There Is Quite A Lot Of Wildlife Watching Me

I admit it.

Actually I admit it frequently.

I’m fascinated by the wildlife that we have here in South Florida.

Walk out into the yard and I’m being watched.

Lizards, literally everywhere.  I had heard there were a lot of them around, but coming from a “temperate” climate like South Jersey, I never really believed that they existed.  You just don’t see a lizard staring back at you from a Pin Oak tree in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Here, I walk to the front door and there are lizards sunning themselves on my driveway watching me back through the glass.

I’ve seen Muscovy Ducks on my front porch more times than I care to count, and I’ve taken to inviting them to leave.  They’re way too messy to be a good house guest.

They are perfectly fine on the water and near it, but the one night that I stepped onto my porch after sunset and found myself interrupting some seventeen of them making funky Duck Love and smelling the pungent aroma of what happens when you startle them, they needed to move on.

Did you know a bird will lighten the load before flying by making a poop?

Some other places have alligators in their swimming pool.  Key West, Florida has Chickens.  I suspect they are fine until they get to be a bit too populous, but people brought them there to begin with.  If you don’t want chickens, help yourself to the eggs they leave under your shrubs.

I wonder if they will trade a few chickens for some ducks?

They came there because their many generation removed grandparents were used in fighting.  That’s not at all allowed these days, but some did escape and settled in.

So I did get to see the chicken cross the road, even if I am still not quite sure why it did.

You end up with wading birds deciding that it is time to perch on your Jeep.  It doesn’t happen too often, they aren’t out there every day.  Luckily they are some of the more shy creatures out there.  If you get anywhere near them they fly off.

I have seen these Snowy Egrets, or what ever they are called, walk across lawns in long herds like something out of a Disney Movie.  They’re also the reason why I don’t tell the landscapers to spray the yard.

We get so many of them here that the grubs I see them going after are kept well under control.  Along with the Black Racer snakes in some rare occasions.

But we do get quite a few visitors.

In the morning, being awakened by the song birds that show up in my bottlebrush tree is a normal happening.

Some of them are louder than others.  And some are more insistent than others.

It’s also why I  have a habit of waking early, or at least an explanation.

Go on outside and have a look around.  The sheer volume of things that I see in my own little yard here in suburbia always has me wondering just what am I missing.

I’ve been told that there are scorpions here, and if I leave my boots outside for some strange reason, I bang them on the pavement to make sure I don’t bring any hitchhikers in.

I’ve found way too many lizards to count.  They do keep the spiders at bay though and that’s a welcome aside.

After all, a Banana Spider in the house at the size of a Volkswagen is a but of a shock.  For a while I was fortunate.  My old windows had another predator that took up residence in one small nook.  Then the house was upgraded to Impact Resistant glass.  Hurricane Glass they call it.  But it also took the nook away and my frog was gone.

I do kind of miss the frogs after all that is said and done.

Really, Frogs, since I saw three there the day before the nook was taken away a couple years back.  Funny how things like that end up in unexpected places.

At the moment though, there are the butterflies.  Sure, I have all of those creatures cohabiting with me, the dog, the parrot, and the humans in this house.  But the plants are all scattered with a dusting of butterflies in various stages of life.  They all will hatch as time allows them, and I am surprised that they spend more time in that chrysalis than I would expect.  After all, hanging on a leaf just means you’ll get spotted and the leaf could get brought inside for an incomplete photography project.

But I am sure that you all have heard that before, haven’t you?

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Wildlife Photography Takes Forever Or How A Monarch Pupa Took Up Residence In My Living Room

I suppose it was meant to be.

I figured out that if I cut a length of Mexican Milkweed about the length of your longest finger and put it in wet soil, there was a good chance it would root and grow.

About 80 to 90% chance of success I have noticed.

Then if you planted them in a sheltered place, they would get to the point where they would look appetizing to a passing Monarch Butterfly, and eggs would get laid on it.

Knowing that the life cycle of a Monarch was short, and that I had only a few Mexican Milkweed plants, I watched them get decimated back to sticks.  They even sampled my Mango tree and some of the Coleus that are near by.

