Eye To Eye With A Dragonfly

Tread Lightly, there are wee creatures about.

This was going through my mind as I walked outside into the late afternoon sun.

I was in the great windup for the evening march about town.  Rack the SuperDog (TM), my faithful sidekick, needed to get out and explore the world, exercise his mind, and water a few shrubs.  I was looking forward to seeing things around town after being cooped up reading accounting books all afternoon, and who knows what all else before that.

Walking to the unreasonably brilliantly white mailbox, I bend down low, grab the post from their hiding place, and start looking at what was misdelivered.  Two for me, 8 for my next door neighbor. 

Amusing, I’ll have to walk it over to his box.

I take one step and a cloud of Dragonflies lift from their perches in my grass.

“Oh, yeah!  It’s an early wet season.  Watch where I walk!”

I am slowly treading through the turf across the front of the yard.  Dozens of amber and brown gems are floating on the breezes, flickering lights as they go by.  It was the third day after the first rains.  The Dragonflies lay their eggs in the lawn, going through their lives eating grubs that eat the turf, and generally being beneficial to man’s way of life.  The rains hit and they make the transition to their next stage of life that we all see. 

The timing is so that those pets that we all have and loathe so much, Mosquitoes, hatch and get out into the environment.  About the only thing I can say good about them is that Mosquitoes feed the Dragonflies that I enjoy watching.  Other than that I would love to put a giant Simpsonian Springfield dome over the city and fill it full of insecticides to kill the blighters off.

Step again, another cloud rises.  At this time I am seeing amber waves of Dragonfly wings rising and falling.  I am in a cloud right out of a Disney movie, sparkling and fluttering on the breeze.  Hundreds of them flying around me as I make my way East.  I leave my neighbor his collection of junk mail, and head back.  This time the amber is brighter as I head into the sun.

Gently I make my way back to the house, enjoying yet another encounter with nature.

The Monarch of the Plant Pot

Wandering around town at dawn, I noticed that there was something missing.

Not people, oddly enough we dog walkers have a habit of getting out early, wandering late, and basically slinking around town at strange hours.

I’ve walked Rack at 4AM more than once.

The nature park nearby, M.E. DePalma park, was missing them.

My backyard was picked fairly clean.

Some of the spots where I was “guerilla” planting them hadn’t taken either, or where they were they were eaten down to sticks.

You guessed it, my Mexican Milkweed is mostly absent. 

I have a reputation of scattering Milkweed Seeds far and near, and when I find the seeds, that is exactly what I do.  I remember these starbursts of silk floating on the breezes of my own childhood New Jersey Prairie that would land somewhere unseen from time to time.  Here, they don’t get a chance to get that far.  The insects that I plant them for are much too hungry for them and are eating them down to nubs and sticks.

It’s a cause and effect.  Give a Monarch a home and it will eat the home.  If there is no home, no Monarchs. That is why we plant the things anyway, for the Monarchs.

So whenever I find a seed pod on one of my plants, I watch over it.  If it survives to ripen, I snatch it and put it in a plastic bag or immediately scatter them.

I’m on a cleaning binge and I found one of those bags hidden in my kitchen from a while ago.  It had fallen behind the coffee maker on the counter, forgotten.

Walking out to the row of pots on the drip irrigation line that morning to plant the newly found seeds in the land, there was the culprit.  It could have been called the guest, just as easily.  A Monarch caterpillar climbing up the branch of the lone milkweed that had survived looking for a meal. 

Mmm Tasty, Tasty Milkweed.

I vowed to watch over that creature and see where it went but I wasn’t that lucky.  It had its meal, then climbed into a sheltered spot.  With luck it was undisturbed, even by me, and then flew off to grace another yard with it’s beauty in Orange and Black.

February Flowers in April

Lets see what is wrong with my doing this today?

It’s April and the picture is from February.

Today is the last day of life for Windows XP and I should be doing a Rant about that. 

Never mind that, I’m bored with Windows XP and all my machines that had it are running Linux or Windows 7.

