Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Are You?

UPDATE: I posted this to the Tampa Audubon Society Facebook page and received this helpful response from David Bowman:
"Female or young Pine Warbler. Not all Pine Warblers are as bright yellow as the adult male you have in the comparison picture. Palm Warblers would have a noticable eye stripe, rufous crown , and yellow rump."

This is our first documented Pine Warbler in My Florida Backyard!

Original Post:
Calling all birders! I need help with an ID, please.

I was looking back at a post from earlier this year, and one of the bird photos I posted caught my eye. I had initially labelled it a Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), but at a second look, the yellow head is making me question myself. I'm wondering if instead this could be a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus). Muted winter coloration always makes identification more difficult, and this isn't the best picture, but if you have an opinion to offer, I'd love to hear it. This photo was taken in Tampa, FL in late October, 2012.

My Photo:

A Photo of a Pine Warbler:
(Photo credit: Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Right Where I Belong

Last Tuesday, I teased you with some mystery flowers in my Home Depot shopping cart. I certainly didn't intend for it to take a week for me to get back to you with the answer, but isn't it funny how life just gets away from you? Work, errands, holiday planning, more work... well, anyway, I finally found time to plant my precious flowers and now I proudly present to you my very favorite Florida native wildflower: Tampa Mock Vervain (Glandularia tampensis)!

Not every town has a flower named after it, but Tampa does, and it's a lovely one at that. Endemic to just a handful of counties along the western coast of Florida, Tampa Mock Vervain is endangered mostly due to habitat loss. Fortunately, it's generally available at Bay area Home Depot stores this time of year, as well as at just about any local native plant nursery. It will bloom happily until the hot summer hits around June, so now is the time to plant it. (Learn more about Tampa Mock Vervain in this post from last year.)

It's been extraordinarily dry here for the last six weeks or so, with virtually no rain and none in the forecast either.  Although Tampa Vervain is drought-tolerant, it will flower best with regular water, so I decided to plant mine in containers this year. That way, I have more control over the watering and can effectively use what's left in our rain barrel before resorting to the hose. I found these little rock planters on clearance at the end of the summer and have been looking for a good chance to use them, so this is perfect timing!

So why do I love Tampa Vervain so much? Aside from the glorious purple flower clusters (I can never capture the color just right with my camera) and the fact that planting it helps support an endangered species named for the city where I live? Well, the answer to that is easy...

Butterflies love it! Really, there's no downside to this plant. It deserves a place in every cool-season butterfly garden in Central Florida... and My Florida Backyard is happy to have it once again!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Trivia: What's In My Cart?

I took a break from a marathon Christmas shopping trip this afternoon to see what was new at my local Home Depot nursery. I wasn't going to buy anything (I swear!), until I spotted a sea of light purple from afar and went running over to see if it could possibly be what I thought it was. And it was! I quickly loaded the cart:

Know what it is? It's my favorite Florida native wildflower, and this is the time of year when you can find it for sale. If you can't ID it, come back this weekend when I'll be posting about planting it and a few other things! Happy guessing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Bloom

We've finally replanted the butterfly garden, and although it still really needs a new layer of mulch, at least the plants are in and doing well.

The key to a good butterfly garden is including both host plants and nectar plants. For the nectar plants, using different colors and heights is also effective, and grouping plants together in clusters of colors gives a nice aesthetic and the bugs seem to like it too. To perk up the garden for the cooler months, here are the plants we added:

Pentas lanceolata in red...

and pink.

Lavendula pinnata

And of course, plenty of milkweed, both red and yellow flowering.

It's nice to have a backyard full of color again, and on warm afternoons the butterflies are definitely enjoying it. It's good to be getting My Florida Backyard back into the swing of things again!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Affair of the Necklace

We're just about done cleaning out the weeds of summer from My Florida Backyard. The butterfly garden has been replanted (more on that soon), and in other areas we've found thing weren't as bad as we feared. We've even found a few plants we forgot we had, like this Necklacepod (Sophora tomentosa var. truncata).

