Entries Tagged 'Wildlife' ↓

Florida’s Version of Neighborhood Watch

These are the kinds of things people in my neighborhood get notices for:

And don’t think this isn’t for real, either. Here’s where we found a mother and five babies destroying my backyard a few years back.

My yard still hasn’t recovered.

Florida. It’s wilder than you realize.

 

Releasing Butterflies

I am tying up a few loose ends around here as I prepare to get back to work. And that includes this blog’s time with Insect Lore. Yep, that’s right, my time with Insect Lore is over for now.

But we have obviously loved all the goodies and creepy crawlies we’ve gotten to know along the way.

Speaking of creepy crawlies, you might remember our window sill full of caterpillars who wound themselves into quiet cocoons. Well, awhile back they did hatch over a flutter filled Sunday afternoon. The next day my family decided to release them all. And we, of course, video taped our fun.

It was truly bittersweet, we had grown used to having them around and watching them change. But, of course, butterflies must fly and a warm Florida Spring offers them the perfect opportunity to do just that.

And in the words of those wonderful Dixie Chicks, “there’s beauty in just letting go.”

Enjoy.

(Oh and p.s. Gotta love my husband’s first comments. “Don’t whack it, it’s not a bug.” Well, I guess not the kind of bug someone would actually want to whack at least… Such a fun family afternoon.)

Spring Zen

When I picked my kids up from school a little over a week ago and hollered, “WOOO HOOO Spring Break!!!”, I never expected the turmoil, the insanity, the unexpected turn of events we experienced in the many days following. No way.

So while adrenaline continues to fuel my days and the unexpected has become almost expected, I actually found myself a little spring zen in my backyard yesterday.

This butterfly seemed so taken by my un-mowed clover. And that’s not the sky in the background but the sky’s reflection on our backyard pond. Kind of cool.

Anyway. It seemed the perfect first day of Spring picture to post.

Breathe. Focus. Don’t mind me. Just finding my zen here on my blog.

(My son is doing fantastic, by the way. He was released from the hospital the day after my last post. And while he tackles his brother in the other room, it’s hard to believe he was as sick as he was. So, back to school tomorrow for him…)

Hibiscus

Looking for some beauty today. And I found it.

Insect Lore: Introduction, Buzzerks and Giveaway

If you’ve been a reader here awhile you already know I happen to have my own slice of the wild kingdom in my backyard. But if you think this is some kind of complaint, it’s not. Because I love my backyard beasties. I truly do. I consider it value added to my property. Some like a two car garage and vaulted ceilings, well I love watching a heron light on my back pond or a butterfly make its way through my yard.

And while, sure, we even get the big stuff that should make me gather up my children, lock the doors and spray some sort of repellent haphazardly – I don’t. I try to teach my children about what we see and hope they learn what to do when they see it again. Because, no matter how much repellent we could buy or how often we have to call the gator hotline, these beasties live here as much as we do.

Lizards to ladybugs, bring them on.

Now, if you’ve been here awhile you also probably know that I am fairly picky about the sorts of reviews I do. But when they make sense for my blog, and I am supportive of the company behind the product, well, then I’m game.

The company Insect Lore approached me this summer and asked if I would be interested in working for them over the next year. What is Insect Lore? Simply put, they are in the business of bug and animal education. They sell educational toys aimed at teaching kids about insects and outdoor wildlife.

Which is kind of perfect for this beastie loving blog.

So what will I be doing with them? Once a month, Insect Lore will send me and my boys an educational item to review. And once a month, I will post my review here. While I do receive a small compensation as a brand ambassador of sorts, I promise that each review will be 100% honest. So stay tuned for upcoming Insect Lore reviews about cool stuff that we can haul outside and try on our backyard.

Because I heart wildlife. And I heart educational toys that teach kids more about wildlife.

So here we go. What did we get this month?

Buzzerks Eye Wear.

These bug glasses with flip-on compound eyes are pretty fun to play with. And I caught my boys super cute reactions in the vlog posted below, so check it out. Apparently hornets can play some decent baseball.

But quickly, here are my pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Fun and creative. They are great for make-believe. The kids loved zooming around the yard pretending to be bugs.
  • Durable. Yes, even though we had three pairs for two boys, we still had a couple skirmishes over who got to wear which pair when. Twice a pair was smashed to the ground and both times they survived unscathed and ready to be buggy for another day.
  • Optional compound eye piece. I’m glad the compound eyes are something you can try but then flip back for long term wear.
  • Life like. I think they do a pretty good job of looking like the real things and educating my kids about the faces of each bug type.
  • Biodegradable Packing Peanuts. I really appreciate this extra eco-friendly addition. And? The kids loved dissolving the packing peanuts in water almost as much as wearing the Buzzerks themselves. Almost.

