Put Out a Green Welcome Mat for Migratory Birds

By Mary Benton and Michael Faisal Green

In Collaboration with Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

Hello South Floridians!  Just imagine for a moment if, in order to survive, you had to embark at night on a very long, difficult, and dangerous journey, in which you had to travel under your own power, guided only by the moon and stars, an internal compass and map and known landmarks.  Imagine further that you have to stop during the day to find food to give you energy to continue the journey ahead, without access to money or markets, but rather relying on the generosity of strangers.  That is the journey migratory birds make twice a year, and you are the stranger whose generosity can fuel their journey. 

When dawn breaks on the horizon, these migrating birds start scanning the world below for a welcoming bit of greenery in between the pavement and the buildings.  You can lay out a green welcome mat in the form of a garden filled with native plants that provide tasty treats like insect protein snacks and juicy berries, seeds and nectar, and perhaps a water feature where these beautiful and vulnerable creatures can refresh themselves before continuing on their journey.  The beauty these birds bring to your garden and the knowledge that you are making their journey easier, will give you much heartfelt joy, which is a powerfully positive feeling.  Read on to learn how you can make friends in high places by putting out a green welcome mat.  

But first, check out how perfectly positioned your garden is to provide sanctuary and sustenance to migrating birds:

The original snowbirds fly towards the stable weather of the tropics that promises them consistent daylight and warmth.  

Let’s take a moment to talk about why birds migrate.  Many bird species cannot survive the freezing temperatures of the northern climate, and cannot find sufficient food in a frozen landscape.  The tropics offer stability in the form of consistent daylight and warmth and enough food to ensure that the birds can survive.  However, competition for that food means the tropics cannot support the demands of raising a family.  The North American spring and summer offer something unique: the biggest explosion of biomass in the world, whereby photosynthetic processes go from suspension into overdrive.  This is fueled in part by soils rested by winter, but more so by the increase in sunlight, which is double the amount offered in winter.

What is as important as their winter and summer homes are the spring and autumn migratory routes – few more important than South Florida. During the spring, many birds leave Central/South America and the Caribbean islands and first arrive in South Florida. Arriving in a healthy ecosystem is essential for them after having flown hundreds of miles over water with no food – can you imagine? – and this is where your garden comes in. In the fall, their journey is reversed.  Most songbirds migrate during the night as they are not able to catch insects while flying. This results in huge ‘fallouts’, whereby tens of thousands of birds, having flown all night, suddenly fall out of the sky at dawn and descend on green spaces in search of food. These ‘fallouts’ can be detected by weather radar – birds carry a radar signature, in the same way that water particles do in rain – allowing us to see the huge swarm ahead of time. 

 

In this radar image from the National Weather Service’s Key West facility, a massive flock — 90 miles out from the center — of as many as 118 species of migratory birds is seen moving north on a February night. The green/yellow objects are biological objects flying north over the Keys. The darker blue objects indicate rain. [National Weather Service]
Maintaining a healthy, chemical-free biodiverse garden, with a water feature and a variety of native plants that attract insects and offer berries and nectar, is critical to the survival of these ‘passage’ migrants. The habitat quality of their migratory routes is just as important as that of their winter or summer homes. Birds start arriving from their winter destinations from February until the middle of May. The first migrants are typically Louisiana Waterthrushes, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and the last being Blackpolls – who mostly arrive from Colombia – and Painted Buntings. It is just as important for southbound migrants who rely on lush gardens and plants to stock up with fat deposits before their marathon flights over water from late summer to late fall.

So, load your garden up with native plants that attract insects, and provide nectar, seeds, and berries for beautiful creatures traveling to their winter or summer homes, download a bird ID app such as Merlin, iNaturalist, or Audubon, grab a pair of binoculars, and open your eyes and ears for some spectacular sights, like this beautiful Black-and-white-Warbler, whose call sounds like this.

Photo of a Black-and-white Warbler by Ryan Schain  from Cornell University’s All About Birds

Or this Black-throated Blue Warbler, whose call sounds like this.

Photo taken by Aaron Marshall in Ontario, from the McCauley Library at Cornell’s Ornithology Lab

Or the Cape May Warbler whose call sounds like this.

This Cape May Warbler was photographed by Keenan Yakola in Maine.

 

Those are just a few examples of the many passage migrants we might be lucky enough to see if our gardens are sufficiently inviting.  In addition to passage migrants, South Florida is also home to many winter migrants as climate change, habitat degradation in their usual wintering regions, in addition to urban development on their migratory routes, means that more and more birds are foregoing the trans-Caribbean flights and instead are settling in South Florida from late autumn to early spring.

Among these birds is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which you are almost certain to hear before you see it as it is so tiny and fast and its wings make a very distinctive sound.  The semi deciduous habitat of South Florida means that there are always flowering native plants here and the one redeeming aspect of human development – a lonely and outnumbered redeeming factor it is too – is that there are a sufficient number of gardens and habitats replete with nectar-laden flowers that can sustain a number of these birds throughout the winter. Nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. Hummingbirds love red flowers like Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), Firebush (Hamelia patens), and Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and will visit feeders, but please be mindful of how to maintain your feeders.  If we can transform our gardens and green spaces into sanctuaries so that they can safely winter here and be spared a dangerous and difficult trans-Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough to do so, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely that these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their wintering home until we came along.   

 

Watercolor artist Kim Heise’s beautiful rendering of two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds drinking nectar from the native Coral honeysuckle vine.  Click here to see more of her beautiful art which raises awareness of the importance of protecting the beauty and biodiversity of South Florida’s native plants and animals.