It's a Florida native we found last year and tucked away in a corner of the garden. It must have bloomed this summer, since we found some of the fun seed pods that give the plant its name. We're sad that we missed it, since the photos of the flowers we found on the internet are really cool. The pods are fun too, though.

This plant is actually a shrub that can grow up to 10 feet or so. It's native to Florida, and grows in zones 9 - 11. It's salt-tolerant and can often be found near or on the coast. There is a non-native species, Sophora tomentosa var. occidentalis, which has much fuzzier, silvery leaves and is native to the West Indies, so if you're seeking this plant out at a native plant nursery, make sure they're selling you the correct type.

Next year we hope to catch this plant when it's blooming, since the flowers are said to be great for butterflies. In the meantime, we're just glad we managed to find it again here in My Florida Backyard.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back in the Game

The air is fresh and clean, the sky is clear and blue, and it's time to venture out into My Florida Backyard again! So far, all we've done is pull some weeds, but it's made enough of a difference that we can finally admire the autumn splendor of Muhly Grass and Winter Cassia.


Much better than when I did my last post, right? There's still a lot of work to be done, but it's nice enough that we can spend a little time out there without feeling sad and a little embarrassed. And just in time, too, since migrating birds like these little Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) are starting to make their way back south for the winter.

And pulling weeds does reveal the occasional surviving gem, like the tiny delicate blooms of Georgia Calamint (Calamintha georgiana), still hanging on in one corner of the butterfly garden.

So there's a lot to look forward to in the months ahead. And as soon as this wind leftover from Crazy Storm Sandy (as I've started calling it) dies down a little...

... it'll be time to get busy in the gardens again. First up, hopefully this weekend, is the butterfly garden. Just look at all the room we have for new plants! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'm Livin' in Shame

So I have to admit something, and it's something that's pretty embarrassing. So embarrassing that it's kept me from writing a new post in well over a month. But I think it's time to get this off my chest, get it out in the open and start figuring out a way to deal with it. So, are you ready? Here it is:

We seem to have lost My Florida Backyard.

Summer invaded, and this year, we let it win. The invaders, led by the Spanish (Needle) have completely taken over, and we just haven't had the energy or enthusiasm to do anything about it.

It started out slowly, but quickly picked up speed once August hit. See, the problem is, I actually work as a gardener. Once you're forced to spend hours a day out in the hot sun pulling weeds for a paycheck, it's suddenly just not as much fun to maintain your own garden, especially during the horrible hot days of a Florida summer.

It makes me incredibly sad, so sad that I have only been in the backyard about three times over the last month. I just can't stand to see it this way, but I can't seem to find the energy to go out and get sweaty and dirty on my precious days off. So, the garden has disappeared into a horrid mess of weeds and overgrowth.

But while we're feeling pretty overwhelmed right now, we haven't given up hope. We definitely plan to rescue My Florida Backyard, just as soon as some pleasant fall days arrive. In a lot of ways, it will be fun. There are certain places where we pretty much have to start from the ground up, and we can choose new plants and create new garden themes and all kinds of fun stuff. We just want to do it when the sun isn't quite so hot, and the humidity isn't quite so high, and the mosquitoes aren't quite so savage. But My Florida Backyard will certainly rise again.

Because the wildlife is still there, and we still love it. So we'll be back in action again when Florida's great fall and winter weather starts to kick in. That's a promise. Until then, you won't hear much from us, most likely. But be sure to hang around and come back once things get going... because someday soon My Florida Backyard will be better than ever!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beautiful Surprise

After seeing them in another garden, I knew My Florida Backyard needed Gloriosa Lilies (Gloriosa superba), so I ordered some from an end-of-season sale at American Meadows in late spring. Gloriosa Lilies grow from tubers, and we received and planted three. Two of them have grown and done well, though we've had an interesting surprise from the blooms.

