OK, folks, I don’t usually give you previews of my upcoming columns, but now in the times of COVID-19 and stay-at-home instructions, I pretty much know what I will be writing about in the near future. My backyard. My cat. And maybe the Amelia River-to-Sea walking/biking trail as long as we can still go outside to exercise. My world, like your own, has gotten dramatically smaller, but there is still a lot to write about. There always is.
Luckily for me, and for readers of my column, there is a lot going on right now in my backyard. Thanks to recent gardening work by my friend, Anne Dworetzky, my butterfly garden is finally free of those Virginia creepers, pepper vines, and poison oak that had overtaken it. I’m allergic to all three of these vines. With these vines everywhere, I’ve been avoiding my garden, but with these noxious vines gone and a fresh layer of pine straw between my pots of butterfly-attracting plants, I’m happy again. I can now watch the monarch butterflies laying eggs on my reseeded milkweeds and the many caterpillars chomping away. You no doubt will hear more about this later.
And then there are the pond turtles. We have the only area around our retention pond that has a large patch of sunny land without sod and the turtles have found it. It is pond turtle nesting season, and just a few days ago we spotted the first turtle laying her eggs in this sand. Another story yet to come.
I know I often mention my love/hate feelings about the non-migratory geese that have flourished on our island, but right now I am on the love side of this equation. A “Mother Goose” has chosen to again have her nest right behind the drainage outflow from the pond. She and her protective mate on the other side of the pond entertain us from our perch on our side. You’ll hear more about her in the coming weeks too.
The very shy kingfisher that visits our pond is going to have to get used to us being on our deck, but it seems that we aren’t detected if we stay quiet, without moving, behind a cypress tree that obscures the sight of us. If we remain still we can also watch the large pileated woodpeckers and smaller red-bellied woodpeckers as they knock for insects on the tree trunks. The cardinals and titmice have no problem with our presence at all. After they see one of us come out of the house, they start chirping until we fill their feeder with songbird food.
Spring flowers are blooming in our yard. The purple and red sages, lantanas, zephyr lilies, Louisiana irises, honeysuckles, and more are all in bloom, attracting butterflies and bees. The bottlebrushes are in full bloom and the hummingbirds have found them. Luckily there are too many blooms for the squirrels to totally decimate, so this show should still go on for a while. Sadly, the squirrels have already eaten most of the beautiful pineapple guava blossoms on our tree. We rarely ever actually get guavas from the tree because of squirrel predation, but hey, the squirrels are kind of fun to watch too.
Now that the Amelia River-to-Sea trail runs right past the fence to our development, we can watch the parade of pedestrians and bike riders passing by. Sometimes a friend sees us over the fence and yells “hello” and we yell back. Most days, I also walk this trail myself.
Our cat, Dumela, has an outsized role in our life now, so we spend some time dreaming up “behavioral enrichment” opportunities with new toys and ways to entertain her. You’ll most likely hear more about this in the weeks to come.
So, folks, although I am not in Moldova (where I am supposed to be right now) and we are not driving around Florida finding new places to explore and write about, there is still a lot happening in my world. Don’t worry, you will read all about it.
Now is a good time to really get to know your very local world, just like we are doing. Stay at home and stay safe.
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.