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Posts tagged ‘florida’

Goodbye to You, Isaac!

Since Friday evening, we felt Isaac’s feeder bands with increasing force — Sunday and Monday were particularly…”active.” If you haven’t witnessed a tropical storm, hurricane, or their feeder bands, it’s a most amazing and beautiful sight — to stand in the open and watch a storm’s dark feeder clouds rapidly circling around you. The sheer force and expanse of these storms is awesome, and can put things in perspective.

However, I’m particularly grateful today, given our flooded neighborhood and city, that I freelance / work from home — GRATITUDE!

Flooded cul-de-sac

A new lake in the cul-de-sac! The other streets were equally…damp

And on another bright spot, the fish and ducks are VERY happy with the extra real estate.

Thanks St. Francis, for keeping those waters just a few feet from our little home….

A Motled Duck surveys her newly expanded lake

A happy Muscovy Duck eating at the water’s edge — near the house

An anxious Mouse surveys the lake, staying far above the flooded porch floor

Now, sending good wishes and love to the northern Gulf Coast, as a strengthening Isaac approaches on Katrina’s anniversary.

A Walk Through an Endangered Scrub Community

We recently visited one of  Palm Beach County’s many preserved swaths of pristine Florida land, the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area. Thanks to Tropical Storm Debby and other interesting recent weather patterns, we’ve been afforded some great hiking weather — CLOUDY! TS Debby brought us massive rains and winds (and she snapped my lovely, towering Japanese Sunflower plant — GR!), but we’ve been able to accomplish longer hikes than we normally would have at this time of the year.

This particular area was never developed, and saw minimal agricultural use throughout the years. Purchased in 1999 in a growing effort to protect and maintain threatened and endangered biological communities in the county, we’re thankful to be afforded this glimpse of natural Florida. Located on a sand ridge that was once an ancient shoreline, 97 acres of Florida scrub and scrubby flatwoods communities have been incorporated and are now protected at the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area — as are the threatened Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise, both victims of years of over-development and lack of protection.

Scrub and scrubby flatwoods habitats are two of the rarest natural communities in Florida, with less than 2 percent remaining in Palm Beach County. Truly phenomenal, when you wrap your head around it.

The area has quite an interesting history (for more info, visit another post of mine on this natural area — Endangered Native Florida Ecosystems at the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area). During this dusk outing, we were alone (the sky was sputtering), and we encountered many gopher tortoises returning to their burrows, hunting hawks, and thousands of dragonflies. Altogether a wonderful early evening in a most unique and beautiful land.

Scrub and Scrubby Flatwoods

Gopher Tortoise Returning to Its Burrow

Slash Pine Profile

Ground Cover Blossoms

Scrub and Scrubby Flatwoods

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

A Trail Offering

A Lovely Old Slash Pine

Someone’s Meal, So Perfectly Arranged

A Butterfly’s Kingdom

In light of recent events, smiles were in order… So we hiked, we walked our natural areas, and we visited the butterflies!! I’m a nut for butterflies — I often find myself plowing through beastly banana spider webs, or managing the swamp, to chase butterflies on our hikes. More than once I’ve nearly tripped over large, scaly, and silent objects at the water’s edge — quite unlike a butterfly — in my efforts to photograph these lovelies….

Butterfly World, located here in South Florida, opened in 1988. It’s the largest butterfly park in the world, and the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. At any given time, more than 3000 live butterflies are fluttering at the facility (and usually MORE), representing 50 different species (150 species over the course of an entire year). This is all thanks to Robert Boender, who raised butterflies and their food plants from his Florida home, post-retirement. In 1984, he was supplying farmed butterflies to zoos and universities with his own company. He met Clive Farrell — founder and owner of the London Butterfly House — in 1985, during a visit to England. Wanting to create a similar facility in Florida, Boender and Ferrell joined forces and began plans to create a combination public attraction / research facility and butterfly farm — and Butterfly World was born.

Visitors enter the spectacular Paradise Adventure Aviary, with fountains, ponds, lush vegetation, and of course thousands of butterflies — representing five continents. It’s a glorious shock to the human system, to be suddenly surrounded by thousands of fluttering brilliant colors. The Hanging Garden & Butterfly Emerging Area is next, where cases filled with pupa and emerging butterflies are displayed. Finally, the Tropical Rain Forest Aviary recreates a rain forest — complete with waterfall, thousands of tropical plants, and free-flying birds and butterflies.

Butterfly World also includes the largest free-flight hummingbird aviary in the United States — the Jewels of the Sky Aviary — as well as a Lorikeet Encounter, and an aviculture research center. At the butterfly laboratory, visitors can view — through a glass enclosure — where butterflies are raised, observing the different stages of formation including eggs, caterpillar, and pupa.

At the Museum/Insectarium, exhibits of mounted specimens of beetles, butterflies, moths, and other insects are displayed. The Bug Zoo features live insects, including spiders, walking sticks, and mantids. Not particularly my favorite part of the facility, having been raised on the Equator, on a tropical island where insects grew to gargantuan proportions — and there was little barrier between you and them.

