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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden

 

Atala butterfly on Firebush

There have been a lot of dire reports and sobering warnings of late about the decline of bird species and the disappearance of birds throughout the world, mainly due to pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat. Most of us have empirical or anecdotal knowledge of this. It is a serious problem that everyone should take to heart. But, rather than focusing on the problem, this blog post is about what you can do to be part of the solution. Yes, YOU! What would you say if I told you that you could fill your garden with beauty and, in so doing, provide sanctuary and sustenance for our beloved birds at the same time? Imagine: a garden filled with flowers and berries and butterflies and bees AND birds. Wouldn’t you want to spend all your spare time in it? And aren’t our feathered friends worth it? I thought so. So, adjust your reading glasses, get comfy, and read on.

As Douglas W. Tallamy writes in Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, “It is increasingly clear…that much of our wildlife will not be able to survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in suburban habitats.”1 Chances are, you live in a suburban habitat, which may be just a lawn with a tree or two and a few plants from Home Depot, but that’s all going to change. What you need to do is stop using toxic chemical insecticides and herbicides that do more harm than good and plant a diversity of mostly native trees, shrubs and other plants that attract native insects (hint: butterflies and caterpillars are insects), that provide protein for birds. Although many birds love to mix it up with delectable berries, the vast majority rely on insects for their main food source. And since many species we see here in South Florida are migrating long distances, that protein becomes even more important. For most butterfly gardeners, knowing that you are providing sanctuary and sustenance to birds as well makes up for the sadness of losing a certain percentage of caterpillars and butterflies. Especially when you take into account all the caterpillar- and butterfly-eating lizards that the birds are also eating.

Lizard, hoping to snag an insect, before a bird or a bigger lizard snags him.

 

What’s that you ask? How does a butterfly garden filled with native nectar and host plants attract birds? Some, like the Wild lime tree, have seeds that only birds could love. Well, perhaps lizards too.

When the Wild lime tree produces seeds, it attracts birds all day long. Read on to see another reason birds hang out in this tree.

 

This Giant swallowtail is laying an egg on a Wild lime, the same tree that produces those hard little delicacies pictured above. The Wild lime is one of very few citrus native to Florida, and is impervious to diseases like citrus canker and greening. It provides no benefit to humans other than the beautiful butterflies and birds that visit it. Don’t you agree that is enough?  Read more about the Wild lime. 

 

The Giant swallowtail caterpillar looks remarkably like bird or, in this case, lizard poop. This is clearly designed to fool the birds…but birds are no fools (I wonder if lizards are?). All it takes is the slightest movement for them to tell the difference. In case you’re not sure, the caterpillar is the tasty morsel on the left.

 

Over time, the Giant swallowtail caterpillar shape shifts from lizard poop to snake-like creature, trying to fool the hungry birds into looking elsewhere for a meal.

 

Although birds do pick off a percentage of the poopy or scary Giant swallowtail caterpillars, there will always be those that manage to reach adulthood. As you can see from this photo of a newly emerged butterfly from a rescued chrysalis, you will be richly rewarded when they do. And check out the size relative to the relatively large Monarch butterfly.

 

If you plant Passion vine, you will attract three or four different butterfly species if you’re lucky: the Zebra, the Julia, the Gulf fritillary, and the Variegated fritillary. Here we have Zebra eggs, laid in a clutch.  Learn more about the native Maypop passion vine and the Corkystem passion vine.

 

If you didn’t have predators like birds in your garden, you can imagine how quickly your Passion vine would be gobbled up. You did read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, right?

 



Zebra caterpillars are particularly vulnerable when they have just shed their too-tight skins and their spikes are still soft and translucent. Imagine what a tasty treat this little guy would be until exposure to air hardens and blackens the spikes.

 

You can see how much the Zebra caterpillars have grown, and can imagine how much Passion vine they will consume before they pupate.

 

And here the whole cycle is about to be repeated. Remember: for butterflies, it’s all about the mating, baby.

 

What’s that you say? You thought this post was supposed to be about birds, but all you see are photos of caterpillars and butterflies? Oops, here is one to give you, the reader, food for thought.

These White Ibis use their long, curved beaks to hunt for insects in the garden, aerating your lawn and ridding it of pests. If you use chemical insecticides or herbicides, you are having a direct negative impact on these beautiful, helpful creatures by poisoning them and depriving them of food. You don’t want to do that, do you? You can deal with a few weeds in your lawn to give these marvelous creatures a break, right?

 

This photo of a Prairie Warbler on a native Florida Privet was taken by Kirsten Hines, renowned nature photographer and author, in her own garden in Miami, FL. You can see her other nature photos on her Instagram page kirstennaturetravel. She knows a lot about attracting birds to South Florida gardens; in fact, she even co-authored a book about it. Learn more about the Prairie Warbler.  Make sure you listen to its song.