 

Last, but certainly not least, if you are really lucky, and have a combination of shrubby thickets that provide cover, low-growing plants that provide berries, and grasses and other seed-bearing plants — not to mention a shallow water feature and a feeder filled with white millet seed — you might have the breathtaking experience of spotting one of these glorious creatures in your garden.  Once you have spotted one, it is very tempting to want to ditch your regular life and spend the entire day in the garden hoping to get another glimpse of this beautiful new feathered friend!  Painted Buntings, whose calls sound like this, are quite shy and easy to overlook, but they often travel around the garden in the company of their larger cousin, the Cardinal, which is a hard-to-miss bird with a distinctive metallic ‘chip’ sound that it employs while hunting for food.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you provide the right ingredients, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for seeds and insects. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

 

These are only a few of the friends in high places we might be lucky enough to make if we fill our gardens with the right ingredients to entice them for a day or for a season.  If you’d like to read up on other migrants, as well as those birds that grace us with their presence year around, and how to attract them to your garden, you can buy Kirsten Hines’ book:

 

More tips on which native plants to use to attract and feed birds can be found in the following:

Attract Butterflies, Birds and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge

Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby Birds

Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden

The National Wildlife Federation can help you determine which plants in your area attract the greatest number of insects, which are the basis of protein for migratory birds.

While the National Audubon Society has a lot of great information on the importance of native plants in attracting birds and is a website that is well-worth the visit, we sadly can’t recommend their database of native plants which is searchable by zip code as far too many suggestions are not actually native to South Florida.

 

What the Fish Happened….?

By Liangy Fernandez-Calli and Mary Benton

What a horrifying sight and smell to wake up to.

In recent days, our beautiful Biscayne Bay has been marred by scenes straight out of an apocalyptic movie with thousands of dead fish washing ashore from North Miami to Virginia Key. After multiple water samples and abiotic samples were collected and independently examined by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami Department of Environmental Resources Management, Florida International University, and Miami Waterkeeper, it was determined that the cause lies in a lack of dissolved oxygen (DO) due in part to warm temperatures, coupled with sewage leaks, septic tanks, pet waste, stormwater runoff, pesticides and nutrients found in fertilizers which feed algae that depress oxygen levels.

Unfortunately, this is not new.  For decades, environmentalists have been sounding the alarm to deaf ears.  It is a real problem that has been worsening with time due to lack of awareness, lack of leadership and failure to actively participate in better practices. In other words, it is on us to save our beloved Biscayne Bay and the other waterways around South Florida.

All is not lost. We have an opportunity to help restore and conserve our Biscayne Bay and our surroundings altogether.  In some cases, it is a matter of simply changing our habits.  In others, we need to change our mindsets.  

Pet and Human Waste 

Cramer doesn’t want to be part of the problem.

Let’s start with the easiest habit to change: pick up after your pet.  We know most of you already do so, since you likely would be persona non grata in your neighborhood if you didn’t.  But keeping your pet waste from getting washed into the bay is an additional reason to be a good citizen not only of your neighborhood, but of this planet.

Septic systems are another source of contamination for nearby waterways.  The EPA has some good tips on how to deal with yours, from toilet to drainfield.

 

Fertilizer Use

If you must use chemical fertilizer, please be mindful and read the label, ensuring that the product is a slow release fertilizer.

Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) is an organization whose mission is to defend, protect, and preserve South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research.  They work to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.  There is compelling scientific evidence for the need for ordinances governing the use of fertilizers, including the following provisions:

  • No phosphorus application
  • No fertilizer applied during the summer rainy season
  • 50% slow release Nitrogen
  • 15 ft. setback from waterways and storm drains

Miami Dade County does not have such an ordinance, but there is no reason why you can’t go ahead and follow these provisions on your own.  Learn more about the problem and what you can do to be part of the solution.

 

Composting

Composting is an easy way to add nutrient rich soil that benefits your plants and the environment.  Photo by Sipakorn Yamkasikorn from Pexels.

You can make your very own environmentally-friendly fertilizer for free by composting your kitchen and garden scraps.  Why is this important?  When you toss your kitchen waste in the trash can, it ends up in a plastic bag that will never decompose that gets trucked to a landfill where the kitchen scraps will create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change and the global warming that is sickening bodies of water like Biscayne Bay.  The same thing happens if your municipality requires you to bag your leaves, which make wonderful mulch that enriches your soil, conserves moisture, and suppresses weeds.  By composting, you become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.  You will be amazed at the rich soil that will result, that you can spread around on plants that can use a little fertilizer.  Here is a link for more information on how to start composting from the EPA and information that runs the gamut from closed bins to pit composting to open bins, tumblers, piling, and vermicomposting from Fine Gardening.  

 

Plant Native and Florida-Friendly

This is a called a lawn, but it is really a dead zone that requires herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill lawn pests, and chemical fertilizers to give it that nice green color.  It also requires lots of irrigation in the form of our drinking water.  And let’s not forget the polluting power of lawn equipment required to keep this dead zone tidy looking.  This no longer makes sense in a world where fish are dying by the thousands. 

 

This lovely native groundcover is known variously as Fogfruit, or Frogfruit, or Turkey tangle or Creeping Charlie. It doesn’t require any chemicals to maintain it, it provides nectar for hungry bees and butterflies, and it feeds the caterpillars of several butterfly species.  For ideas about other native plants you can use in place of sod, you can search the Florida Native Plant Society website or that of the Institute for Regional Conservation’s Natives for your Neighborhood, narrowing your search down by site conditions and other considerations.  You will lower your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of chemical contamination in our aquifer and Biscayne Bay.

 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was ahead of her time. Let’s not be behind ours. Photo taken at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center on Key Biscayne.
We determine the world our children inherit with the actions we take today.