I noticed that I had three pupae forming in the plants that I had found, hopefully more than that.  There were 16 caterpillars feeding on that one sad last plant.

It hasn’t really recovered.   Give it time.

Some of them made it into strange places.  That Mango tree in a pot had one in a very visible spot.

I began video taping the Chrysalis when it began to turn translucent.  They go from a beautiful jade green through translucent, then transparent, and will crack open so that the butterfly can emerge.  It takes about two weeks.

 

I had that camera out there so long that South Florida began to come out of the Dry Season and into the Wet Season that we’re “celebrating” with a vengeance.

Seven Inches of Rain yesterday.

That last dry day though.   The pupa that was on the little Mango tree is no longer.  I went out and checked it and the pupa had vanished.   Bringing in the camera, I looked at the time lapsed video and there was a flurry of action when the disappearance occurred.  A female Cardinal bird had spotted the camera, perched near it, and spotted the pupa hanging under the leaf.  One peck and the pupa was gone.  The bird actually looked into the camera and if it is possible, she smirked at it.

Fine!  Be that way.  I took things into my own hands.

There was a second one that managed to find a home up in a set of wind chimes.  I’m leaving that one alone.  The third one, on the other hand, is now in my house.

But that third chrysalis I am taking care of.

It was on a leaf in my garden.  Specifically a red dracena plant that I had planted as shrubbery under the windchimes that are home to that second chryaslis.

The leaf got cut, brought inside and adhesive taped to a mat that my dog uses for the background.    I had a set up.  I could put the camera on the table and instead of walking all the way to the tripod on the back of the property next to the shed, I could simply turn it on and let it be.  Every time I would walk past the camera, I would inspect the camera and my little companion, and make changes if needed.

That was about 3 days ago.  I’m starting to get cabin fever.  There’s a rhythm to this sort of thing.  It needs to be observed if you want a chance at any success.  A Monarch won’t emerge late at night, so I am effectively “off duty” after dinner.  They want to have the sun to dry their wings and get ready to fly off.

It does not happen in seconds, rather a few minutes to dry, and flap about.  Then they take off.  I will be able to switch off the ceiling fans, and re-position the camera for that scene.

But for now I wait.

It’s not even a guarantee that I will get a successful video.  The creature could die.  There are no errant Cardinal birds in my house, but things sometimes just don’t “hatch”.  It’s pretty reliable that at this point it will hatch, it’s in a controlled environment at 76F and household humidity levels.

It could wander off the frame of the camera, which is close and only as wide as the leaf is.   It could do that when I am out of the house, which I have been fortunate enough not to have to go anywhere for a bit.

But at least I will get the emergence.

If you look closely, you can actually see the distinctive orange and black pattern of the Monarch’s Wings inside the clearing skin of the chrysalis.  So I believe that this one is still alive, and still growing.  Percolating perhaps.

Give it another day or three.  After all, it’s their movie, isn’t it?

And sometimes the story is in the journey and not the destination.

Sixteen Monarch Caterpillars In One Pot

Luckily, I thought to harvest those Milkweed seeds a little while back.

You see, I have a lot of pots strung along the side of the backyard near the swimming pool.  They’re all on a handy drip feed irrigation system that runs 10 minutes a day and delivers gallon per sprinkler head per hour.

Not a lot of waste.

I have a lot of plants there.  All those Milkweed plants that I thought myself lucky to get the seeds from, and I still have a lot of around the house.  Two pots each of Mangos and Bananas.  My “cuttings” pot that I am propagating a lot of strange things like Onions and more Milkweed.

Nothing bothered them until the yard got invaded by Monarch Caterpillars.  You guessed it, Momma Monarch finally found the plants.

All of them.  All at once.

All except the one on the Mango pot.  The leaves are similar to the Mango leaves, and I had that one plant growing against the Mango tree’s trunk as a support.

One by one, the eggs hatched.

One by one, the Milkweed plants got stripped bare of their leaves.

One by one, the Monarch Caterpillars got larger.

Then they ran out of food.  This one plant was the only one left.

This sole pot had sixteen monarch caterpillars in it.  For something that was endangered, I was shocked to see this concentration of caterpillars in one spot.

Then the next day it was only one or two.  They started to move on.