 

That’s okay. I’ll wait while you order  it.  You won’t regret it. Or, if you live in Miami Shores, you can run over and check it out from Brockway Library.

 

Anyway, that adorable little Prairie Warbler Kirsten photographed in her garden can be found hopping around in shrubby habitats looking for — you guessed it — insects, like caterpillars and beetles, flies and lacewings, spiders and millipedes and other yummy protein snacks. My friend and poet and bird photographer Michael Faisal Green says some Prairie Warblers overwinter here in South Florida; others breed here in the summer, and some are year round residents. The Prairie Warbler’s song is beautiful and unforgettable and, like a number of bird species, you’ll likely hear the song before you see the bird. Wouldn’t you love to see and hear them in your garden? Kind of makes you want to run to the nearest native nursery to start carving up your useless lawn and creating that bushy shrubby habitat that will attract the insects that attract that beautiful creature with its song that ascends up the chromatic scale, doesn’t it?

Speaking of birds you often hear before you see, butterfly gardens also attract hummingbirds. In addition to nectar from plants that also attract butterflies, hummingbirds eat small insects like caterpillars, insect eggs, and spiders and feed them to their babies.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In some lights, the ruby throat looks black.  Learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

 

The long tubular flowers of native Firebush are often visited by hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies.

 

Tropical, or Scarlet, sage is another plant with alluring red tubes. Zebra butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn irresistibly to its nectar. You can also find it in pink and white if red isn’t your thing.

 

Every human visitor to my garden likes my native Coral honeysuckle almost as much as the hummers!

 

The gorgeous non-native Firespike! Even if it didn’t attract hummingbirds and Zebra butterflies with its sweet nectar stored in alluring red tubes, you’d still want it in your garden, right? It also comes in magenta and other shades of pinky purple.

 

This delicate creature is a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by Michael Faisal Green.

 

Michael Faisal Green illuminates these beautiful, fragile, delicate creatures: The general rule is that there is only one hummingbird species that breeds in the US east of the Rockies — the Ruby-throated — and that’s most certainly true. However, the same cannot be said for wintering hummers. South Florida is getting increasing numbers of eastward migrants — hummers that breed on the West Coast and the South that migrate west to east, instead of the typical north to south. In addition to these uncommon migrants, South Florida is the winter home to many Ruby-throated hummers who spend their summers in the Northeast U.S. and as far north as Canada. Most of these migrants descend through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean into Mexico and the West Indies, though living on a uniquely dangerous metabolic knife edge means that crossing the Gulf and flying for a day without rest constitutes one of the most astonishing acts of aerial endurance. They are literally hours away from starving to death during long flights. The semi deciduous habitats 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 native gardens and habitats, replete with nectar-laden flowers, to sustain small numbers of these birds throughout winter. Flower nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. If we can maintain as much natural habitat as possible — they love red flowers like firespike and firebush — and cultivate gardens and green spaces so that they can safely winter here and spare them a dangerous trans Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation that they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their winter home until we came along. South Florida, keep those gardens native and alive with flowering plants that sustain them!

 

Read more about how to attract hummingbirds to your garden at worldbirds.org.

 

Firebush has flowers and berries. Kinda makes you want to pop one in your mouth.

 

Here’s another shot which I couldn’t resist adding, to point out the curious similarity between an Atala butterfly’s orange abdomen and some of the Firebush berries.

 

And speaking of berries, there are lots of other Florida natives that offer delectable berries to birds.

The luscious berries of the native Shiny-leaf wild coffee attract a variety of birds.

 

When the wild coffee isn’t offering berries to birds, it provides nectar for pollinators like this Zebra butterfly. And when it is in bloom, it fills the garden with the scent of honey.

This is the bright red fruit of the Rouge plant, a native that typically has blooms and berries at the same time. It also makes a fine perch for an Atala butterfly.

 

Another native plant that does double duty, offering flowers for pollinators and berries for birds is the Little Strongback.  I watched a tiny female Black-throated Blue Warbler happily gobbling down one of these berries.

 

This is the male version of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, photographed by my friend, Michael Faisal Green.  You can see his beautiful photos and musings on his Instagram page: my_fy_green and you can read more about these Black-throated Blue Warblers..  You will be very happy if you spot these beautiful little creatures in your garden.

 

You can see how the native American beautyberry shrub got its name.  Most plants have just the purple berries, but this one decided to be different.  I sat and watched that same female Black-throated Blue Warbler eat her fill of the purple ones the other day.  I wonder if she is eating for more than one…?

 

This is the flower of the American beautyberry, which is another win/win plant for birds, bees and you!

 

Another important element for both butterflies and birds is dead trees and palm fronds. As Kirsten Hines notes in Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens, “Birds need dead trunks. Woodpeckers and other trunk-foraging birds search out insects lurking under dead trunk bark. Cavity-nesting birds use dead trunks for their nesting.”2

Leaving this dead palm up for birds like this Barn Owl to nest in is worth it, no?  Learn more about how you can attract Barn Owls to your garden.

