Peeping Ringneck Dove

In South Florida, I have often said, we live closer to wildlife than I did in Philadelphia.

That isn’t to say we didn’t have wildlife in Philadelphia, and I don’t mean the two legged variety.  I once had a deer in my backyard, roughly a solid mile from the park, but that is another story entirely.

Behind my house is an arbor.  It’s made of some large poles and holds up the bougainvillea and the Spanish Moss that grows there.  That is to say there is a massive bougainvillea that forms a privacy curtain along the back window of the Florida room, and you can’t get through it because you would be shredded by the thorns that grow on the plant.

Bougainvillea are beautiful, but nasty plants.  Every time I work with the plant I get stuck by those blasted thorns.

Every.
Single.
Time.

Wrap yourself in Kevlar Body Armor and it won’t matter.   You will get stuck.

I suppose that is the attraction of the bloody stuff.  Literally bloody, that is.  The thorns create a micro-climate safe from things that might “Getcha”.

Every so often I look out the window and I see things looking back at me.

My frog hotel is at the top of the window.  Two little boxes, an inch deep, two long, 4 wide.  Just big enough for a frog to smack against the glass and hide for the daytime until it is time to go out at night and hunt for insects.

Tasty, tasty insects.   Mmmmm.

I’ve seen a four foot long green iguana looking back at me with a mouthfull of bougainvillea leaves.  I wouldn’t mind but those nasty iguanas don’t share.  I stood up to get a better view and off it ran into the neighbor’s yard.

Evil things.

This was more benign.  A Rock Dove.  Perhaps you call them Ringneck Doves.  I go between the names.  They’re quite common, quite harmless.   I simply did not expect to see the thing looking at me and watching me as I go through my normal daily routine.

So why not… I got a couple pictures of it.  Then it got frightened due to my attention and flew off into the window.

They’re not bright.  Birdbrained might be a better description.

They’re all over the area here.  Might be the teenagers of the avian world with their call of “Meh” whenever you hear them.  Harmless creatures, whatever they eat they’re welcome to since I know they don’t destroy my plants.

One of them a while back made a friend in my parrot, Oscar.  It would fly over to the cage when I had Oscar in the Florida Room near the window.  I would hear Oscar talking to the bird, saying Hello! to it, trying to convince it to talk back, and the Dove true to form would just say “Meh” back.

I am guessing that this could be some sort of revisited curiosity, although it might be misdirected.  Oscar got moved back into the core of the house to keep him comfortable when the weather changed from warm to cold, or vice versa.  I can’t really remember which.  I don’t have that large a house, so he squats in the middle of it making rude noises at us and glowers while that peeping dove tries to get his attention.

I should move him back out there, but I’m lazy.

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Green Lizard, Green Wall, Green Tree

We had just had a rather excellent pizza.

That in itself is the exception and not the rule here since most pizzas will get it close, but not right.

Add to that that I have almost always gotten what they call “Counter Pies” and individual slices.  That means they made the pie, then slice off a slab and re-heat it before serving.  It gives a crispier crust, and that is what I expect.  If the crust won’t stand on its own and droops when you go to eat it, it wasn’t right.

We had discussed the ongoing things in town, our own lives, and the rest of whatever came to mind, and waddled out of the place.  I had three slices that would serve as a meal and a half later when needed.

Chatting our way East, or North depending on your point of view, on Wilton Drive, I was stopped, abruptly.

Hey look!

At what, there’s a lot to look at.

The Lizard!

I thought: There are a lot of lizards here in town, we’re used to them.  They amuse me but…

Which Lizard, it’s got to be…

That one over there, it’s different.  It’s GREEN!

I could hear the stressing of the color in capitals in his voice.  Kevin isn’t prone to doing that.

I hope it isn’t another damn iguana.