That same evening I found one caterpillar on our windchimes hanging out on the shed.

The next day I found myself presented with a little jewel.  A jade teardrop where that caterpillar had stopped by in that improbable place.

It chose that spot to pupate.

Monarch Butterfly Pupas are a beautiful thing in the light.  They are a translucent jade green.  There are two shimmering iridescent gold spots and a line of iridescent gold specks on the outside.  If you are in full sunlight you may be able to make out the internal form of the just pupated creature, there are structures inside that your mind translates into future wings.

Later when the creature is to take flight in Orange and Black, the pupa becomes clear, and cracks open.  It will expand its wings and fly off perhaps to find more milkweed flowers, if its cousins have not stripped it all bare in the yard.

For now, I’m presented with the little jade jewels.  Shimmering in the strong Florida Sun.

Thirteen Is Too Much Of A Good Thing – Or Why I Have Started Moving The Muscovy Ducks On

Too much of a good thing I guess, but it is time to move the house guests on.

Oh I don’t mind them, but I most certainly mind their mess.

Them are the ducks.  Muscovy Ducks that are semi-tame.  They’re considered domestic fowl, so they fit in the same category as a stray cat or dog.  Mind you, animal welfare has enough to do and doesn’t want them.  What I will have to do is become a nuisance, annoy them.

Why would I want to run them off?  They are for the most part harmless.   They walk through the yard cropping grass and removing insects.

I know that doesn’t answer the question.  It is time for a little story.

I was sitting in my bouncy Poang chair next to the window.   It is about a yard away from the window, and I can just touch it if I try and have a bendy day.  These windows on the house are what are called “Impact Glass”.  Think of the stuff that your bank has at the teller windows although they may be either thinner or thicker.  Not sure there.

Great things, they quiet down the noises on the street.  If you live in an urban environment, you know what a blessing that is.  The house itself has fans and mechanical clocks and air conditioning running so the place is never completely silent.

Yes, air conditioning in February.  It’s South Florida after all.

It was after 8 at night.  I couldn’t find anything on the TV to watch and I didn’t want to resort to the internet.  I was doing some technical reading.  Sliding into my consciousness with all the speed of a snail I hear wheezing.

Ducks on the front porch.

Figuring that they would move on after looking in the front door I would return to what I was doing.

After too long of a while they were still at it.  I got up and walked to the door.  There was a writhing pile of four ducks mating on the front porch.  Think of four mostly black feathered thanksgiving turkeys the size of a football, US or Otherwise, each trying to make more baby ducks.   They didn’t like my watching over their “love making” efforts and began to unravel from the pile.  The two not directly engaged, I guess they were some sort of duck cheerleaders, peeled off and started to leave.

The other two kept at it.

I began to flap my arms like wings.  I became a giant, almost two meter tall, 6’4″ bird.  Since Big Bird is taller than me, and not available, I started to make other noises.  High pitched “BL!BL!BL!BL!” noises.  That snapped the two lovers out of their reverie and they began to drag themselves apart and off my porch.

To make sure they didn’t return, I started following them about a yard behind.

“BL!BL!BL!BL!” I said!  “BL!BL!BL!BL!”

“HISShiss! HISShiss!” they replied while flapping their webbed feet along, slowly.  Seriously, you could actually pick one up, they don’t move all that fast.

I managed to chase them all off the front porch and yard and returned to my reading.

A half hour later I got prepared for the evening Dog Walk.

Did I not say it was too much of a good thing with these ducks?  I had to chase them off after they turned the area under my Jeep into a Duck Toilet, but this… was something resembling either a plague or a Hitchcock movie.

There were, quite literally, thirteen of the beasts in my front yard.  Thirteen adult ducks using the yard as a rest stop and mating station.  There were ducks in my hedges.  There were ducks on the grass.   There were ducks hissing at me and my dog, Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM).

It was clearly time to act.

The ducks began to spread out.  Rack has no real prey drive, doesn’t understand that a McNab Dog is one of the best herding breeds known to man.  Herding Breeds don’t kill, they merely collect the livestock into a clump and move them on.

But, Rack has no herding drive that we have ever noticed.

