Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Ditch is Back!

Roadside Rainlilies--The Ditch is Back
Well, actually, the ditch never left, but I can't resist a good pun or title. But it feels like it's back again after a long winter. Yesterday, my photo buddy Maralee and I decided that it was high time that we checked out the ditch and we took a drive over to the other end of the county. And wow, was it worth it! The weather is warming up now and there's been a lot of rain so the ditch was literally hopping. Driving toward the ditch we could see Rain Lilies and Purple Thistle dotting the roadside and we knew this was going to be a great day. When we got out to look around, there were Worts everywhere-- Orange Milkwort and Spiderwort, tiny yellow Zigzag Bladderworts and Blue Butterworts.
Rain Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca)

Purple Thistle and all its Horrible Thorns! (Cirsium horridulum)

Zigzag Bladderwort (Utricularia subulata)

Blue Butterwort (Pinguicula caerulea)

Long Leaf Violet and Spider (Viola lanceolata)

Little spiders scurried around at our feet and tiny baby grasshoppers flew out when we stirred up the grass. There were Hatpins and Sundew and White Violets galore, and a couple of new flowers that we hadn't seen--we have some research to do to identify them. Maybe you can help! Continuing along, we found tiny white Duck Potatoes, a cluster of St. John's Wort and a huge bed of pretty Blue Butterworts. I was hunched over concentrating on getting a good closeup of one when Maralee called out "Snake"! I hurried over and was in time to catch sight of a gorgeous Coral Snake sliding through the grass. It was too fast for us to get a clear photo, but we were both pretty pleased about seeing the Coral Snake. Great day!
Funnel Web Spider

Duck Potato and Crab Spider (Sagittaria latifolia)

Big Bed of Butterworts

Can you See the Coral Snake in the Grass? Red on Yellow...
We found a cluster of old dried Hooded Pitcher Plants and another cluster with new flower buds about to open. Just about that time we realized that the tiny flitting butterflies that we were seeing all over were Little Metalmarks! I have so many photos of Little Metalmarks, but they are so pretty that I always have to take more. They were a bit darker than the ones we had seen in the fall and they looked fresh and gorgeous. They seemed to be particularly fond of the Fleabane and the Orange Milkwort.
Hooded Pitcher Plant Flower Buds (Sarracenia minor)

Little Metalmark Butterfly on Fleabane

We heard lots of White Eyed Vireos calling from the woods, saw Vultures circling over and watched bees and wasps and flies furiously feeding on the flowers. Little frogs croaked from the grass and tree frogs clacked from the trees because storm clouds were moving in. Swallowtail, Crescent and Skipper butterflies made brief cameos. There were a few annoying mosquitoes and gnats. This wet weather portends of a buggy summer, unfortunately. But the Sundews will have plenty to feed on!
Phaon Crescent on Fleabane

Dwarf Sundews and their Nutrients (Drosera brevifolia)

Closer to the ground were the Dewberries and Blue Eyed Grass, while the False Garlic and Coreopsis danced over their heads. We both agreed that this was just the beginning of a long season of regular visits to our favorite ditch. We'll be back.

False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve)

Mystery Flower--Let me know if you can ID it!

ps--I have learned that this is a Pineland Daisy (Chaptalia tomentosa).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Focus on Nature

Spring is Calling! Bees buzzing in the Hog Plums
I've been waiting for March to come and for the cold weather to leave before getting serious in the garden. It's been hard, but I kept telling myself that it was best for the plants, and that after writing for all the world to see that one should wait to trim, I couldn't exactly go out and chop everything down in February. But I have also been preparing to give a talk at a conference, and I've found, for myself at least, that an important deadline is the surest motivator to start a totally unrelated project. It helps me to procrastinate getting to the work at hand. I think I deal with stress by not dealing with it. When I was an English major at UW Madison, I still remember starting and completing a simple quilt for my daughter's bed before I started my paper on the Gulliver's Travels. But I managed to pull off both big jobs, and as I recall, got an A on my paper, too. Not the best strategy, I know, but it's the way my twisted mind works sometimes.

Spring Signs! Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana)
I was invited, for my first time ever, to present at a conference--the annual conference for LEEF (the League of Environmental Educators in Florida). My topic was "Bringing the Natural World to your Classroom with Photography"and my talk was going to be about the ways that I've been able to turn my love for photography into tools that I use as a Nature Educator. So it's a good thing that I wrote the blog about spring trimming, because that kept me honest (garden-wise) and made me focus on preparing for the conference.