Cons:

  • Optional compound eye piece. The kids were iffy on the compound eyes. My 7 year old got the idea and even thought it was cool, but he kept reminding me how “blurry” everything was. My 4 year old did not like the compound eyes at all and still won’t flip them down. I don’t think he believes any bug could see through compound eyes – which is probably an odd concept for him to grasp anyway.

Giveaway Alert!

So, you’ve seen what I have to say and seen what my kids think (watch below), and now you would love a pair for your little beastie. Well, you can have some. And so can your child’s school. Insect Lore will send you two sets of Buzzerks (each set includes the Fire Ant, the Hornet and the Mantis) – one for your family and one for your child’s school.

What do you need to do? Between now and Wednesday, October 27 2010, leave a comment below telling me your favorite animal or bug story. A tweet can count as an entry too, just leave a comment here saying you tweeted.

UPDATE:

Congratulations to Tree who has won the Buzzerks giveaway! I hope your children enjoy them. This contest is now closed.

In the meantime, watch my kids open up and try out Buzzerks in my backyard.

The Snake in my Kitchen

I was sitting in my dining room this morning trying to negotiate a very busy summer schedule and another blogging trip. Deep in concentration, I was still a bit groggy but vaguely keeping one ear open for my four year old playing in the other room.

When something caught my eye.

My husband had just gone out the kitchen door through the garage and was getting something out of his car. So the door was kind of open. And I think that’s how it got in.

A snake.

A LONG snake.

Groggy or not, I could NOT believe my eyes. And I was suddenly very much wide awake.

With wide, slithering arcs, our new visitor was apparently trying to make his way across our kitchen floor. And quickly. And so like any calm, self-sufficient woman, I screamed for my husband to GET in here RIGHT NOW!! Confused, he rushed in – and jumped. I laughed at him jumping only to find myself standing on a dining room chair.

And the snake, even more concerned about being cornered by this new apparent predator jumping at his rear, streaked right for our oven. Under he went.

…What the hell was THAT? My husband and I stared at each other disbelieving.

But we knew we had to get him out. With what, we weren’t sure. But we had to find something, some way, to coax him out of there.

We took a look at him first. And there he was, curled up under our stove trying to get away from his potential predators and the overwhelming heat of the day. The bubble over his head clearly read:

Dude. Be cool. I just want to curl up back here awhile. I mean no harm. So as you were. Nothing to see here.

That wasn’t going to fly. Not with dinners to cook in that very stove and children about and bare feet and who knows WHERE he might wind up next.

I think it was the sudden visual of his slithery silent body making his way up through my sheets and into my bed at night that made me start shaking the oven. Violently.

So, with a fishing pole slashing around the back of the oven and my panicked careful shaking, he cautiously made his way forward. And yes, I laid on the floor with the camera to get a shot. My husband was aggravated. How I could prioritize camera angles over just getting him OUT already? Come on now. But blurry or not, I had to get some shots. HAD TO.

It felt like an hour later, after the trash truck had passed (and scared him back in) and more patient waiting, and calm whispering and much less coaxing, slashing and violent shaking in general. After some still and silence, he seemed ready to emerge.

(I should mention here that my four year old never emerged. He remained deeply engrossed in his play elsewhere. How? With all that noise and stressing and cussing? I have no idea. But he stayed put so phew to that.)

Anyway, so we sat there quietly. An inch at a time he moved forward.

And once he had come out entirely, we stood very slowly.

My husband gently reached out with the fishing pole and used the eyelet of the pole to pull the snake away from the shelving he was heading towards next.

Miraculously, the snake figured out what we were trying to do and saw his escape. He bolted with full arcing speed, and zipped back into the garage. Into a pile of boxes and toys and crap we haven’t organized.

Awesome.

No. I have no idea if he is still out of there.

But he’s not in my house. And in Florida, where snakes move through our lives more frequently than we’d like to admit, I’ll have to settle for a snake in our garage versus a snake in our kitchen.

In retrospect, that snake was cool as hell. No, not poisonous. And certainly not aggressive. Perhaps desperate for a bit of cool shade. As we all are right now. Because it’s damn HOT outside. So I certainly can’t blame a snake for trying. I’m just proud of us for getting him out unharmed and not flipping the frock out too badly.