Fine.  I  am the alpha dog here anyway.  “Come on, Boy, we’ve got work to do!”

I walked head on into a giant pile of thirteen large thanksgiving turkeys.  They scattered.  Rack was surprised that the ducks would scatter when he approached and liked it.  He started bounding through the birds while I came at them from a couple yards away at the end of his large purple leash.  The ducks flapped off across the street and into four adjoining properties.

The neighbors would thank me in other ways later.  I was beginning to have an effect.

This became our normal routine.  If I walked by the front windows or doors, look for ducks.   If there were ducks, move them on.  Thirteen of the monsters did not belong in the yard at once.  One or two, Fine, but thirteen?  Do you have any idea what a yard smells like after thirteen thanksgiving turkeys were using the yard as a toilet?

I do.

Luckily they began to take the message.  The ones that were there on the night of the duck orgy know now that the lock on the front door means that crazy flappy bird guy would be coming out soon to chase them off.   I have them trained to walk off when the front door lock rattles open.

They are also not hiding under the Jeep any more.  Can’t have that.  They aren’t paying rent after all.

One or two is great, I love watching wildlife, but four of them on the front porch making more baby ducks is overkill and thirteen is just insane.

Living on an island, we’re surrounded by a slow moving river.  They can live on the water after all.  Waterfowl not Carportfoul or Porchfoul.

If you will excuse me, I have a porch to powerwash, yet again.

Peas and Bees on Early Voting Day

This was the day to do something outdoors.

October in South Florida is our Secret Season.  The weather Up North isn’t yet awful enough that people have decided to escape.

Our weather has decided it is time to be “Nice Out”.  The highs have dropped to the low 80s.  The rains are here, but moderate.  Hurricane activity is fading away.  This year it was abrupt since the last one churned up the ocean enough to make it pleasant and cool on land.

In other words, I live where you vacation.

When I heard about London suffering through a heat wave where people were being told to limit outdoor activity, I realized that their weather was a normal South Florida summer day.  Low 90s and sun.  A bit much to be out and about, but you can deal with it.  That would be a cool Philadelphia summer day for example.

But now?  Windows open, roofs off cars, locals enjoying it.  If you’re up before sunrise you may even see a stray jacket or two.

Yeah, that nice out.

So what did I decide to do on that Tuesday Morning?  Stand on line.  I went to our City Hall and went to vote.  It took about fifteen minutes since there was a line of around 20 people.

But when that was all done?  What to do?   How about walk the town?

Beautiful day for it and I did not want to head home just yet.  I planned on hitting the thrift shops and looking at books and jeans and other odds and ends that a normal life would need.   Why not?  It would be a two mile walk total, only 3 Ks.  Sunny but not oppressive with a nice breeze off the ocean.

That’s why you live here.   Sunny With A Nice Breeze Off The Ocean.  Even in February it can be like that.

I left the first thrift store and walked past our wee little triangular park.  It’s too small to put a shop or a house on it, so they put shrubs in and a few benches and it’s a place to picnic.  It is also a place I walk the dog past before the sun comes up two hours later practically every day.

In all our Wet Season rains, the shrubs there are growing crazily.  In fact I would not mind getting some cuttings from those plants and propagating it.  It would make a great hedge in the yard.

But some of it is as high as seven feet.  If I can’t see over it, it’s tall.  Chock full of orange and yellow flowers.  The bees love it.

Mind you, even as tall as I am, I’m not fond of bees.  Go make your honey but leave your stingers away from me.

Luckily they did.  They may not be Africanized Killer Bees since they left me to my own curiosity.

But among all those multicolored flowers were some “weeds”.

Now, I’m not a farmer but this struck me as odd.  Sweet Pea Flowers among the hedges.  In fact if they are allowed to grow, I’m sure you could get a small harvest of the things.

There they were, pure yellow, intertwined among the hedge, and growing some ripe pea pods.

Made the bees happy I am sure.

It also struck me as amusing as to the incongruousness of having a Pea farm in a park in an urban area coated with hundreds of bees.

That’s all part of being here, I suppose.  Drop a seed and it will grow.  Ignore it long enough and you have a farm full of misplaced invasives.

 

Sometimes it all works out for the best.