Tips and Resources for an Ultra-Productive Garden

 

by Carrie Spencer of thespencersadventures.net

Thriving gardens don’t just happen. As nice as that would be, a truly productive garden stems from good planning, hard work, and nurturing. Read on for some tips and resources that will help you plant an amazing garden that is a pleasure to behold—and to work in.

 

What’s Your Type?

Photo by Athena from Pexels

 

Chances are you’re starting with some idea of what you would like to grow in your garden. Take a moment to think about all the types of gardens that are out there, as well as what suits you best.

 

  • What aesthetic style suits your property and preferences?
  • Consider what purpose your garden will serve.
  • Think about the growing arrangement you prefer as well.
  • You can even grow an indoor garden if you live in an apartment or condo.

 

Consider Plant Health

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Without proper considerations, your plants might not thrive, or even survive. Ensure they have the best possible growing conditions, regardless of your arrangement.

 

  • Plants pull nutrients from the soil, so have yours tested to verify quality.
  • Sun exposure is an important aspect of growing healthy plants.
  • Know what growing zone you live in.
  • If you’re adding soil to a raised bed or container, learn about what choices you should make.
  • Learn how to minimize pests and diseases.

 

Tools and Tricks

Photo by Lisa Fotios

Whether your garden sprawls around your landscape or is in a handful of pots, there are tools and tricks that will help you stay on top of tending it.

 

  • Composting is a great way to add nutrients to your soil.
  • Not into composting? You can still put your kitchen scraps to use!
  • Consider adding a misting system to ease watering.
  • Containers are particularly prone to drying out in hot weather. Some water-saving strategies help your potted plants thrive.
  • Consider some tech tools that strengthen your green thumb!
  • Bound by Beauty offers some ideas on how you can attract butterflies to your garden.

 

Are you ready to dig in? A great garden will take some work, but these tips and resources will ease you through!

 

 

 

Create Your Own Nature Channel with a Flock of Roosting Zebras in Your Garden

Greetings South Floridians!  Imagine having a flock of Zebra butterflies in your garden.  Or maybe it’s a flutter?  A flurry?  Whatever it is called it is one of the most calming and mesmerizing sights you can see in a garden in these parts.  Zebra heliconian or longwing butterflies typically fly with a gentle flutter, unlike Monarchs who zoom around on strong wings, tiny Cassius blues with their chaotic and rapid flight style, or the Giant swallowtails with their stately swooping.  And Zebras flutter gently in groups unlike any of the other butterflies you might encounter in your garden, which really amplifies that calm and mesmerizing feeling.  Happily, if you have all the right ingredients, Zebras will hang around in your garden, allowing you to observe all aspects of their very interesting and highly unusual behavior.  If you’re really lucky, you might even get them to roost together in your garden at night.  Read on to see how to ensure your garden is filled with the beauty of our state butterfly.

reat A flock of roosters? Whatever you call them, you know your garden is a sanctuary when Zebra butterflies feel safe enough to sleep there, and that is a really good feeling. Providing a windbreak is important, but native nectar and host plants are key.

So what are the right ingredients that will not only attract Zebras, but will make them never want to leave your garden?  Native nectar plants attract the Zebra butterflies, along with a whole host of other butterflies.  And some attract birds as well.

The flowers of a Firebush will light up your garden even on the dreariest of days.

 

Zebra butterflies are drawn to the elongated flowers of the Firebush. Other pollinators and Hummingbirds love them as well.

 

Scarlet, or Tropical, sage is a Zebra butterfly fave. Hummingbirds will thank you too.

 

The flowers of the native Lantana involucrata aka Wild lantana or Wild sage attract Zebra butterflies and other pollinators. The berries delight birds.

 

Bees and butterflies love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.  The flowers will turn into berries that delight birds.  

While nectar plants are necessary to attract the butterfly to your garden, making sure you have enough of their host plant — where they lay their eggs so their caterpillars can eat the leaves — is key.  In the case of the Zebra, the host plant is passion vine, which is fitting as Zebras are standouts in terms of butterfly mating behavior.

The teeny tiny flower of the Corkystem passion vine attracts pollinators.

 

If you have a hedge in South Florida and see Zebras fluttering around it, no doubt a bird or lizard dropped the remnants of a nice berry, from which the passion vine grew.  The Corkystem can grow in sun or shade, but female Zebras prefer a nice shady spot to lay their eggs, perhaps because their coloration is light and shadow so they are better camouflaged.

 

Another Florida native passion vine is the Maypop, with its surreal purple flowers. The Monarch pictured here was newly emerged from a nearby chrysalis and is still waiting for its wings to lengthen and harden.  

But back to Zebra reproduction: remember the mesmerizing “flock” or “flurry” of Zebras mentioned at the top?  That is all about sex.  Male Zebras travel in groups (gangs?) looking, or rather smelling their way around the garden, searching for female Zebras ripening in the chrysalis. The sense of smell is very important to a butterfly, as the female needs to be able to smell a host plant to be sure she is depositing her eggs where her babies will survive, so this method of mating ensures that the males with the best sense of smell are the ones to pass down their genes.  The male Zebra’s sense of species isn’t always as keen, however; their urge to reproduce is so strong that they sometimes try to mate with Monarchs, Julias, and other butterflies. 

What in the world, you might reasonably ask? This is a closeup of a female Zebra chrysalis in the center of the photo. On either side of her is a male Zebra, hanging upside down, his abdomen locked and loaded and ready to mate with the female as soon as she descends from the chrysalis. If another male were to try to horn in, and chances are they will, the males spread their wings to guard their prize.  Sometimes, they don’t even wait until the female emerges, engaging in pupal mating.  Each male has a 50/50 chance of passing on his genes.  A little creepy from the human perspective, you say?  Perhaps so, but read on to see why it makes so much sense from nature’s point of view. 

