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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Faces

This has been an interesting winter on the lake in My Florida Backyard. Perhaps because of a lot of new vegetative growth in the lake itself (we believe most of it is the very invasive hydrilla, but it's not something we have any control over as the lake belongs to the HOA), we have seen winter visitors we've never noticed before. Our wintering water fowl have always included Lesser Scaup and Ring-Necked Ducks, but in recent months we've also noticed Blue Winged Teal and American Coots. And this past weekend, we documented another Florida winter bird that was new to us - the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata).

We first noticed this pair while watching the more usual mallards on the lake, but quickly noticed something different. The bills of these birds are simply massive, and have a very obvious shovel shape. A quick web search for "duck shovel bill" gave us our answer, and the information that this bird is extremely common in the US. It winters here in the South, migrating north to its breeding grounds in the Northwest US and Canada.

The glossy green head of the male and obvious large bill make it easy to identify this bird. Interestingly, several of our birding guides note that this bird is more of a forager and is less likely to upend itself, instead feeding by swimming along with its head underwater. Our experience has been quite different, as these birds spend at least half their time with their hind ends up in the air looking for food (placing themselves squarely in the category we here in My Florida Backyard call "butt ducks"). This does give you a nice chance to notice the blue and green feathers that hide underneath their wings.

The guides also note that this species is monogamous, so the pair that's been in our pond all weekend are probably a mated pair getting ready to head north for the summer. We're not sure exactly why more species of migrating waterfowl are choosing the lake in My Florida Backyard this winter, but one thing's for sure - we're not complaining!