 

This tree is full of tasty treats for this Red-bellied Woodpecker to find.  Read more about this magnificent creature.

 

Imagine the looks on your friends’ faces if you could brag that you have Zebras roosting on dead palm fronds in your garden. Untidy gardens can bring great beauty, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Another gorgeous shot by Michael Faisal Green. This Painted Bunting is guaranteed to knock your socks off, figuratively speaking.

 

Michael Faisal Green writes: Painted Buntings are quite shy birds. They do not have the natural inquisitiveness of Mockingbirds or Cardinals and will avoid open spaces and humans as much as possible. The outrageously-coloured males, perhaps aware of their colourful conspicuity, seem to be particularly reserved and are much less likely to be seen in the open than the females. For this reason, it is essential that any garden that wishes to attract them has plenty of shrubs and cover from which they can appear and disappear rapidly. Exclusively herbivorous, the best way to lure them into the open is with caged bird feeders stuffed with white millet. They seem to prefer approaching food from multiple perches, so regular, single perched feeders are not as attractive to them. Another important point worth noting is that birds are inured into a flock mentality and will always feel safer when there are more of them around. Attracting other birds to your garden — jays, woodpeckers and finches — will likely reassure birds that your habitat is safe. I have noticed that female buntings tend to shadow their larger cousins, female cardinals, and are more likely to be seen with them in gardens.

Here’s another view of the glorious male Painted Bunting, taken by Michael Faisal Green. This creature is surely worth saving by providing the seeds it needs. In addition to the feeder with white millet mentioned above, lots of native grasses provide seeds, in case you have a craving to see this bird in your garden. You can read up about these breathtaking birds.

 

There are many other bird species that visit South Florida gardens besides the ones mentioned in this post. The more insects, berries, and seed-bearing grasses you have, the more of them you’ll see. And now that you’re armed with all this information, and inspired to transform your garden into a paradise for you and wildlife, here are some native nurseries we recommend to get you started on your exciting new adventure!

Silent Native Nursery

Plant Creations Nursery

Richard Lyons Nursery

Veber’s Jungle Garden

Last but not least, you can check out Bound by Beauty’s page on how to bring butterflies to your garden.

______________________________________________________

1Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, Portland, London), 25.

2 James A. Kushlan and Kirsten Hines, Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens (University Press of Florida), 29.

 

A Picture that’s Worth a Thousand Words….

Sometimes we come across a photo that brings joy to our hearts and resolve to our souls. This young girl attended our recent Seeds2Share workshop at our wonderful local Brockway Library. She has just finished planting her Tropical sage seeds in the moist peat pellets that she prepared for them. She clearly feels the magic of the moment, and takes pride in her accomplishment. We believe that growing plants from seed is part of our DNA, and teaching young people to germinate seeds turns them into nurturers of nature. Many thanks to Children’s Librarian Brenda Holsing and the staff at Brockway for making this workshop possible and understanding the importance of teaching children about nature! Thank you to the Miami Shores Community Alliance for their grant, and many thanks to Marcia P MacPhail for capturing this wonderful image.

Tropical or scarlet sage is very easy to germinate, and it comes in pink and white as well. It is a wonderful pollinator and hummingbird plant.
You can read more about our Seeds2Share program in the summer edition of the North American Butterfly Association’s Butterfly Gardener quarterly magazine, or on our website. http://boundbybeauty.org/seeds2share/

Pollinator Parade at Green Day Miami Shores

Miami Shores police stopping traffic on NE 6th Avenue.

STOP…….and imagine a world where kids take to the streets in a peaceful manner to demand that adults start taking action to protect their futures….   We found some old photos dated 4/19/1972 in Flashback Miami Shores, showing Miami Shores police stopping traffic on NE 6th Avenue so the elementary school students could march against pollution.  Wow!  What happened?  When did children stop marching against pollution?  How can we get them re-engaged in the world around them? 

These photos inspired us at Bound by Beauty to do something to activate and inspire young people to take to the streets again.  What better way to empower them than a positive Pollinator Parade that would be tons of fun and would educate people about the importance of pollinators?   We found willing partners in Inspiration Pollination, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores.  Inspiration Pollination is a nationwide collective that uses art to connect the public with the plight of pollinators, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores is an offshoot of Pesticide Free Miami, a coalition working towards local policy banning harmful pesticides and herbicides in public spaces.

 

Melanie Oliva, the inspiration behind Inspiration Pollination, came up with a winning logo for the parade, and we handed out butterfly fans to various schools and community organizations to create a “buzz.”  Come join us on Saturday to celebrate the pollinators that make our lives possible!  Wear a costume, make a sign, bring a musical instrument, and get ready to have fun and make history in Miami Shores in the first annual Pollinator Parade at #GreenDayMiamiShores!  Pssst, there will be face painting too, from 3:30-4:30 at the Bound by Beauty booth!