My only regret? My kitchen floors. That poor guy sped out of here with a dust bunny attached to his head.

Because if unexpected wildlife wandering through my home wasn’t enough to put you off a visit sometime soon, my dirty floors may just be.

So. Cleaner floors. Fewer snakes. More friends. I’ll get right on that.

The Gulf’s Guests

We are only guests here.

A few years back, I happened to put a few roots down some miles from the Gulf. I had no presumptions about what magic we would find here either. But within days, we found it. Drawn by some inner pull towards the shore and our general curiosity to see what all the fuss was about, we arrived at the Gulf’s coastline.

And we fell in love.

The Gulf stands clear and calm, mild and magnificent. Unlike the rough, tumbling waters we already knew off the shores of New England, these waters relented. They allowed us to wade in easily and settle quietly. They greeted us with fish darting around our toes and did not knock our baby on his butt. The Gulf was a warm welcome party, lulling us to stay awhile and sink our feet deep into its powder fine sand.

The Gulf is unlike any other body of water I’ve known before.

And since we have arrived, I’ve brought my family back again and again. I have walked on its shores with a new baby inside, calmed and safe. I have puttered out on boats and tossed myself blindly into it. So have my children. I have swum away from it’s shores and dived deep. I have been surrounded and filled with its aqua green, up around and over all of me.

The Gulf drops you to your knees and insists that you bathe in it, to roll around in it, to soak it up and slosh unheeded with its ebb and flow.

The Gulf surprises you with its true inhabitants. A dolphin slips by – a finger tip’s length away. A large gray shape lumbers past (not a mermaid but a manatee). Rays skate on its bottom. Fish of every size dash and jump and race through its quiet movement. Birds dive and swoop and come up with full beaks. Crabs scurry past your feet. Sand dollars are dug up with your toes. Star fish bend on your hand.

Life is everywhere.

And I am only a visitor. A guest. A passerby who barges through it’s open front door and settles her family on it’s shores. But there’s always a place for us – and a few intended hours predictably turn into an entire day. My children are endlessly entertained and utterly exhausted. I am rocked, repaired and relaxed. We stay and stay and stay.

The Gulf feeds and cleanses. The sand our bread, the water our wine.

We are renewed.

And then the Gulf bids the sun in and signals the inevitable end of our day. We pull our salted bodies up, gather our things and plod away. No matter how long we have overstayed our welcome, we are never entirely sated. We always come back. We always want more.

The Gulf feels like home.

But we are only guests here.

Love the Gulf

Over the past month, I have awoken to updates about the oil spill on the Gulf. While clearing my cobwebs over a bowl of Cheerios and some quick news, without fail I see the same thing: footage of gallons and gallons of oil bubbling up from the bottom of the sea.

This oil will ooze and spread and affect hundreds of thousands of lives – animal and person alike. It will have an enormous potentially unprecedented economic and environmental impact. Although, we have no idea to what extent yet. We have no idea how many eco-systems will be interrupted, or how many fishing businesses will go under, or how many beaches will be unswimmable making Florida not quite the vacation spot it used to be. But the oil keeps coming and those living in the Gulf’s coastal communities have no choice but to wait and see how all of this will unfold over the months and years to come.

It has filled me with such anger, fear and sadness.

But most of all? I am left feeling horribly helpless.

What can I do??

Well, I can write the hell out of this. And so can you.

The utterly fabulous Deb on the Rocks had an idea the other day. And my dear friend Maria and I jumped right on in. We would like to host a Love the Gulf Blog Carnival. And anyone else feeling as helpless as we are is welcome to come join the party.

Here’s the deal.

1. Write. Write how much you love the Gulf. Or about your memories of splashing on its shores as a child. Or maybe you need a place to vent your anger about what could happen. Or maybe you know a family whose livelihood is being deeply affected by this. Or maybe you have some breath-taking and beautiful pictures of the Gulf that must be shared. Bring it here, link it up, let’s collect our mutual love for the Gulf and make lots and lots of noise about it.

2. Post your link using the Mr. Linky widget here. Or post it on Maria’s blog Mommy Melee or Deb’s at Deb on the Rocks.

3. Pick up a Love the Gulf badge to put in your post or on your blog.

4. Spread the word. Share the Gulf love. Tell folks to come join this carnival on twitter (we’re using #lovethegulf over there), facebook or in the coffee line at Dunkin Donuts. Whatever. Just tell people to come and write. All are welcome.

5. Consider donating, signing up to volunteer or sharing links about where you can help such as: Earthshare, Network for Good, Oxfam, Serve.gov or the Florida Audubon.

