastrum bulbs can be expensive - this one was $15 - but they're truly investments if you care for them properly. In a few years, this bulb will begin to produce baby offshoots, and over time we may have dozens of these beauties in My Florida Backyard. That's worth the money, in our eyes!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mouths to Feed

Summer is a slow time at the bird feeders in My Florida Backyard. Many birds change their diets in the summer to focus on the insects that are available in abundance; insects offer high amounts of protein and that's what nesting birds and juveniles need in the summer. When cooler weather arrives, insects are a little more sparse (not that it necessarily feels that way on a mosquito-filled evening) and some birds will drop by feeders for seeds instead. We have two common feeder visitors in My Florida Backyard - northern cardinals and tufted titmice, like the ones shown below.

The titmice are especially fun to watch, as they crack each seed delicately, holding it between their feet and using their beaks to get at the goodness inside. Experiments have shown that titmice will make an especial effort to select the largest seed available, and are also known to take cracked seeds off to store in a separate location for later.

Tufted titmice always seem especially colorful in the fall, most likely because they have one yearly molt sometime in August and are still flaunting their rust-colored and clean white breast feathers. Many birds have a spring molt to prepare for mating and nesting season, but tufted titmice do not.

We'd like to attract some additional feeder birds to My Florida Backyard, but haven't had much luck except for the aforementioned cardinals, mourning doves (in droves), and the occasional woodpecker (though never at the suet feeder - that seems to go untouched). Do you live in Central Florida and have any feeder tips for us? We'd love to know if anyone has any luck drawing finches with a thistle feeder when they're down here for the winter, or any other advice you can offer!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Natural Blues

As you may know, we can't really get enough salvia in My Florida Backyard. We love discovering a new species to add to the collection, so when we found Bi-color Sage (Salvia sinaloensis) a few months ago, we knew we needed it. We bought two and planted them, but before we could get any pictures, they stopped blooming. Last week's rain seems to have brought them back, though, and flower spikes have started to appear again.

This salvia is native to Mexico, as indicated by the botanical name - sinaloensis refers to the Sinaloa district of Mexico where the plant was first identified. The common name refers to the two colors of the blooms, blue with white centers.

The blooms spikes are gorgeous, but the foliage has a lot going for it too. It forms a nice low-growing mat of green and bronze leaves, making great ground-cover. Bicolor sage can be grown in full sun to part shade, and is said to be hardy all the way down to zero degrees, so we expect it to do quite well here even if we have a frost or two.

Nearly all salvias are wonderful in the butterfly garden as nectar plants (with Salvia splendens being a notable exception), so we can never have too much. Easy to grow, easy to love... those are the kinds of plants we love in My Florida Backyard!