Actually the thing is that I do take a lot of pictures.  A friend who got me into photography back in the days of the Film Camera, said always take two pictures so you can choose the best.   Sometimes I take many more than that on one subject then use Photoshop or just a judicious crop to get the best view.

It may look like a bunch of colorful weeds, but it is a bunch of Florida Native Flowers plus one butterfly.  I did take the picture back in early February in M.E. DePalma Park here in Wilton Manors and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

I set that picture aside and put up more traditional ones.  Took more to illustrate something else like baking or computer repair.  But this one kept saying “Send Me In Coach”. 

That’s me.  Coach.  So, today it spoke.

One afternoon over the weekend I brought it up and made it go full screen.  Immersed in the view on the big monitor I waited.  Played with the crop.  I exposed and underexposed the picture.   I left it sit in Photoshop overnight and returned the next day.  Then I looked at just the butterfly.  Maybe the red flowers.

I realized it made me content just to look at the flowers over the last two months so I thought I would just share it as is.  Contentment is important.  Anyone who has ever taken yoga understands that well, and it is so fleeting in this society where people think it is normal to be driving a car over the yellow line of the road while texting.

Luckily it’s nearby and available.  Even with my old and banged-up “Hobby Grade” camera, I can get results when you have models like this little butterfly to pose for you.

Purple Fire in Wilton Manors’ DePalma Park

So much of photography is just timing.

There’s a time of day called The Golden Hour.  It’s within an hour of sunrise and sunset.  This is the hour when the sun is a bit more muted and turns from a white light to a more golden hue.   It makes things just “Pop” more in a picture instead of the “overexposed” tone things can have at midday.

With the harvest coinciding with the days getting shorter, the opportunities for finding your own natural fireworks show are all around you.  Mother Nature is in bloom and showing off everywhere.

I had noticed that the M.E. DePalma Park near the house was getting truly beautiful.  Chock full of blooms from native species of plants, this little meadow was showing off to me each time I’d walk past it on my daily routine.

I don’t have a really high end camera, but I think it did the job that day.  The ornamental grasses that are growing caught the sun lowering in the skies through the slash pines creating a play of dancing shadows and glowing blooms.

Yeah, it was that beautiful that day.

If you can’t get to our own park, grab your camera and head out.  The colors are just past peak in the Northeast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own beauty.

In the meantime, this particular picture is in rotation on my background, and there’s more to come.

Endangered Invasive Species Confuse Me

That title sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it?

There was an article on the BBC today about the floral trade.  It seems like “Western Demand” is stripping some Central American areas of certain kinds of Palm Trees to the point that the species has gotten rare and endangered.

It’s a perfect example of that old saying ‘What is Free, is Worthless’.

These countries have the palms growing in “open areas” and since they are there, they are getting picked clean of leaves.  If you pull the leaves off of the palm tree, it dies.  Thanks to UK researchers, they realized that they can be harvested in a Sustainable Manner by allowing them to grow to a certain size than only taking two leaves off of the tree.  The reason why you want this particular palm is because the shelf life of those palm fronds is much longer than most and can be upwards of 40 days.

Great… slow down, take ownership of the land, and protect the plants.   We have all heard of that many times.  After all, if you pick the flowers off of your plants, you will not have any fruit.  Leave some for the bees and you will have a harvest.  It simply makes sense.  Good agricultural stewardship of the land.  Treat it as a farm and you will do well.

So why was I shocked to see this particular article?  Simply put, these plants that are becoming endangered because of our demand and their incompetent and rapacious harvesting are an invasive plant in Florida.

It is a weed tree.

You see here, it is called a Fishtail Palm.  I have pulled seedlings out of my pot deep in the back of the yard that I use to start plants.   When I take a cutting of something, I stick it in that pot and see what I get.  I’ve gotten quite a few hibiscus, screw palms, coleus and others out of that pot.  It sits under my Sea Grape tree, and I have to pull sea grape plants out of that pot because the birds eat the grapes and “spit” the seeds out.