And finally, thank you. Thanks for directing your attention towards the Gulf. And thanks for recognizing the collective power of words.


Backyard Florida Reptiles

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: we get a lot of animals out back. And if you follow my twitpics, you’ll see that I post a picture of some variety of backyard beast whenever there is one. Which is all the time. Anyway.

Today my six year old called me out onto the screen porch.

“Mom, a frog!”

Sure enough behind a box of blocks was a good sized frog, panicked and leaping about. We captured him gently and released him into the yard. But before he leaped away, I was lucky enough to catch a quick shot. I adore even the little beasts. Just look at him. Isn’t he cute?

And then, after hearding my stampede of boys indoors for dinner, the backyard quieted. The sun got lower, the air cooled, the water was still – it was a beautiful night. They finished dinner and started in on their homework. With my six year old working on his writing, I happened to glance up. And that’s when I saw this beast hauling himself onto the grassy median between our two back ponds. He too happens to be in the reptile family. But he certainly upstaged his distant cousin above.

I snuck outside and caught this picture before he darted back into the water. And please give some credit to my zoom for doing a decent job here because I swear he is only about 3-4 ft. long. Not big enough to make a run at us (but I think our cat might want to keep her title as an “indoor” kitty for now). But as my friends have asked me – where is it’s mother then? I told you all I need to stay on my toes out there.

And I promise. If he decides to make this grass bank his new home, we’ll call the gator hot-line.

Until then, wow. Florida. This place continues to amaze me.

Adoring Florida Beaches and Angry About Oil

When I woke up yesterday morning with no particular plan for my family, I sat down with my cereal at the computer and happened to read this article. The headline read:

“Oil Spill: DEP says it will hit Florida’s beaches mid-week”

I immediately felt ill. Ever since hearing the news about this spill, I have felt desperately ill. It has seeped into my conscious and I can’t seem to shake it. Last week, when I read the Governor’s reaction upon seeing the spill from the air, my stomach lurched once again.

“Until you actually see it, I don’t know how you can comprehend and appreciate the sheer magnitude of that thing.”

And it’s still spilling out. It’s not capped. Just erupting into the Gulf ceaselessly and oozing its way across the Gulf’s expanse. And now, it will hit our shores this week.

I want to spit.

I’m heartbroken, I’m powerless, I’m really really angry.

So without thinking twice, I announced to my family that a trip to the beach was in order. We better go enjoy it. We better spend a whole day appreciating what a fantastic slice of the natural world we have 45 minutes away from our front door.

And of course I packed my camera.

I want to share with you what we have here – what one small section of beach in Florida looks like.

This beach is in Tarpon Springs, a small town north of Tampa. This beach is in a park actually and we pay nothing to be there. The water is shifting, rolling glass – clear, blue and breathtaking.¬† The wildlife rivals any aquarium. Locals fish on the beaches edge and pull up striped, gulping species that I certainly can’t name. And it is nothing new to find dolphins swimming around the periphery hoping to snag a fish escaping a line. I got so close to a dolphin once I could have reached out and pet it. There are stingrays and birds and starfish and sand dollars and hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs and regular crabs. There are these small sand colored fish that nibble at your toes in the surf. There are beautiful tiny white shells lining the shore. And powder fine sand, like nothing I’ve seen, that you sink your feet into and then swear you’ll give up your job and your life in suburbia so that you never ever have to leave.

It’s heaven.

And it’s all up and down this entire coast. A resource like nothing else. A resource we take for granted.

So what can I do? As if some super sentimental post about my favorite beach will do anything at all. The oil is coming and we are all sitting aside, waiting and watching. Powerless.

Obama calls this “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

I don’t even know what to say to that.

I hate oil. I hate that we need it for our cars. I hate that we haven’t worked harder to harness other fuel resources. I hate that this kind of crap gets tied up in politics and partisanship and money and power and who has whose back. Our coasts and livelihoods and amazing wildlife care nothing about all that. But they will certainly pay dearly for it.

So why don’t we leave this post on a humorous note, shall we?? Because I think we could all use a good laugh right about now. And whose better at inspiring a giggle or two than our good buddy Sarah Palin? Here’s what she had to say to Biden about drilling during the Vice Presidential debate over a year ago (via The Huffington Post):

“You even called drilling — safe, environmentally-friendly drilling offshore — as raping the outer continental shelf. There — with new technology, with tiny footprints even on land, it is safe to drill and we need to do more of that.”