 

The newly emerged female is on the left, her wings still small and furled. Mating takes time, as does allowing the wings to lengthen and harden enough to fly.  Mating with a newly emerged butterfly is a perfect way to use that down time.  Nature is amazing like that.

 

On her maiden flight, the female is already pregnant. Since a butterfly’s only job in life is to reproduce, that is an excellent thing from nature’s perspective.  The male’s final act as a suitor is to endow her with a chemical that repels other males so she can go about the business of laying his eggs without being pestered by other amorous males.

 

It doesn’t take long for the pregnant female to start unloading her eggs. In this wonderful photo taken by Jane Atchison-Nevel, you can also see the yellow pollen on the proboscis. Zebra butterflies are capable of digesting pollen, which enables them to live longer than your average butterfly species, whose diet is limited to nectar.

 

Female Zebras lay their eggs on the freshest, newest fronds in clusters. It looks like several females laid their eggs on this frond. A number of the eggs will be eaten by ants or lizards before the caterpillars have a chance to hatch.

 

Enough eggs survive for lots and lots of caterpillars to hatch.  The white bits you see are empty egg casings.

 

So Zebras roost together, flutter around looking for females together, are laid together in clutches and, interestingly, the caterpillars tend to stay together to eat, wandering away from each other only when necessary to find sufficient passion vine leaves.

When you stop using pesticides and plant the right plants, you will have your very own Nature Channel right outside your door, a world of magic and beauty that elicits wonder and calms and soothes the soul.  As an added bonus, the passion vine is also the host plant for other Florida butterflies, including: 

Gulf fritillary butterflies, shown here mating, with the future butterfly munching away nearby.

 

And the Julia butterfly. While Gulf fritillaries and Julias don’t travel in groups, and don’t tend to hang around the garden like the Zebras, they are always a sight to behold.

Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby Birds

By Mary Benton and Michael Faisal Green

In collaboration with Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

 

Greetings, South Floridians!  Imagine turning your garden into a nursery for baby birds, a place of beauty that attracts creatures great and small; aerial and terrestrial;  colorful, silent or singing, shy or gregarious. You can create a playground and dining hall for generations of birds who will delight you with their beauty and birdsong. You can make new friends without leaving your garden!

The message could not be more clear: FEED ME!!  Baby birds need lots of bugs.  Dev Steffen encountered these Mockingbird babies when she was out pruning her porterweed.  Mockingbirds are very protective of their young and they dive bombed her, screeching until she backed away, managing to snap a quick photo.  Other bird parents might try distracting you, hopping some distance away from the nest and doing the bird equivalent of “hey, look at me, I’m over here!  Nothing to see over there!!”.

Unlike humans, these creatures have specific breeding seasons and for birds, it is spring and early summer in South Florida (December to June). Birds pick this time to reproduce as the combination of moderate heat and dryness means the height of food availability.  Mild temperatures reduce heat-induced fatigue and stress; trees are blooming, attracting insects and producing fruits and seeds; and the dry season means their primary source of food – insects – are less likely to be grounded by rain. Plus, their breeding season aligns perfectly with the time of year when we want to be outside in the garden due to the lovely weather, so we have a wonderful opportunity to observe these beautiful and vulnerable creatures.  How cool is that?  Read on to see the easy steps we can take to attract, nurture, and enjoy the company of our feathered friends in our very own gardens. 

The single most important thing you can do to when creating a nursery is to stop using toxic chemicals.  We can’t stress enough how important this is.  If you use toxic chemicals in your garden to kill mosquitoes or rats, or to control weeds, you will be killing the insects that birds — especially baby birds — rely on for protein, and poisoning the berries and seeds the adult birds eat (and don’t forget that humans need insects — particularly pollinators — to survive).  You wouldn’t think of using toxic chemicals around a human baby, and baby birds are even more vulnerable. There are many organic practices and products that you can use in place of toxic chemicals so no excuses, right? 

 

The second most important thing you can do is to plant native plants.  Why natives?  Native plants attract more insects.  Who needs insects?  That’s right: birds need insects, especially the babies who need protein to grow into healthy adults.  Need help deciding which to plant? You can check out this cool tool of a Native Plant Finder, enter your zip code, and get a list of native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that attract the most insects in your area.  It is a work in progress, but there are lots of great suggestions and it is continuously being improved.  The Florida Native Plant Society‘s website, along with the Institute for Regional Conservation’s Natives for your Neighborhood are full of helpful information on what native plants will work best in your garden.  You can start small, but you’ll soon become addicted, especially if a number of those plants also attract butterflies.  Beautiful plants attracting butterflies and birds: what’s not to love? 

Mockingbirds will gobble up the berries of the native Lantana involucrata, as well as encounter insects drawn to its flowers.
Solanum americanum, or American nightshade, pops up in the garden this time of year. Please consider keeping it as the berries are beloved by Mockingbirds when they ripen. The plant also attracts caterpillars to its leaves, so it serves a double duty. Hmmm….it is almost like nature is looking out for the birds during baby bird season.

You can supplement the bird food supply by setting up bird feeders close to tree or shrub cover, using white millet or black sunflower seeds.  Bird feeders can take many forms.  They also allow you to get a better view of your feathered friends, so set them up and sit back and enjoy!