I saw it, not so much for what it may or may not have been, but for the studies of color that it presented.  Green Lizards here seem to be either Iguanas, or Carolina Anole Lizards.  The Carolinas are much more rare.  The Iguanas are an invasive pest that turn my plants into a salad and give nothing back.

These Carolinas were more common until the Browns or Cuban Browns moved in and pushed them up into the trees.  They are so rare that when I see a green lizard, I stop and take notice since they seem out of place.

Here was this critter, holding onto the wall around 5 feet above the ground, in clear view of The Drive.  I guess that The Gables have created a micro climate for this comparative rarity to do well enough that it felt the need to go exploring on the busier side of the building, right behind the screw palm.

Knowing that I had my camera with me, Kevin pointed it out.  Once I stopped being confused, I started taking pictures.   The little creature kept me in view the entire time and watched to make sure I didn’t get too close.  Having a proper optical zoom is important, you can stand 10 feet away and zoom in tight.  Thankfully the Automatic Focus on the camera didn’t foul up all the shots.  As much as I like Screw Palms, I would prefer not to have a collection of a dozen or so perfect pictures of a plant with a fuzzy lizard out of focus in the back.

Even after living here for 8 years, I am still amused by the lizards here.   I never saw them in South Jersey, and while some people around me insisted that we could find newts and salamanders around, you couldn’t prove it by me.

Now, I go out into the yard and have to be careful or else I may step on a lizard.  Discovering one on my ceilings is a monthly event.

Best way to deal with that is “Catch and Release” and let the little thing go do what it’s supposed to – collect insects that may try to get in my house.  After all, this isn’t a big city apartment.  In some places people will get lizards, typically geckos, and simply let them roam free in their house.  If that house is an apartment building, it’s an effective way to get rid of roaches.

Just leave a little water out and they’ll do fine.

Since we don’t have roaches, but merely the occasional termite, moth, or black racer snake, we tend to relocate lizards outside and we do so gently.  After all, I’m entertained so I may as well treat them right.

Iguana On The Deck

If you are in South Florida near fresh water, eventually you will see one of these beasts.

They don’t belong.  Green Iguanas are an invasive species here.  They’re a destructive pest that is disrupting the environment for those creatures that actually do belong here.

It doesn’t mean that they can’t be entertaining.

It probably means that the winter didn’t get cold enough to kill the things off.

I described that process as the Iguana Rain before – it gets below 45F and they’re stunned by the cold.  Their metabolism slows down and their muscles let go.  Then they will fall from the trees.

Mind you, it’s not a gentle fall, but one that most survive.

The people in Trinidad and Tobago swear by Curried Iguana Tail, and they are welcome to the creatures.

All these thoughts went through my head.  I was sitting in the window seat indoors at the Indian restaurant.  There is this little river or canal that is behind the place on Griffin road.  The small development on the other side of the little river had people to watch.  Kevin went off to answer an emergency call, and I continued dining on savory-not-spicy Indian food made for a British and American palate. 

Not A Wall Of Heat Indian food is a treat.

I speared a little dough ball that tasted richly of honey and butter.  Looking out the window I got the picture taken of this green beast going about its life.  Adolescent four foot long lizard eating bugs that were in the sun.  Harmless where it was.

I was alone at the moment.  I spotted Kevin conducting his business from the parking lot.  He was chatting with someone who had left his phone at home.  The person who was to rescue the phone left it on the roof of the car and drove off.  Too much drama for my tastes, I keep my toys intact.

While the feeding went on both inside and outside, I spotted another Iguana across the river on a tree branch.  We do live around a lot more wildlife here in the middle of the South Florida Sprawl than you might expect.  Toads, Iguanas, Boa Constrictors, and native species are all over the place.  A Road Pizza could be any of those and more.

Looking at the tree I noticed a stray parrot in the sun, squawking at the lizard.  It is better in the trees, but it too didn’t belong.  Yet another great great grandchild of a released former pet.  They get out into the wild here and once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put it back, if not impossible.