Well, not strictly speaking “Spit” but I do try to keep this blog safe for work even in conservative offices.

Right now, there are two of these endangered invasive palms growing in my pot.   When I saw that picture in the article, I thought of this starter pot and realized that yes, yet again, we’ve gotten it wrong. 

This picture was from the Wikipedia Page on the species.  We’ve got a lot of these trees in the neighborhood.  In fact this plant looks like the one in my next door neighbor’s yard.

I guess instead of pulling that plant for next bulk trash day, I’ll stick it in the ground out in the Utility Easement.  I may as well, it’s not a native, it’s an endangered invasive.

Hey Monarchs, You Are Eating Yourself Out Of House And Home

Just the day before there was this daily dog walk.  I was walking past the M.E. DePalma Park and there was a small stand of Mexican Milkweed.  This seems to be the time of year in South Florida that the native species are all going to seed.

That is a good thing, time to drop seed so that they are going to grow more next year.

I may be wrong, it just seemed to me that a lot of the “Natives” there had tufts of fluff and were leaving seeds all over the place.

I decided to help them.

One of the seed pods of the Mexican Milkweed had burst open and the breezes had begun to scatter the seeds.  I took a sample of the seeds and became Johnny Appleseed.  Blowing into the tufts in my hand the breezes took the seeds and blew them down the block to hopefully find a place not grassed over and wild enough to grow.

Yesterday morning, walking around my yard I noticed that the caterpillars were all over the place trying to find a bit of sun to warm their little bodies.  Unfortunately the little bit of green you see above is about all that was left on each stick.  I plant the Milkweed in my yard because I like having the Butterflies here.  Many times, I will look out the window and a Black and Orange beauty floats by.

Unfortunately for them, they tend to lay their eggs all over my two pots of Milkweeds.  The plants have all their leaves eaten then the caterpillars are pretty much done for.  I’ve never seen them eat anything else.

The pot that I took this picture from had so many caterpillars on the plant that I gave up counting. 

I’d say that Johnny Milkweedseed has a bit of work to do.

Purple Grass in the Park

The day after going to a lecture on the native species that were planted in the local M.E. Depalma Park, I got to thinking. 

Typical yard plantings are basically hedgerows.  Mowed grass cropped close, hedges and flowers along the property lines.  Depending on where you are, it’s going to be the same thing over and again.

The problem with that is that a lawn does not lend itself to the ecology.  They are expensive to upkeep.  Think of all that water you pour onto them, all of the effort you have to put into them to mow, the gas, the pollution, fertilizer that leeches into the water table.

Every so often you have someone who has decided to step away from the lawn and do something different.

Different means that you’re on your own.  Many cities won’t allow you to simply stop maintaining your yard – with good reason.  On the other hand, slowly converting your yard into a meadow of wildflowers has been done.   Pennsylvania, was a leader in this.  What they did was to select areas to start with to do something different.   They removed the existing grass and planted in those areas a mix of wildflowers that would bloom at different times of the year and reseed the area for next year.  It was so successful that many cities and other states followed suit.  You can now get cans of wildflower mix and scatter them in the hopes that you’ll have a yard of blooms instead of weeds.

Mostly that can is native or naturalized species and will do well with minimal care.

All those thoughts came to mind when I walked through the park the next day.  Some of the plantings are so successful that they’re encroaching on the sidewalk.   When you have something that is perfect for the conditions, that is what you get. 

In front of my house there’s a tree that isn’t doing so well.  Parts of it got “freezer burned” last year when the temps hit one degree above freezing.  There were snow flurries spotted in the town North of me, Oakland Park.   It was surrounded by some rather nondescript Liritrope grass that did nothing but look uniformly green.  As it was patchy and some of it was edged out by some more vigorous weeds, I was wondering what a little color would do for that spot.  At that point my mind came back to the grass in the picture.