Birds can dart in and out of the surrounding shrubbery, making them feel safer.  This feeder contains white millet seeds that attract Cardinals, Painted Buntings, Blue Jays, and the like.
This flat bird feeder is filled with black sunflower seeds.
Putting mealworms out during the day is a great way to ensure that birds can get extra protein.
Instead of composting your eggshells during baby bird season, you can crush them and leave them somewhere safe for the mama birds. Ingesting calcium helps strengthen the eggshells developing inside.

 

Leave a supply of bird nest building materials.

Don’t be finicky about trimming all your dead twigs; let the birds use them for nest building material. While you’re at it, a few little bits of cotton string make handy nest material as well.
Spanish moss is a wonderful material for nest building.

Install a water feature.  You get extra points for having running water that the birds can hear.

The sound of trickling water is particularly attractive to some bird species. It is also a very calming and soothing sound to the human ear, and we need all the calming and soothing we can get these days. If you can invest in something like this, go for it.
Birds probably don’t much care how a bird bath is decorated, but this sure makes a nice ornament for human eyes.

 

Although this can be a touchy subject given the fact that feral cats, many of which have been neutered, abound in our community, cats and birds don’t mix.  Cats are the single biggest killer of birds and their babies. Please keep domestic cats indoors, particularly during baby bird season.

Please keep domestic cats indoors to keep birds safe outdoors.  This photo was taken by Neil de la Flor

Refrain from trimming shrubs, trees, or hedges until the rainy season commences in June.  Trimming reduces cover, stresses the birds and can damage or destroy nests and kill the babies.  And try to find an arborist who is sensitive to such issues.

The northern mockingbird is part of the thrush family – all of which are proficient in mimicking the songs of dozens of other species and common sounds. They do this using phrases and mockingbirds, as a general rule, repeat these phrases three or more times. So often they will mimic a blue jay by repeating their calls a minimum of three times and then immediately succeed that with imitating another bird/sound three or more times. Mockingbirds have an astounding musical repertoire, and seldom will you find them singing the same song, so whilst every song can be varied, it is easily recognisable by the number of repetitions.  If you’re not sure what they sound like, you can check out their song here.

Did you know that the Northern Mockingbird is Florida’s state bird? We can do a lot to ensure these cuties thrive in our gardens here in South Florida by providing a safe environment full of insects and berries.  Neil de la Flor captured this adorable tufted creature in his garden.
This graphic can help you determine what to do if you find a baby bird on the ground.  Remember always to contact Pelican Harbor Seabird Station before bringing a bird in.  They can only accept native species and will help you determine whether the bird in fact needs rescuing.  You can learn more by watching these videos:  video 1 and video 2. 
At the end of the day, the message is the same: FEED ME!! This beautiful shot of two fledgling Mockingbirds was caught by Luis Forte. You can follow him on Instagram @lgfortem

We hope this post helps you understand how you can work with nature to create a safe space full of tasty food for baby birds and their parents right in your very own garden.  Knowing that you are playing a role in ensuring that the babies reach adulthood and take to the skies is a wonderful feeling!

 

Natives for Neighbors: Creating a More Beautiful, Resilient, and Sustainable Community

What are Natives for Neighbors?

by Mary Benton and Monica Gross

 

For many students, this is their first interaction with a native plant. Check out the joy on Tamarah’s face!

Bound by Beauty (BbB), in collaboration with middle and high school teachers Monica Gross and Frank Mataska and their students at Doctors Charter School (DCS), BbB’s Network of Neighborhood Nurturies, TreeHuggers LLC, as well as other members of the community, launched Natives for Neighbors as a pilot program in the 2019/2020 school year.  This program is designed to teach students about the role and importance of plant and animal species that are native to South Florida ecosystems, and to help them gain an understanding of both the negative and positive impacts humans can have on these communities.  In studying the problems humans cause such as habitat destruction and pesticide use, students identify concrete actions to help solve them. 

Thanks to Natives for Neighbors, 7th grade DCS students planted over 60 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including 10 donated to the school by Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network, providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects that are essential for the survival of the natural world, including our own survival as humans.  By increasing the number of locally-grown trees and shrubs that sequester carbon, cool our community, filter our groundwater, and protect our food supply by providing habitat for pollinators, students play a direct role in making our community more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable.  

How does the program work?

l-r: Kaiya, Tsenat, Kelsey, Amanda, and Sophia were thrilled to take their plants home.

Native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are either donated by members of BbB’s nurturies, or purchased from area nurseries.  Students identify a location in their yards or communities, and choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. Students learn practical skills such as how to plant and nurture native plants at school, and take those lessons home with them, along with their new plants.  After transplanting the plants in their own gardens, students continue to nurture and observe them, while studying the relationships that these plants have with their living and nonliving environment, and how they form viable solutions to human-caused environmental problems.  According to a follow-up survey nearly half of the students reported seeing an increase in the amount of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects in their gardens from one plant alone! 

Sustainability

Students will learn how to identify, harvest, and nurture seeds and seedlings from their own plants, sharing those seeds with members of the community, Brockway Library’s seed collection, and the seedlings and their planting and nurturing skills with friends and neighbors.  This project will grow organically as more native plants are planted every year, and more seeds and seedlings are available for harvest and sharing.  In addition to increased knowledge among students, there will be a growing interest among neighbors in participating in this collaboration.  Students will create an identification chart of natives to instruct others, and share that and other useful information via the school’s website so as to encourage others in the community to participate. 

Shiny-leaf wild coffee produces berries beloved by birds, and little white flowers that smell like honey and attract all sorts of pollinators. They are very easy to propagate from seedlings.

Every year, the community will achieve increased canopy cover and cooler temperatures that offset global warming as new groups of middle school students plant their natives.  Finally, their work outdoors will have an additional long-lasting impact because student participants will gain a greater appreciation for nature.  Imagine what can be achieved if more area schools joined in their efforts to make more and more native plants thrive in our community!