One of the tubers produced the expected fiery red blooms accented with yellow, exploding in the fantastical upside-down bloom shape so unusual in a flower.

Amazing as these flowers are, we were actually more astonished by the flowers from the other root. While Gloriosa Lily flowers start pale in color and deepen to red as they open, these flowers stayed pale, taking on only a dark pink hue as they aged. This happened with every bloom from that tuber, so it wasn't a one-time thing.

We can't really find any other descriptions of this on the web, so we're not sure if this is a common mutation or not. It's certainly not something we've ever seen before. If you know any more about this unusual Gloriosa Lily bloom, please do drop us a line in the comments. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer of Roses

A blooming rose in Florida's summer heat that's not a Knockout Rose? That's why we love Belinda's Dream. Given enough rain (something that hasn't been much of an issue lately), it will bloom pretty much 12 months a year. It doesn't suffer from disease or fungus either. And the pink blooms are even prettier than these photos show.

My Florida Backyard is in the middle of the summer doldrums, where we start to lose sight of the flowers due to the weeds. It's nice to have a bloom like Belinda's Dream to distract us from the jungle!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's My Name?

A year ago, we would have told you that this little water bird that's recently started making appearances in My Florida Backyard was known as the Common Moorhen (Gallinula cholorpus). In July 2011, though, the American Ornithologists' Union voted to split the American population of the bird into its own separate species, the Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata). And so that's how we introduce it to you today.

The Common Gallinule and its relative, the Common Moorhen, are the most commonly seen members of the Rail family (Rallidae) around much of the world. Here in the U.S., it's found year-round in the south, including Florida, and spreads throughout the eastern half of the country in the summer breeding season. The red face patch and bill tipped with yellow make it easily identifiable. NOTE: Despite the new name, don't confuse the Common Gallinule with its arguably more gorgeous relative, the Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)

It's a small bird, compared to companion ducks and other water birds, as you can see below when compared with female mallards. It eats mostly vegetation, but supplements its diet with small snails it finds among the floating leaves. It has very cool feet, with extremely long toes, and despite the lack of webbing, it's an excellent swimmer. Click here to see a photo of Common Gallinule feet.

You might be wondering, who gets to decide what to call a bird, and how do they make that decision? Well, according to its website, the American Ornithologists' Union is "one of the oldest organizations in the world dedicated to the scientific study of birds". As such, it commands a great deal of respect from ornithologists worldwide, and the research it sponsors and produces greatly increases our understanding of the bird world. In a nutshell, if these folks say the American gallinules are a different species than those found in other parts of the world, then there's an awfully good chance they are.

Science is a search for answers, and what we think we know today can be turned on its head tomorrow. So we're willing to be fluid with the names and classifications of plants and animals as new discoveries are made. After all, none of that takes away from the delight of watching these creatures as they pass through My Florida Backyard, and in the end, that's what matters most to us.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Born on the Fourth of July

In the sweltering heat of this sultry Independence Day, we managed to get some very good pictures of a Zebra Longwing butterfly ovipositing, or laying eggs, on our passionvine.

A close-up of the eggs reveals the ridges and pointed oval shape. This egg shape is common to the three heliconian species (Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary, and Julia Longwing) that lay on passionvine, though the colors and laying habits differ among species.

In the photo below, note the butterfly's proboscis - it's completely covered in pollen. Zebra Longwings are among the very few species of butterflies that can digest pollen in addition to nectar. (They digest it externally, on their proboscis.) The extra energy from this pollen protein extends their lifespan dramatically - most butterflies live about two weeks as adults, but Zebra Longwings can live as long as six to nine months. As I tell kids at the museum where I work, imagine if you only drank soda all day long - how long would you live? Then imagine adding daily steak to your diet - now you have the extra nutrients you need to live a much longer life.

Zebra Longwings seem to be a fairly permanent fixture in My Florida Backyard these days, for the first time since we moved in nearly five years ago. It's fun to have Florida's State Butterfly hanging around as we celebrate our national holiday!