Yes, native species can be beautiful if not spectacular.  They can also replace something bland with something quite easy to grow that gives a shock of color just where you need it, under an old tree.

M.E. DePalma Park is in Bloom

For 125 miles, from Jupiter in the North, to Florida City in the South, and around 25 miles wide at its widest, South Florida sprawls over some very tightly packed neighborhoods.  Include the Keys and you have another 125 miles although some of those Keys are land only because Flagler put it there building the railroad that was washed away in the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935.

South Florida can be a very unnatural landscape indeed.   Tract homes built in the 1950s and 1960s that are low slung to shelter from those storms, and the newer talller two story buildings that were built to accomodate larger rooms as well as higher profits. 

Imagine trying to sleep on a second or third floor with no air conditioning on a day that is 96F and no electricity to turn a fan.   Foolish.

Homes are build low slung in a hurricane zone for a reason.  Taller buildings are a target.

There are very few places that haven’t been paved over in South Florida, at least in Dade and Broward Counties.  Until you get West, the parks are the only place where you see truly natural areas, and those are usually only natural in the margins where the lawn mower can not reach.

On the other hand I consider myself fortunate.  There, in M.E. DePalma Park,  is a small vest pocket area near me that has been planted with native species.  Orange Trees are not native, entertaining and yes, I have one, but not native.  A lawn is an ecological disaster of a “monoculture” that does not exist anywhere but in an artifice.  Yet we have them.

Parks like this one that are planted with native species show that natural can be beautiful places where butterflies dance on the breezes, the scent of blossoms on the air, and the splendor of flowers greet the eye.  They serve to educate us on the beauty that was pushed aside for that 2/1 on a small lot.  They do require care so that the Dragon Flies can dive bomb the Mosquitoes that would take up residence in a controlled landscape.  After all, entropy in a garden left untended would turn anything in the tropics into a riot of Virginia Creeper and stinkweed. 

At this point of the wet season where everything is growing rapidly, the effort needed to rip out all those annoying vines in my own garden is a necessary evil.  The other side of that coin is the beauty of the flowers that are there right now.  Walking by this plot of land results in being dive bombed by Dragon Flies and followed by flocks of butterflies.  Last night all of this happened while there was a double rainbow bright enough to show the seven colors plus the stripe for Ultraviolet.  Needless to say when there was a gap in the clouds, the flowers there gave a riot of color.

This being the wet season, these plants are happiest and thriving.  They are also on irrigation, so it is assumed that without that help in the dry season, most of these plants would end up being annuals.  After all, an empty lot in Broward County Florida tends to be very hit or miss with what can grow there.   Scrub Land unless it is adjacent to a spring or other water source.

Luckily, with a little cropping, the picture can allow the viewer to think they’re in a vast tropical garden far away from all instead of standing on the edge of a smaller than usual plot of land planted cheek-to-jowl with these natives.  With a little more maturation, those trees and shrubs may grow tall enough to give a view of nature without interruption.  Until they do, a light crop results in what you see.

I take a retail approach to photography.  Take dozens of shots and see what the computer will give you when zoomed in.  I am fortunate to have scenes to take a picture of.  In this case, the original is now my background on this laptop replacing the bland corporate blue HP thing that came with the machine.

Hunting Termites with a Lava Lamp

I couldn’t sleep.

Up at 2, then again at 4, I decided at 5AM it was pointless for me to lay in bed any longer.

I got up, walked through the house turning on lights in the kitchen and went back to the other side of the house. 

Getting Mrs Dog ready for her walk, I went out leaving the kitchen light on, forgetfully. 

We had our lap of the shops and came home.  While she was off doing her thing I was standing in the kitchen making coffee.  I noticed the usual host of bugs out banging their senseless heads against the glass redundantly.  Thinking not too much more of it, I finished my breakfast, my coffee, turned off the overhead lights, and turned on the Lava Lamp in the kitchen.

