Sunrise on Wilton Manors

I get up whenever I feel like it.  Unfortunately I tend to feel like it as early as 4:30 AM.  A late day is getting up at sunrise.

Part of it is habit.  I would get up on weekends back in the day.  First it was for rowing on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.  Later it was for running in the Valley Forge National Park, or to the trails for biking and Inline Skating.

I miss the Skating the most.  South Florida with its drivers that aim for anything out there including other cars is not conducive for putting any decent distance on inline skates.

Decent distance for me is 100 miles per week.  That is 162 km for the Imperially Impaired.

But the habit continues.

Lately it is a two mile, 3 km dog walk every day, rain or predawn shimmer.

That predawn shimmer can be quite beautiful.

I’m out there with my faithful side kick and shadow, Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) every morning and we cover practically the entire Wilton Drive.  It’s a coping strategy.  You see, Rack is quite fearful and having little traffic before 7AM, we’re out there to try to do some distance to keep in shape.   It works, but it also serves to allow him to get a taste of what he is afraid of without truly having a major panic attack.

The minor ones will trip you up enough anyway.  To get out and explore your own town at a time of morning when there are few others out there truly is a privilege.  On the one hand, you get a weird zombie movie or post apocalyptic vibe where there are tumbleweeds rolling down the main drag.  It’s dead quiet, and there are only a few  people up.  You can ignore them.

But there are the changes as you walk along.  The skies go from indigo to purple to blue.  You get a Subtle Hint Of Mauve, whatever color your eye translates that to be, on everything, and the buildings begin to glow.  The flowers begin to pop.  Later you hit the golden hour and the world wakes up.

So does the traffic, and that can be a distraction for a fearful medium sized mostly black dog.  He gets more insistent to get

Off The Drive and turn back into the neighborhood to head on home.  It’s a 45 minute or more wander.  Later walks are always longer.   You need to take care getting across that street that you didn’t when you left home.  People wave, the officers in the patrol car flash their lights or chirp their sirens to say hello, dog walkers emerge.

I am living my own version of the intro to the movie Roxanne as all the sudden I am smiling as a baby Beagle and a Pug are wrapped around my legs begging for attention and Rack is snuffling around the owners looking to be pet.

We’ll end up home soon enough.  Herd a few ducks, watch the last clouds turn from golden to white, and ponder whether the rain will come on shore before you get home.

Another dog walk at sunrise ends with the cool of the living room.

Hello!  I’m home!  What’s for Breakfast?

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?

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.

Jewfish Creek Bridge, The Video

Once upon a time, I made my trip to the Florida Keys.

There is a very stark break between the mainland and the Everglades in Florida City.  Everything simply “Stops”.

You get past that and there are a very few businesses way off in the middle of nowhere.  A cement factory and a quarry come to mind.  A marina is just on the other side of the Monroe county line.  But until you get to Key Largo, there’s practically nothing but grass and nature.

And this one massive scar through the landscape called US1.

Granted it is a scar, but you actually need it there to get to the Keys.

I am sure some people who are more ecologically aware would say that it does not belong there, nor do we in an ecological niche like those beautiful little jewels, but there are also people that would argue that nobody should live below the I-4 line where the land ceases to be land but more like a swamp.

Like I said, I’m not that ecologically aware.  My own feeling is don’t expand it, and contract development in the keys where possible.  But no draconian solutions, please.  They are beautiful and we can enjoy them if we play nice with nature.

Just before you go onto the island that Key Largo is on, there’s one big deep water gap.  A “Cut” so the larger boats can go into or out of the Florida Bay.  That is at what is now the Jewfish Creek bridge.

I realize I am being a small bit imprecise, but grant me that.

Since the old drawbridge was replaced years ago, they built an improved structure and then the bridge we have now.

The bridge itself is kind of minimalistic, maybe a bit stark, and painted in aqua blue, which is befitting of a place as knock down beautiful as the keys.

One of my earlier trips I took a picture and wrote about it.  For some strange reason in all the 8 or more years that I have been writing, that particular article gets read frequently.

What I did was revisit it.  I was down there for my birthday, a few days later.  Knowing that I was going there,  I brought my little video camera for the trip.  Hopefully this video will satisfy the area’s fans.

Hopefully my color commentary won’t offend too much and that my very shaky hand is not too awful.  But for now, I present the video.  For your pleasure or disdain.

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.

Finally, A Decent Mexican Milkweed Harvest

This rather scruffy looking pile is a lot of hard work.