I hear the little old British Lady at the next table go on a bit longer than would be polite about not having Her Pink Packet to sweeten the rather excellent Iced Tea that I was drinking some of.  I’m sure she had her own stash in her rather large purse, but people do have their tastes, even if it was questionable.

Spearing another large bite of a fried vegetable ball, I hear the other British Woman tell the first that she was being “a bit churlish” and that she should calm down since the Iguana that she was now obsessing over was on the other side of the glass.

Greeted by my faithful sidekick, Kevin, who asks how the meal is?

Wonderful of course.  But I did miss my Mango Lassi.
Did you see the iguanas?
Yes, so did the woman behind you.  Said with an Eye Roll.
It didn’t get cold enough to get rid of them this year.
Are you getting dessert?  The Donut balls are excellent and the Mango Pudding I would love to try to make at home!

He was full, and I was over full.  That meal was responsible for a few extra groans that it would take a day and a half to get rid of.

One of the children from that table way over there had gotten out and wandered to the back deck.
Smart Iguana decided it had warmed enough and dove for the water.

We weren’t going to solve all of the invasive wildlife problems today, but we did get a rather excellent meal.

So did the iguana.

Anybody Want A Python?

I woke this morning to the sound of parrots flying overhead.
I nearly stepped on a curly tailed lizard when I took the dog out.
I swatted a whitefly that tried to fly up my nose.

All of those are examples of exotic or invasive species.

Welcome to Florida, Land of Weird Pets.

Weird Pets always escape.  It just takes time.  There are monkeys in the Florida Keys, and Giant Snails in Miami.  It’s the second time for the Giant Snails.  The first time a kid gave two to Grandma back in the 1960s.  Grammy didn’t like the snails so she tossed them in the back yard.  They multiplied and the state of Florida decided to try to eradicate them.  It took around 10 years and many millions of dollars.

I’m actually not the right person to argue about invasives since I have an Orange Wing Amazon Parrot.  His name is Oscar and he lives in a cage that is in the back room right now.  He likes to watch the ring necks that come for their afternoon visits in he shade of the bougainvillea.

But that’s the point.  He actually lives in the back room, right now at any rate.  I may move him to the front room later.  He likes that sort of change. 

He’s not living in the Everglades with another colony of parrots.  I’m not letting him go, I’ve had him since 1986 and got him in Pennsylvania.

Pets do escape, sometimes they’re aided by an open door and a pair or three of hands. 

I’m “not allowed” to go to the dog park here.  My dog wouldn’t like it.  You see irresponsible owners take their unwanted dogs and leave them tied to a fence so some poor fool like me would show up later and make my old dog Lettie jealous.

Can’t really do that with a 17.5 foot long, 164 pound pregnant Burmese Python with 87 eggs in her.  They don’t tie to fences too well.   Someone let this snake go at one point thinking they won’t do any harm.  They’re actually pushing native species closer to extinction.  It is this threat to biodiversity that is the problem.

This one was found with feathers in its stomach that they’re looking at to see what kind of critters they’re eating.  It’s not like you can say, “Hey Mrs Snake can you just eat the invasives?”.  They don’t really know anything other than eat and sit in the sun to warm up.

I have heard rumors that this sort of exotic pet won’t be allowed to be owned in the warmer areas of the state.  North of the I-4 line perhaps.  If that sort of law were in place we wouldn’t have dozens of iguanas living on the docks around the island here and my bougainvillea would be less threatened by hungry green mouths that don’t know how to share. 

If you want to see a picture of the monster snake from Burma, have a look at this story on the BBC here.  In the meantime, I’ll have a look around the yard to see if I have to chase an iguana out of the bushes.

A Cold Day for an Iguana Hunt

The front finally arrived.  We got cold.  Ok, it was cold for us. 

Shush.

Shivering in the 53F Degree chill, I woke a number of times.  Covering my head to conserve the last bit of warmth one too many times, it was enough.  Get out of bed and begin the morning rituals early.