I can sit in the big green recliner on the back wall of the Living Room and go about my business while having a view into the kitchen.  The Lava Lamp was a thing of ambience, it is calming to watch red waxy blobs glow and float up and down the amber fluid.  Even from a distance, it can be calming and beautiful.

By the time I was ready to have more coffee, the sun had not risen, it was still gloomy outside, and the back yard was lit only by the two LED solar lamps. 

Walking back into the kitchen, I snapped on the burner under the tea kettle and filled the coffee pot with four scoops of grounds. 

At this time I was standing in front of the kitchen sink looking outside at the back yard when I noticed what was going on in detail.

The senseless bugs banging against the windows were termites.  There were a few mosquitoes mixed in with the more frequent moth, but the majority of that insect cloud were termites.   Apparently they were swarming right outside of my window.  The termites are a constant problem in South Florida and are controlled by many applications of chemicals, tenting your house and turning it into a Circus Tent of Death with Vikane gas.

There are also natural methods.   Much slower and gentle, we have my friends the Geckos.

It turns out I have a little circle of life out back.  The Geckos have decided that my lit window is a great place to hunt.   Since I enjoy watching the little pale creatures climb, I try to create a habitat for them where ever possible.   There are a lot of places for them to hide, since I’m not exactly the best at keeping the yard free of oddball items, and the area under the lanai is sheltered.  It is onto this that the kitchen “bar window” opens.

The Geckos are drawn by the bounty of food that we have inadvertently created.  All those insects are food for the nocturnal Geckos and the glow of the Lava Lamp helps keep them coming.

Since I’m entertained by Geckos and by Lava Lamp alike, I now have an excuse for what some might consider Eccentricity.  I have pet Geckos outside and they can catch what the Lava Lamp brings them.

It’s a win-win situation.  I even get to have that Lava Lamp on from Dusk to Dawn.  How about that?  An excuse to burn a night light.  I never knew…

Tillandsia and Spanish Moss Picture

Driving South from Philadelphia, the lay of the land changes and as it changes, so does it’s look.

Philly was called once “The High Water Mark of the South”.  It is the Northernmost point where you see Southern species of plants, and it is also the Southernmost point where you see some Northern plants.

At least that was the explanation.

If you are driving south on I-95, every couple hundred miles or so, things look different, especially if you are driving south on the coldest week of the year, the Second Week of February.  You start off with Snow on the ground, you hit Virginia and the snow melts, North Carolina is thick with Pine Forests.  When you hit South Carolina, it starts to look very Southern indeed.  It is South Carolina that is famous for Spanish Moss. 

I would stop to stretch my legs, walk around the rest stop at Lake Marion, and there was one grand tree with Spanish Moss dripping off of its outstretched limbs.  This being February, it would be cold but the Spanish Moss would survive.   I’d scoop up a small bit of the stuff, drape it from the rear view mirror and continue on my way.

The last time I did that, I managed to keep the Spanish Moss alive.  It’s mixed in with the moss on the tree in front of my house.  Along with that, we have the other “Air Plants”.  There are a couple varieties that grow here, they’re all Tillandsia plants, all living off of the biomass that runs down the trees when it rains. 

Yes, I’m that crazy person that picks them up and ties them back onto the tree with a “twisty tie” to give them a second chance after a storm knocks them off their perch.

The ones in my tree are mostly smaller ones, but this picture is not of my tree.  This one is a little bit away from my house in one of those nondescript shade trees that are planted to provide a windbreak.  It also must be a native species since it is enrobed in Spanish Moss and Tillandsia.  The larger plants like the one in this picture are rare, and even endangered.  Luckily it took “root” here and has found a home somewhere near the little park.  When you plant native species, you get native species filling in the gaps in the web of life. 

In a suburbia that is traditionally a desert of green grass and “pretty flowers” that are typically distantly derived from species from China or other hotbeds of biodiversity, you end up with an area that looks lush but does not function as an ecosystem.   Change your plants to native species and you have the opposite result, wildlife will coexist with you.

It is always up to us.  The choice is to do the right thing, or have a desert.