The Slippery Slope of Container Butterfly Gardening Leads to Magic by Lisa Diaz

Couple of years ago my dearest friend, Susan Howell, installed a butterfly garden in her front yard. While the idea was sound, I have to admit I also thought it was a bit peculiar. Then Susan walked me across the street to our friend Mary Benton’s house to show me what an established butterfly garden looks like and from that moment, I was enchanted.

Mary’s garden, filled with plants that attract butterflies, bees, and birds.

Fast-forward about 9 months when Susan and I were exploring her garden, standing among dozens of winged butterflies, as we discussed my upcoming birthday when I casually mentioned that I would not mind having a few butterfly plants of my own. They would need to be in pots, however, because I live in a rented town house with a very small patio. Susan enthusiastically agreed.

 

Then on my birthday as we met for breakfast and dined on chicken n’ waffles and eggs benedict, Susan presented me with a gift of seed money, a coordinated contribution from 10 of our closest friends, to build my very own backyard butterfly garden. I was overwhelmed by the love and generosity of my friends and very excited as we hastened from the restaurant and made our way to Susan’s favorite nursery, an oasis of beautiful plant life that I had never seen before. She expertly hand selected every plant, astonishing me with her knowledge of plants and butterflies, host plants and nectar plants, caterpillars and chrysalis.  I did not know if I would ever be able to grasp an understanding of it all.

Lisa and Susan at the nursery.

We spent the day at my house, digging, planting, repotting and arranging. It was completely and utterly the most enjoyable and satisfying day I had spent in a long time.

Getting ready to repot the plants.

Fast forward two years and I can tell you that my garden, still growing, has brought me unending joy. I can speak butterfly now!  My small space seems much larger than it actually is, and I find some new wonder to marvel at almost every day.

The magic of a newly-emerged Monarch butterfly.

Now I am rooting plants, repotting plants, introducing new plants… the garden has a life cycle all its own.  I have seen hummingbirds and at least 4 species of butterflies including a brand-new visitor, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly!  I cannot begin to describe how exciting that was, other than to say I Immediately purchased a wild lime tree to ensure that they will always return.

A beautiful Giant swallowtail laying eggs on Wild lime.

I could not have dreamed that I would create such a captivating garden in such a small space, but I did and you can and I am now and forevermore bound by its beauty.

My plant-filled patio is magical day and night.

 

Bound by Beauty note:  We believe in the importance of planting as many native plants for wildlife as possible.  However, that is often easier said than done.  Few box stores and commercial nurseries offer native plants.  It is nearly impossible to find native milkweed even in native nurseries in South Florida.  However, we find that, as people educate themselves as they move through their butterfly journey, they gain an understanding of the importance of native plants.  Since that wonderful butterfly birthday present, Lisa has gone on to plant a Wild lime (which grows into a tree but can be kept pruned), one of Florida’s few native citrus plants, and Tropical sage, a native wildflower that attracts butterflies, bees, and birds. 

Other native plants that attract butterflies and other wildlife that do well in containers include: Corkystem passionvine; Pineland lantana; Tickseed; Fogfruit; Gaillardia; Wild sage; Lignum vitae; Little strongback; Scorpiontail; and Pineland heliotrope.  Please note that some of these grow into small trees which would require root pruning over time, and we recommend you look these plants up either on the the Florida Native Plant Society website or the Institute for Regional Conservation before buying them for your container garden to ensure they fit your site requirements.  Once you do, and you’ve installed your own container garden, let the magic begin!

Lisa’s Wild lime will attract such beauties as these mating Giant swallowtail butterflies.

 

Attract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to Your Garden with a Hedgepodge

When people think of a hedge, they typically envision a green wall that offers privacy and a windbreak. It probably doesn’t occur to many that such manicured green walls are actually harmful for the environment as they require upkeep in the form of noisy, polluting hedge trimmers and, particularly in the case of Ficus hedges, toxic chemical insecticides. What if you could create a hedge that actually benefited the environment, while bringing beauty and birdsong to your garden? 

“Benefiting the environment sounds like a good plan to us”, say these Red-masked Parakeets.  “We’d give it two thumbs up if we had thumbs!  Heck, we’d give it four thumbs up, but then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”   Photo by Michael Faisal Green

We invite you to ponder the concept of a ‘hedgepodge’, a biodiverse vertical food forest for butterflies, bees, and birds created from a myriad of beautiful native wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and small trees. You will still get your privacy and a windbreak. More importantly in this era of climate change, you will be creating something that actually helps conserve the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. What will you have to give up? The polluting noise of hedge trimmers, toxic chemicals poisoning your landscape, and a bit of your manicured mindset. What will you gain in return? Beauty in the form of clouds of floating butterflies, happy bees, migrating jewels with wings, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you are helping make their lives — and thus your own — possible.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you have the right plants, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for insects and seeds in your hedgepodge. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

So, how do I get started, you ask?  If you have an existing hedge, consider planting some native Corkystem passion vines every few yards along the length of it.  The mere act of doing so will bring three different butterfly species to your garden, attract birds to the tiny purple berries, and give buzzy bees some sweet nectar.  Corkystem is a gentle vine with tendrils that won’t strangle your existing plants.  And it grows just fine in sun or shade.  Just make sure you put a barrier around it to keep the lawn guy from weed wacking the vine.

Zebra butterflies getting ready to roost for the night in a hedgepodge.  Yes, roosting Zebras are a thing.  They lay their eggs on Corkystem.
Julia butterfly chilling in a garden that provides plenty of nectar and host plants.  She just finished laying her eggs on Corkystem.  Note the thicket in the back.  Birds like to hunt insects there.
A pair of Gulf fritillary butterflies mating next to a future butterfly consuming the leaves of a Corkystem passionvine.