Dragonfly on Ruellia Stem

This certainly isn’t the largest one I have ever seen.  That one was on Cape Cod, MA, and had a wingspan of about six inches, the length of your hand and fingers.

But it was a beautiful one.

You see I was out in the yard committing the unforgivable crime of gardening.  Actually I had just taken an electric hedge clipper and hacked the daylights out of my Ruellia.  Ruellia is Mexican Petunias and it has the habit of being rather fast growing.  Beautiful purple flowers that don’t show up well on a digital photograph, they tend to grow on semi woody stems.

They also tend to grow through my fence, my hedges, and my borders.

They are very easy to propagate also, just stick them in wet soil and keep it wet for about a month.  I was starting pot after pot of the stuff to fill in some gaps in the ground cover in the yard on the East side, and they are just too easy to grow.

As a result, they spread over top of the roof tiles I use to define the garden.  I completely lost my roof tiles and went looking for them that day and decided I had had enough.  Starting at one end of the yard, I cut a pile of the stuff that ended up being a full trash can.  4 feet tall,  2 feet square.  16 cubic feet of nothing but Ruellia by my count.

I could easily have used that to re-flower the neighborhood, but instead I hefted that mass into the city supplied trash cans and sent it on its way to generate electricity.  Trash to Electricity in the incinerator here.

Having gathered up all that “salad” I was trying to straighten my back out and catch my breath when I saw this little shiny object.  It really did not care that I was there.  It may have been staying there watching me and waiting for me to do something stupid.

Instead, I took a picture.  I liked the picture so much that I have saved it off.

A complex looking little creature, I can understand why so many pieces of Jewelry are made to look like them.

Plus they eat mosquitoes so they’re welcome here any time, usually two days after a solid rain.

Friendly Random Butterfly

You get used to this sort of thing.

When I had the flu, like most of the Western World, I sat in my chair and looked out the window.  There wasn’t much more that I could have done since I truly didn’t have the energy, moan, coughing fit, curse, swear, moan again when will this be over.

Yeah it was that bad.  Literally.  I was listening to a podcast from Armin van Buuren and they were talking about the “Flu Making Its Way Through Holland.” at the same time I was coughing up a lung.

Freaky.

I watched the sun come up.  I watched the sun set.  I watched the same people walk down my block at the same time of day.  Watched the dog walkers including the guy who carries the Chihuahua who looks like its dead since it has melted over his arm.

Really, dude, the dog would be happier walking on the ground, trust me.

But it seems the wildlife here was the bright shining star in the nighttime that the flu induced.

We have ducks that visit.  My neighbor calls the ones that look inside the front door that is more than a meter, 6’6″ of security glass, Peepers.  There is a triple of ducks that visit every day.  The largest has a droopy right wing, and two smaller ones.  I figure it is a family.   Just don’t colonize under my Jeep, you’re leaving a smelly mess.

I eventually convinced them to relocate to my neighbor’s island of flowers.  The constant hosing down of the carport was a bit much.

I was noticing that the butterflies here are thick on the wing.  I would watch as my Monarchs would glide past looking for the Mexican Milkweed I have in the backyard for them to eat.

There’s a black and yellow striped Zebra Longwing that flies past occasionally.  That pattern will strobe as it flies past.

The point is we’ve been lucky.  Due to the efforts of the neighbor and the various parks in town like M.E. DePalma Park, we’re seeing more varieties of butterflies.

I have been out in the yard puttering around more than once while cleaning out my irrigation lines and had to be told to stand still as there were butterflies on my back.  Plural, as in more than one.

In the case of the orange one, I have never seen those before.  It wanted to see me.  I was over by the pool and the bougainvillea looking around aimlessly, and this little beauty landed quite at my feet.  I moved away, it got up and followed me.  For a good ten minutes.

Ten minutes is a long time to be On Guard, I suppose, but I was entertaining this little creature in the whole time.

I moved to the trash can spilling water as I carried the basket from the pool skimmer, and it followed.  I guess nobody wants to drink pool water except my dog.

I decided that the best course was to enjoy the encounter and go about my business.  Eventually it did fly away off to find more flowery fields.  All a part of being in the great outdoors.