It’s a bit of a story as well.

You see, I have a bit of a problem with my Mexican Milkweeds.  They’re a little bit of an obsession.

I plant them simply because the Monarch Butterflies like them.

A bit too much.  Quite a lot, actually.  It’s their main food here.

I’m also a short walk from a little pocket park that is devoted to Native South Florida Plants, M.E. DePalma Park.  There are a lot of flowers planted there that belong there.  You know it’s native because you are told – most of the flowers are not at all showy like you’re used to seeing at the garden center.  Walking past that park, you actually can HEAR the difference since all the local insects and animals are happily living in what they’ve adapted to – native species.  In fact, the Mexican Milkweed flowers are one of the larger ones there by virtue of them being a cluster of flowers.

They’re also very tasty to Monarch Butterflies.  We have quite a few of them flying by the house as a result.

The butterflies know they are there.  I’m not certain how, but if your main food plant is important to you you will learn how to pick them out.

And that would be the crux of the matter.  I normally can’t keep them growing here.

I have since found that when the Monarchs lay their eggs there, they will eat from the nectar of the flowers,

leave and the caterpillars will com out a few days later.  Those caterpillars will eat the plant to sticks.

You can propagate those sticks if you take a finger length cutting with one or two leaf buds on them, and stick them into moist soil.

This time though, I was able to get a couple plants to grow to maturity.  The Monarchs did not find them.

It seems that the trick is that if your Milkweed is growing in a sheltered area, the butterflies can’t really find them.

As a result of all that dancing around … I finally have seeds enough for myself, the people who have been supplying me, some to return to the park, and a few to hand out to friends.

The seeds grow quickly and flower fast, but only if they are not seen.  The plants don’t have any evil smell to them so they would grow indoors in a bright window, but you can’t grow indoor plants in South Florida.  Ants would find them and all the sudden you have a colony living in your living room.

Nope.  No indoor plants here.

So my seeds?  They’re happily drying out in my living room.  I’ll be taking a pod with me on one of my many walks.  I can go back to being Johnny Milkweed Seed.  I may even get some more since there are a few pods that have yet to ripen.

But … we won’t tell the Monarchs that, will we?

The Beauty At Your Feet

The Japanese have many artistic traditions that we in the West are beginning to notice and take into account.

Of course we will get them wrong from time to time.  A Minimalist aesthetic can be wonderful.  Walking into a place that looks clean and polished where every fine detail is meticulously fussed over will immediately draw you in and have you pay deep attention to the space that isn’t used in comparison with the spaces that are used.

Then again, sometimes we get it wrong.  The mass market plasticization of society and public spaces can simply look stark and uninviting.  An Apple Store always seems cold and sterile to me instead of a place to draw you in and invite creativity.  After all, that is what a computer is used for, to Create.

Maybe I am digging a bit too deep.  My own wanders over my own patch of beach sand here never ceases to amaze me.  Having grown up in the Prairies of South Jersey, I was used to a certain look and feel of things.  My split level house of my youth was plucked out of a life of The Wonder Years.  The Pin Oaks planted along the street would change with the seasons but were very much of the place and grew with the time.

Here things simply look different.  I live in a town that will never freeze, or so I am told by the USDA and their zones.  I have never seen it below 34, and it may not have been quite that cold since I am rather close to the beach. 3 Km or 2.3 Miles to be specific.

So things are not adapted to lose their leaves in winter.  Flowers can occur all year around.  If you like that sort of thing, and are observant, you can find beauty in just about anything.

My own yard for example.  I find things that look like what the mother of a friend of mine called Wandering Jew.  She told me that if the conditions are right, they will bloom.  That sounded simply insane that a house plant would bloom like that to me since you just can’t leave things outside in the cold weather.

Here, it is a weed.  And it blooms.

A tiny little dot of blue in the field of green at my feet.   All I have to do is be patient and wait.  In this case it was in late February, but no matter.

Other times, there’s a spot of yellow.  Most likely from the shamrocks that grow in my yard, it could also be sorrel.  Either way, these things are predictable.  I almost always see them out there.  Bright yellow or a pale lavender, they are in the sun, growing all over the place.

I have taken notice of them as they end up in my plant pots.  How that happens, I have no idea.  The flowers tend to be cut with the lawnmower, they reappear quickly, and they disappear.

Again, it blooms and brings beauty to a uniform green, if you know where to look.

That would be the key.

 

Open your eyes, pay attention.  You could be missing something quite special.