Will it be messy, you ask?  Well, there is poop involved, from both the caterpillars and the birds.  But the former creates compost and the latter produces seedlings.  

“We do produce a lot of caterpillar frass, but it enriches the soil”, say the Zebra caterpillars.
Corkystem passionvine berries make a yummy snack for birds.  They digest the pulp and poop out the seeds, creating lots of new Corkystem seedlings.  If they pop up where you don’t want them, you can easily dig them up and re-plant them near your hedge.  Don’t forget to water them until they recover from the transplant.
Last but not least with this remarkable native vine, the diminutive flowers attract bees.  Photo from Wild South Florida.

If your existing hedge has holes in it, or if you are starting with a clean slate, there are lots of wonderful Florida natives that will delight you by bringing more beauty to the garden.  Take Wild Coffees, for instance.  There are two Florida natives: Bahama wild-coffee and Shiny-leaf wild coffee.  These attractive plants do well in a variety of growing conditions, attract butterflies and other pollinators, as well as birds who eat the fruit.  You can click on their names to do a little research to see if they’re a good fit for your garden.

Bees and butterflies like Zebras and Atalas love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.
Wild coffee fruit is devoured by birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds.  I know, the berries look delicious, but the taste to a human palate is rather bland.  I’d leave them for the birds.  And, no, they don’t contain caffeine either.

And then there are the Stoppers: Red stopper, which has white flowers and orange fruit; Red-berry stopper, with white flowers and red fruit; Spanish stopper, with white flowers and brown and black fruit; White stopper, with white flowers and red and black fruit (and, some say, it smells a bit like skunk); and last but not least, the Simpson stopper, with white flowers and orange fruit.  All of these shrubs attract birds and pollinators.

These make a very merry birdie feast.
The flowers attract lots of pollinators.

Another plant to consider —  the Pineland strongback  or Little strongback (or strongbark as it is frequently called) — is one of my favorites, so much so that I have it as a stand-alone shrub that has delicate, cascading branches that are covered year-round with white flowers and orange fruit.  I once watched a female Black-throated blue warbler pop one in her mouth, even though it was nearly as big as her head.  It would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge.

Hummingbirds and others sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit.
Here’s the beautiful little female Black-throated Blue Warbler. In addition to eating the fruit of the Little strongback, she likes bathing a lot, so you might want to consider installing a bird bath or other water feature.  Photo by Michael Faisal Green.
Here is her mate who. when he’s not hunting insects, likes berries and baths too.  Photo also by Michael Faisal Green.

The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge.  Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.

These white flowers have nectar that attracts a number of butterflies, including the imperiled Schaus’ swallowtail.

Another good hedgepodge plant for wildlife is the Wax myrtle.  It has white and green fruit that gives cover and food to birds and feeds two kinds of butterfly caterpillars.

Also known as Bayberry, Birds love the seeds and find cover among the leaves.

Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast. 

Also known as colicwood, Florida myrsine has white flowers, black fruit, and attractive leaves.

Last but not least, is the Florida privet, a lovely, salt-tolerant shrub with yellow and green flowers, and blue, purple and black fruit that attracts birds.

Kirsten Hines photographed this sweet little Prairie Warbler looking for food in a Florida privet.

There are numerous other plants that would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge, but I’ve given you a lot to go on.  In between doing research into which plants make most sense in your garden, why don’t you order Kirsten Hines’ book, which will tell you all you need to know about attracting birds to your garden in South Florida.  And while you’re at it, why not daydream about your neighbors converting their hedges to hedgepodges, thereby providing thriving and beautiful wildlife corridors throughout the community.

To read more about the importance of native plants and insects, order this book:

Each one of us who owns a bit of land can make a huge difference in conserving our ecosystem by planting native plants and stopping the use of toxic chemicals in the landscape, thereby creating a more resilient and sustainable world.  You too can be part of the solution!

 

   

 

  

 

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Butterflies 101: Stronger Together

Painted Bunting, photo by Michael Faisal Green

Stronger

 What does a Painted Bunting have to do with making our community stronger, block by block? Michael Faisal Green, who is very knowledgeable about birds, advised me to keep an ear out for the Cardinal’s ‘chip’ call as Painted Buntings often forage for food together with their cousins. Sure enough, that is how I frequently spot this gorgeous and elusive bird in my garden. I was reminded of the large flocks of diverse bird species my husband and I saw when we lived in Costa Rica.

Michael went on to explain that birds often travel in communities, increasing the number of eyes and ears that can detect predators, and using the skills of different species to protect them and forage for food. How clever of them, and what a perfect metaphor for how neighbors working together on a block are stronger as a group than each resident is on their own.

As was mentioned in an earlier blog post on the goal of creating a safer block, we have a wonderful mix of neighbors, including urban planners, lawyers, former law enforcement, construction, engineers, vegetable and pollinator gardeners, and so on. Imagine how much stronger combining those skills and that experience makes us as a unit.

The idea that we are stronger together makes a lot of sense, but how do we put that into practice as neighbors? We have to start by getting together, as I wrote in the last blog. We had a lot of ideas as to how we can actually live this notion. A lot of what makes us safer also makes us stronger, like simply getting to know our neighbors.

We are safer and stronger if we have more eyes and ears out for the local equivalent of predators that threaten a flock. Our multiple ring doorbells and security systems make us stronger as a unit than we are individually, enabling us to share information with each other and with the police in the event of a crime.