Sunrise would not be for two hours yet.  The dog was snoring on her mat.  The yellow light of the street lamps were creating dancing patterns of Bougainvillea stems on the wall.

Grabbing the long pants and the leather jacket, it was time for what will probably be the last cold snap of the year.  It was also time to brave that “cold” with the dog.

Funny thing about getting up “early”, things change.

The train whistle that was coming through on its morning run out of Miami to points North was much louder.  There were fewer people out and as a result, you found yourself trusting them less.  The stars were bright, the wind was strong, and the noises were different.

Knowing that the weather was cold, for us, was a change.  When you are used to room temperature outdoors on a cool day, and air conditioning can be needed at any time, wind chill warnings would come up when the temperature was a frigid 45 degrees.

We weren’t quite there yet, and probably would not get there until next winter.   We do get winter, it is all of two weeks long statistically.  My zone won’t freeze but 10 miles North will get frost. 

One of the reasons why it felt so different was that the exotics and invasives were hiding from the weather.  Many of the pets you keep in your home are strictly tropical.  This wasn’t tropical weather, and they’d be stunned by the cold. 

These thoughts went through my mind as I concentrated on keeping the hand that the leash wasn’t held in as warm as possible, and reminding me that I have to put needle and thread to that particular pocket liner.

Walking home, seeing the police cruiser glide back with the officer smoking a cigarette through an open window I realized I wouldn’t find what I was looking for.  No iguanas had rained down from the sky in a stunned stupor.  The incongruousness of a cold day in Florida continued.  

Standing over the sink, eating a curried chicken cutlet on a biscuit, I realized that the excitement of the day wasn’t the death of a reptile, but that my orchids were still in bloom unharmed by the cold.

We will know who you are, gentle visitors, and you will know us.   While we are shivering in dark and heavy clothes, you are enjoying your hard earned time in the sun in shorts and a T Shirt, even if it is too cold for it.

Welcome to Iguana Falls, Florida

How would you like to wake up to one of these prehistoric looking creatures on your pool deck.

Yes, it is cold (for us) today in South Florida.  The Iguanas are now falling from the trees.  When it gets cold, they lose their ability to manage their body temps and out of the trees they fall.  

Last night it was about as cold as it gets.  It hit 42F.  Sure, to someone in Minnesota or Canada, that’s nothing.  When I lived in Philadelphia, this was still fall weather since it’s going to hit 65 today.   But when you live in a house with leaky jalousie windows that are just slats of glass designed to let the breezes flow through in warm weather, you find out just how ineffective the heater is in the house.

There are two schools of thought with “frozen” iguanas.

1) Leave them alone.  Nature will deal with them.  If it is still alive, and some of them just get stunned and later shake it off, it will thaw out and wander away.  Eventually.  If it isn’t alive, the vultures and the buzzards will deal with them and there’s always the neighbor’s cat.  Awww Bandit!  Cute Cat!

2) Send them on to their next life.   Iguanas in South Florida are classified as an Invasive Species. They are basically escaped pets.  Someone had them as pets and they ran off or were set free.  Now we have the 23rd or so generation of these Green Iguanas.  The way the people in this class see it is that it is the same as having packs of dogs or cats running around in the neighborhood.  They can be destructive.  They don’t “Share” your plants, they will devastate them by trying to get enough food. 

If you are in the second school, state law requires you to kill them humanely by freezing them.  Your home freezer would do the job.  Once you have a frozen iguana in the house, consider that many people make a stew out of roasted iguana.  It is a treasured dish in Trinidad and Tobago, although I have neither had the dish nor have I had the pleasure to visit Trini other than by their music.  I’m a great fan of Soca Music but that is a different story.

When I was preparing for this article, I had originally taken the picture at 7AM and thought “this one’s a deader”.  Now at 10 I realized the picture was out of focus so I retook it and here’s the shot up above. 