Nature Tools! (Shameless plug--available on my Website)

It worked and I got almost everything ready ahead of time, which is good, because I ended up taking an unplanned trip to Utah a week before the conference. Utah was nice. It was a pretty time of year, pre-spring. The buds were just coming out, the mountains were spectacular, and we even had a light snow on our last day.
The Beautiful Wasatch Mountains

And in those few days that we were away, spring arrived big time in Florida. We came home to azalea bushes completely covered with fuchsia, pink and white blossoms, the yellow and blue of coreopsis and spiderwort in the front path, and everything covered in yellow pollen from the Oak Trees. The Fish Crows had joined the Baltimore Orioles that had been coming to our feeders all winter, emptying the jelly feeders about as fast as I could fill them. The flocks of Cedar Waxwings had settled into the Publix parking lots, snarfing holly berries with gusto. I like that you can hear the sound of their squeaky-door calls back and forth to each other a long time before you can see them. I hope every year to finally get the definitive photo, because they are some of the prettiest birds I know of. I usually don't have my camera when I see them, probably because I see them most often at the grocery store. I didn't have my camera in Utah, either, because it was a short trip. I'm like an addict, and when I haven't been out in nature, walking and taking photos, I feel it. My friend Maralee calls this "Forest Bathing", which I just love. Environmental Educator, Richard Louv, calls it "Vitamin N". Either way, my supply gets low and I need to replenish it. I was feeling seriously Nature deficient after working on the computer so much and being out of town for family visit, sans camera. (Well, to be honest, I actually did have a camera. Two, in fact--a point and shoot, and my phone. But I didn't bring the fancy lenses. So there.)

This was waiting when we got home. Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

The Elusive Cedar Waxwing. I hope someday to catch it eating a berry, while showing it's yellow tail tips and red wing spots. Sounds impossible, but I've got to hope. This was shot in a grocery store parking lot, and I was lucky to finally have the camera with me when I went to pick up a prescription.

When I got back to Florida, I felt this yearning desire to be outside, either hiking and photographing, or working in the yard. But I also felt like they would distract me from preparing for this conference, and I wanted to do a good job there, so I only allowed myself small doses of the fun stuff as reward. It was not completely satisfying, though, because I couldn't really focus well without feeling guilty.
Guilty Pleasure--A trip to Paynes Prairie to see the Baby Pied Billed Grebes
In the end, though, I finished my presentation, printed out all my visual aids and had it all ready to go with plenty of time to spare. I practiced working the presentation on my iPad (pretty nifty!) since I don't have a laptop. I used an application called Prezi that my husband recommended. Prezi is almost the same idea as Powerpoint, but the slides come to you from different points on the screen and can zoom in. It feels a little more dynamic than the old slide by slide method, though I'm very new at using it. I used my own photos for everything and I thought it looked fantastic! So off I went to the conference at 4-H Camp Ocala in the Ocala National Forest, about an hour and a half from home. I wasn't able to attend the entire conference, with camping, workshops and the keynote speech, but I was able to stay for the day's workshops. I attended a session from the people at Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge and Nature Center, called "Bird Brains" and learned some fun ways to teach children about birds, using costumes and props. And I learned about Gopher Tortoises from Florida expert, Pat Ashton. Great stuff that I know I will use in the future.

Prezi slide on my iPad mini. Amazing!
Environmental educators are a great bunch of people. They are fun and creative, don't mind looking foolish doing a turkey dance, can make convincing owl calls, and are able to make neat things happen from a wish and a prayer (like creating gopher tortoises from disposable paper bowls and calipers from bamboo skewers), because budgets for environmental education are sorry, to say the least. Which is sad, since it is so important, and teaching future generations about nature, ecology, the environment, natural history and conservation are crucial for the health of our people and planet. We've had one of the harshest winters on record and weather is out of kilter due to climate change. It seems like every week now we learn about how much better children perform in school when they are active and spend time outdoors. How much healthier they are. How much more empathetic they are. I think Environmental Education is very important and I am just happy that there are people like those who attended the conference who believe the same.

My session went well, except for a few minor technical flubs caused by my inexperience with Prezi and iPads. But I know it will be even smoother in the future, should the opportunity arise. The small group that attended my session was friendly and understanding. They enthusiastically shot questions and suggestions at me throughout the presentation. I think I shared some new, good things with them. And they did the same with me. At the point of the class where we were all going to go outside and take photos to put in a mock-up of a blog, one of the attendees said, "I think I have something that would be fun to photograph if you're interested". And I thought, "hmmmm--I don't know where this is going…". Then she opened the box in her hands and showed us two 10-day old baby armadillos! Wow! Only at an E.E. conference! The person was Leslie Straub, a wildlife rehabilitator from Gainesville. I was so lucky to have her in my photography session! I think everyone got great shots. Hopefully, some of them went home and blogged about it, or wrote a story about "Annie the Armadillo's Big Adventure". I know we all had fun.
Twin Armadillo Baby Girls. They were 10-days old and had been rescued. Two of their siblings died.

This was only the 2nd outing for the babies. They were cute and curious and very skittish! They ran around like kittens, jumping and sniffing.

Armadillos always have litters of 4 genetically identical babies. They will be all girls or all boys. These were girls. After they played and explored for a while, they were tired and got fed and went to sleep.
But that's not all. The session ended and as my kind helper and I were cleaning up and loading things into the car, we saw two Sandhill Cranes walking around the building. They were perfectly at ease with us being there. In fact, they wandered into a campsite and looked at the tents and at things on the table. Then they walked right over to where we were standing and I took some of the best crane photos I've ever gotten. No fences in the way, no crowds. No pressure. They even did a little "dancing", although I think they were trying to chase off the man who was near the tents (in his campsite--how dare he!). It was a spiritual experience standing so close to these magnificent birds.
Sandhill Crane probing for goodies

Curious Camp Invaders
I got my reward for staying focused until I was done with the conference. It was a great experience, and I hope it is the start of a new path for me. Next time I'm calling my presentation, "Focus on Nature". Perfect!