We are safer and stronger together if we join forces to prepare for and clean up after hurricanes or other major storm events. This photo shows a group of us gathered in advance of Hurricane Irma’s arrival back in September 2017 to discuss what we were doing to prepare individually and as a group, and how we could manage the aftermath. It gave us all a stronger sense of security, which is a great thing to feel when a hurricane is barreling down.

Neighbors gathered together to touch base and make plans before the arrival of Irma.

Those of us with trees on our properties like the idea of joining forces to get a block discount on a tree trimming service with a certified arborist, that can help prepare us for winds that might bring down weakened limbs. Most of our neighbors who lost power during Irma did so because of limbs bringing electrical lines down. The block discount saves us money, and the joint preparation and cleanup after makes us safer and stronger. A mountain of tree limbs is very daunting to face on one’s own.

A mountain of fallen tree limbs.

Last but not least, we discussed the fact that we are stronger as a group, with a louder voice, if we join forces to bring about positive change in our village. We will be looking for ways in which we can make a difference together as neighbors to make our community safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable. Stay tuned for a recounting of what we discussed about making our blocks healthier. And start thinking about doing something similar on your block. Come hurricane season, you’ll be glad you did.

Saving Butterflies 101 Launched in Miami Shores

We’re launching a movement to join forces with our neighbors to fight for our future by creating a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable community, block by block. Read on to learn how you can be part of it.

Safer

Bound by Beauty officially launched Saving Butterflies 101 with a gathering of neighbors on our two blocks in Miami Shores. Susan, a neighbor and ally in the fight for nature and for our future, and I went door-to-door to deliver invitations. We followed up a week later by leaving friendly reminders on our neighbors’ doors. You can do this on your own, but it is much more fun if you find an ally on your block, and less work too!

Here is Susan, delivering friendly reminders to our neighbors.

To prepare for the gathering, we made a sign-in sheet with columns for name, address, phone number, email, and preferred means of communication, including text, WhatsApp, or other.

We also rummaged around and found some butterfly-approved name tags for the visual learners among us. Although Susan and I already knew a number of our neighbors, imagine our surprise when one door opened to reveal a neighbor from Italy, who has lived on the block for 14 years! Who knew? What a lovely surprise! Ciao, Luca!

We found these cute butterfly name tags to help us remember our neighbors’ names.

We are fortunate on our block to have neighbors who are former law enforcement, doctors, urban planners, architects, public health professionals, engineers, and butterfly and vegetable gardeners, among others; imagine what we can accomplish together! And we discovered that five of our neighbors have a connection to Denver, Colorado: what are the odds of that?

Darn! We forgot to take a photo of the table with the neighborly offerings, but it looked something like this from another Bound by Beauty gathering. Photo by the fabulous Maria Font.

We started off by explaining the goal of Saving Butterflies 101, which is to join forces with neighbors to create a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable community, block by block. We intend to do so by following Bound by Beauty’s motto: Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate.

The replication part is very important, as we want neighbors on blocks all around us to be inspired and informed about how they can transform their own block. To this end, we invited a neighbor from a block south of us who is eager to join forces with neighbors on her block. That’s Pat, our southern neighbor, on the right in the photo below. Go Pat!

This is one of my favorite photos, taken by Sage Hoffman, so I use it whenever I can. It embodies the joy we feel when surrounded by butterflies and neighbors!

We broke down each of the goals, beginning with brainstorming about how to make our two blocks safer, which is what this post is about (stay tuned for future posts about how we can accomplish our goals of becoming a stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable community, block by block). Having as many neighbors as possible gathered together, getting to know one another, is a hugely important first step in making us safer. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

Neighbors spending more time outdoors also makes our block safer, and we talked about ways in which we could do that, while learning from each other as well. Ideas for block workshops include composting, rain barrels, pollinator and bird gardens, growing vegetables, pruning, and propagation. A lot of these ideas will help us achieve our other goals as well.

Rain barrels can be inconspicuous as well as essential during periods of extended drought.

Security systems, including video cameras and lights, are an important part of being safer. We got recommendations from neighbors who had security systems installed. Some neighbors installed their own, while others used an electrician. Everybody agreed that such systems make us safer, starting with the Ring doorbell, and the Neighbors app that connects us.

One of our neighbors who is former law enforcement had some great, common sense ideas on how to be safer on the block, including being aware of our surroundings especially when we are returning home after dark, or coming home from Publix. If a car appears to be tailing us, we should drive past our home and head straight to the police station to avoid a potential armed robbery.

We agreed that we are safer as neighbors on a block if our trees are properly trimmed before hurricane season. Not only do improperly trimmed trees imperil us and our houses, but downed limbs are the most likely cause of downed electrical lines. Life without electricity, especially in the heat of the summer in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane, is miserable and dangerous. Those of us on the block who have trees on our property can save money by getting a group discount from a certified arborist and tree trimming company, while making all of us safer.

The misery of downed tree limbs…

To connect us further, we all agreed that we wanted to be part of a text and email group. We plan to use the text communication for emergencies and time-sensitive issues, and email for recommendations, invitations, etc. We talked about letting our neighbors know when we’re away and asking neighbors to pick up boxes that are delivered when we’re out.

All of these ideas will make us safer and enhance our sense of trust and security in an uncertain future as we join forces with our neighbors. As the newest neighbor on the block wrote after the meeting: “It was wonderful to finally meet so many of our neighbors and come together to make our neighborhood even better.” 

You can read more about this program here: http://boundbybeauty.org/saving-butterflies-101/. We would love to hear what ideas you have to make your own block safer.

With Saving Butterflies 101, we will be fighting for the future of the youngest of our neighbors, sitting unaware on his mother’s lap.