Other features include Grace Gardens, offering examples of the world’s flowering tropical plants. The Wings of the World Secret Garden presents one of the largest collections of flowering Passion Flower vines (passiflora) in the world — beautiful beyond compare. Butterfly World’s conservation efforts include the establishment of The Passiflora Society International, which was established at the site to encourage research on passion flowers, the source of food for many butterflies. A North American “Bring Back the Butterflies” campaign is also active here, with thousands of people across the country receiving free literature on butterfly gardening for their region. Check it out! Butterfly World also helped establish the Boender Endangered Species Laboratory at the University of Florida — instrumental in saving the endangered Schaus Swallowtail, and reintroducing the species to South Florida.

Many pesticides kill butterflies (and bees, and…), so it’s important to be safe with their use — or, use ladybugs in their stead! Sadly, butterflies came up in the news recently with companies like genetically-modified foods giant Monsanto. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crops have been tied to the decrease in Monarch populations by killing the very plants that the butterflies rely on for habitat and food — milkweed. These plants are being destroyed by the heavy use of glyphosate-based pesticides on Roundup Ready crops. Over the past 17 years, the Monarch butterfly population in Central Mexico has declined, reaching an all-time low in 2009-2010. Obviously there’s a far bigger picture here, which many are aware — land destruction, farmers’ livelihoods, and our own health — but when the news was released that these companies and their crops were now ravaging the butterfly populations (for years, now)…. Honestly.

But thanks to the education and conservation campaigns of facilities like Butterfly World, perhaps there may be some sort of balance reached between the destruction caused by these companies, and a return to the natural order.

Piano Key Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly (Specifically, err…)

Clipper Butterfly

Madiera Butterfly

White Morpho Butterfly

Still trying to figure this one out…

…And on to the birds!

Season of the (Red) Snake

It’s apparently the season of the red snake. We just encountered our first Corn Snake / Red Rat Snake (oddly enough, for its commonality) — and most recently, on a brief excursion to photograph butterflies in the northern section of the Everglades, I nearly stepped on this lovely young Orange Rat Snake at dusk. He was none too happy with our presence, and my undivided attention to his colorful mug.

Also known as the Everglades Rat Snake or Glades Rat Snake, this species is known for its calm nature (in captivity) and wide array of bright colors, making it another favorite with snake keepers. While many areas are host to the Everglades Rat Snake, Florida has a particularly high concentration — the species derives its name from the Everglades region in South Florida, where it’s said to have originated. Although prone to aggression if feeling cornered or threatened (like many animals, unsurprisingly), they are NOT dangerous, and spend much of their time in hiding — in crevices, tucked into knotholes, burrowing into holes, on trees (including palms), or on treetops (they’re great climbers). Like many Florida snakes, they’ll quickly flee to the water should they sense danger on land. They can reach lengths of 4 – 6 feet, although a few have been reported up to 7 feet — making it one of the longest snakes in North America. A single clutch can include between 7 – 27 eggs, hatching in July or September. As the snakes mature, they change from a blotchy grey to orange or sometimes red, with four standard stripes resembling their background color — with striking red eyes and a matching red tongue (the red eye can be seen in this picture). Their natural habitats are grasslands, wetlands, and swamps.

Whenever we see snakes around our home, they’re usually non-venemous; and we ensure that they’re protected from lawnmowers and the like. Snakes keep rodent populations down — and if you live anywhere near water, you realize how large water rats can become. Snakes are our friends! If you or someone you know is afraid of them, gently relocate the snake and / or its nest. We once had a large Brown Snake manage its way into our inside closet (how, we’ll never know). Believe me, I’d — and by “I,” I mean the male — would rather have relocated that Brown Snake than a water rat.

Everglades Rat Snake, or Orange Rat Snake in the Florida Everglades

Fae Mouse; or a Visit with an Eastern Harvest Mouse

Despite the commonality of some critters, I love to watch them just as much as any other — they’re all captivating. I recently watched and photographed an Eastern Harvest Mouse for a solid 20 minutes….

This little guy is common in Florida’s wetland ecosystems, but other natural habitats include subtropical and tropical grasslands, scrub, swamps, prairies, meadows, and pastureland. Their range includes the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Florida, and Texas. While the Eastern Harvest Mouse eats seeds, fresh plant matter, and small insects, they’re prey for our snakes, bobcats, large wading birds, and birds of prey. Their nests are constructed of shredded grasses and plant fibers, and are used by the mice year-round. Offspring are usually born in the late spring, summer, or early fall, with litter sizes ranging from 2 – 7.

I realize many people are spooked by rodents, mice in particular. Perhaps it’s my love of fairy tales, or plain fondness for all critters — every one — but I always see fairies accompanying them. Honestly, he’s adorable; as I’m always saying: THAT FACE!

Eastern Harvest Mouse, Florida Wetlands

Courtesy Project Gutenberg:

“Grasshopper Green and the Meadow-Mice,” Written and illustrated by John Rae. P.F. Volland Company, 1922

Courtesy Project Gutenberg:

“Grasshopper Green and the Meadow-Mice,” Written and illustrated by John Rae. P.F. Volland Company, 1922

“Fairies And a Field Mouse,” by Etheline E. Dell (1885-1923)

“The Chase of the White Mouse,” by John Anster Fitzgerald (1819-1906)

The Queen of the Field Mice, from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum

Courtesy Project Gutenberg:

Thumbelina, by Hans Christian Andersen, from “Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories: The Young Folks Treasury, Volume 1”

“The Fairy Bower” by John Anster Fitzgerald

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