I was right though, that iguana is stiff as a board and it’s sitting in the sun.  I’ll have to get the shovel and the plastic bag.

Iguanas, Whitefly, and hoping for an early Winter

Welcome to South Florida.

We have many migrants to these lands, some welcome, others not.

Have you ever walked back to your porch and stared directly into the red eye ring of an Iguana that was six feet long and munching on your prized Bougainvillea?  I have, and I have written about them frequently.  They’re back and running through the yard.

The latest migrant coming in from Miami is something with a tongue twisting name of the Rugose Spiraling Whitefly.  I think they’re here already in Wilton Manors and making their way North.

Like most, their numbers will be reduced if we get a good long cold snap.  The previous wave of Whitefly that went after the Ficus turned the hedges into sticks on most plants.  Plenty of spraying cut their numbers back, the cold weeks of February that went as low as 34F/1C did most of them in.

What happens here is we get a cold week in February just like everyone else.  Statistically it is the second week of February.  It won’t freeze here but it does have some interesting effects.

It sees flocks of birds of a strange variety flying in to thaw their bones.  They come in from Northern places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal and other cities and clog our roadways.  Yes, the Snowbird.  But the Snowbird’s effect is (somewhat) beneficial since they are an engine and boost to our economies.

Despite how they drive on the roads…

In the natural world it tends to empty out some of these exotic species.  Most invasives are not quite used to near freezing weather, so while the natives and those of us who are naturalized like many of us can adapt, these can not.  The last wave of the other kind of Whitefly died off greatly and that allowed the Ficus hedges in Broward county at least to rebound.

It also cut back the Iguana population to where we had them raining out of the trees.   My own Sea Grape tree in the back yard had 12 of them fall out of it when the tree was trimmed back last year.  Some survive and they come back later.

Personally I’m hoping they stay away.  They’re like having a vegetarian herd of stray cats running through your yard that shreds anything they like.  It’s not a case of share, its a case of they are like a lawn mower.

The latest wave of Rugosa Spiraling Whitefly may completely vanish if we get a cold enough snap but in South Florida, that is questionable. After all, the urban cores of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and West Palm Beach are a few degrees warmer than just outside of downtown and the Keys are next door and always warmer.  That may be all they need to survive.

It’s a great advertisement for why the Government is completely correct in it’s agricultural inspection efforts.  Once in a while one gets by them, but for the most part it would only be worse if they weren’t stopping uninspected fruits and vegetables at the ports, and sending back exotic animals to their homeland.

(I hope)

The reason the Iguanas and the other animals exist in the wild here is because we brought them here as pets and released them.  Either accidentally or “on purpose” they got into the ecosystem and won’t leave.  Ball Pythons that may look “cool” in a home display aquarium will get loose and end up in the Everglades and eat up native species that are already under stress or endangered.

I shall take you home and put you in a glass prison and call you Monty.  No, thank you.

Parrots released have taken up residence in flocks all over Fort Lauderdale, and their calls are familiar especially when out on walks.  In fact, a Cherry Headed Amazon visited my property the day I went to look at it the first time.  I took That Particular Visit as a good omen but visits by exotics are typically disruptive.  Those same beautiful flocks of Cherry Headed Amazons that dine on the seeds of the Washingtonia Palms in my neighborhood are displacing native flocks of other types of Parrots and birds.

The Whitefly infestation this time won’t be quite as bad as the ones that killed off many of the ficus.   They will cover the leaves with a sticky goo that will turn moldy and drip onto everything.  The host trees won’t die, but they will look like they should have.  There are sprays that the cities around me are using to “control” these bugs, but that won’t get them all and it never does.   Hope for a good winter cold snap like I am.  I’ll gripe and grouse like all the other Floridians will but I’ll remember to watch so I don’t trip over falling Iguanas and be happy that the Whitefly infestation will be somewhat controlled naturally.