Get Lost

Nature Trail
Photo by Carolynn Waites

Just looking at this photo makes me happy: surrounded by nature, with no idea what lies just around the bend. This nature trail is hidden at the back of a local county park. It’s not very long, and you can still hear the sounds of traffic nearby, but it is still a small slice of paradise to me. I took this picture a few weeks ago; I can look at it now while at my desk and recall the peace it brought me.

I encourage you to get lost as often as you can. You don’t have to spend the day traveling to a nature reserve. You can do it from your work cubicle if that is your only option.

Find your spot. Where can you go to get in touch with nature and away from the everyday world? No matter where you are, there are ways to get in touch with the outside world.

  • A park.
  • Your backyard (or front yard).
  • A garden center.
  • A florist.
  • A bookstore, library, or magazine rack–find the outdoor and nature titles.
  • Your computer–pick a place you want to go and visit it virtually.
  • A creek, river, lake, or beach.
  • Your stereo–listen to sounds of the ocean or jungle.
  • Your street–find a bird, a tree, or an insect and observe it.

No distractions. Put down your phone. No multi-tasking. No surfing the web. Just you and this small taste of nature. Observe the beauty of the natural world. Close your eyes and listen. Breathe. Absorb.

No timeline. Whether you are able to get away for 30 minutes or only 5 minutes, this break will make a difference in your day. It will remind you of what is really important. You will feel calmer and ready to face the rest of the day.

It is not how, but why. It is truly not important how you take your nature break. The important thing is to just do it. Lose yourself in the natural world today. It will refresh and revive your mind. Try it once, and I believe you will look forward to getting lost again.

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Who Spit in My Garden?

Spittlebugs
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I have often seen this wad of spit on plants in my garden. The first time I saw it, I was wondering how in the world someone spit on a plant in my backyard. I did a quick Google search and learned that it is actually created by a bug. Okay, mystery solved. I never gave it much thought again.

Recently I discovered a small nature trail near where I live. I took the camera and documented several of the wildflowers that appeared there. I noticed this wad of “spit” and decided it was time to learn more about it.

This aptly named insect is called a spittlebug. It is a member of the Cercopidae Family. It is also known as a froghopper, because its face looks a bit like a frog. It is related to the leafhopper. There are over 23,000 species of spittlebugs, but chances are that you have never seen one. The winged adult is less than 1/4″ long and their dull green or tan coloring blends in with the leaves they feed on.

The spittle is a liquid secretion that the spittlebug nymph produces from its back end to cover its body. It will move and pump its body to make it foam, then use its hind legs to spread the froth over its body. This froth serves several purposes: it insulates the nymph from temperature extremes, it shields it from predators, and it keeps it hydrated. The saliva-like froth is commonly known as cuckoo spit, snake spit, or frog spit.

The spittlebug will lay eggs on old plant debris to overwinter. When the nymphs originally hatch in early spring, they will attach themselves to a plant and begin feeding. They are almost invisible inside the spittle. The young go through five stages before adulthood. Adult froghoppers jump from plant to plant. They can jump 100 times their own length.

They suck little sap from the plant, and rarely do any damage unless there are large numbers of them. To remove them from a plant, a strong spray from a garden hose is usually all that is needed. The best course of action is let it be. It is wonderful reminder of the wonders that nature produces all around us.

 

 

 

 

Summer Tanager

DSC01984
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I’m not a big birder. But I have realized that paying attention to birds is rewarding in some ways:

  • It gets you outside.
  • It gets you to pay attention to the nature that is around you.
  • You get to see some pretty cool birds that you have never noticed before.
  • You may actually learn something.

I work on Galveston Island. Other than the commute, it’s a great place to work. This time of year, it is spectacular with flowers and birds. A photographer told me that 80% of migrating birds come through Galveston. I have to believe that might be true based on what I’ve been seeing lately.

I was on my lunch break the other day, eating outside to take advantage of the beautiful day. I saw a yellow bird flying from tree to tree near me. I was trying to follow it and get my camera out to get a picture so I could figure out what it was. I lost it. But while looking for it, I found this red bird pictured above. The only red bird I am familiar with is the male cardinal. This is obviously not a cardinal. I ended up getting some great pictures of this red bird, though I never saw the yellow bird again.

When I had access to a computer later, I was able to identify this bird as a male Summer Tanager. Beautiful! The best part of the story is that the female Summer Tanager is yellow! So that was his mate that I was following. Apparently they nest together in the treetops (they like oaks and pines) and they eat insects, often bees and wasps. I read that they will take the bee or wasp in their beak and bang it into the tree to knock the stinger off before they eat it.

According to the book The Birds of Texas by John L. Tveten, The Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) is the most widespread and abundant tanager in Texas. Why have I never seen one before??? Oh yeah– because I haven’t been paying attention. So once again I remind all of us to look up. Pay attention to the nature around you. You might just get to see something truly beautiful.

Look Up

Look Up
Stock Photo from StockSnap.io

Step outside. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t look at your feet. Look up. No matter where you are there is a good chance you will spot something beautiful. Something that may always be around, but you never notice.

Bird Watching

Birds are everywhere. Whether your surroundings are rural, suburban, or urban, nature has a way of blending in. Take a moment to notice. Take a moment to admire. Be grateful for this reminder that the world is a beautiful miracle.

We all need to reconnect with nature on a regular basis. Being outside benefits both mind and body. It does not have to take long. Take a 10 or 15 minute break and go outside if the weather allows for it. Watch and listen to the birds. Relax.

Even if you do not like birds and find them annoying, spend a few minutes watching them. I am not a fan of the aggressive grackles that seem to be everywhere in my city. But after watching one dig up a juicy earthworm in my backyard the other day, I had to give a tip of my hat to that grackle. We were coexisting, him and I, while enjoying the beautiful day.

Wherever You Are

You do not have to be “out in nature” to experience nature. We share our environs with birds whether in a large metropolitan jungle, a literal lush tropical jungle, or somewhere in between.

Trees are a perk, but not a necessity. Lamp posts, billboards, street signs, building overhangs, overpasses, and weedy lots are only a few examples of where birds can perch. Take a moment and look up.

This is a great story out of Pearland, TX: a dove built her nest on the windshield of a police car in the police station parking lot. The PPD took the car out of rotation until those baby birds left the nest. The story garnered a lot of love from local citizens and social media. The mama dove was named Pearl and she was the most famous resident of Pearland for a few weeks. Check out the pictures on Pearland PD’s Facebook page.

Spring Makes It Easy

Spring is the time of year when nature works harder than usual to capture your attention. Life is reviving after winter dormancy. Flowers are blooming, leaves on trees are unfurling, and life is basking in the warm sunshine.

During the spring, migratory birds travel great distances. It is a promising time to catch a glimpse of a feathered visitor to your area. Birds that are not traveling afar are building nests and hatching chicks. In backyards, on billboards, and in parking lots.

Come Out of Hibernation

Breathe. Bask in the sunshine. Stand barefoot in the grass. Admire the flowers. Enjoy the longer days. Rejuvenate. And look up.

Backyard Birding

Birds in Birdfeeder (2)
Photo by Carolynn Waites

It was a beautiful day yesterday. My husband and I took full advantage of the glorious weather by spending most of the afternoon on our back patio watching the birds hanging around our bird feeder.

I took photos so I would be able to identify the birds that visited. None of the pictures turned out great because I was zoomed in all the way, but they were good enough for identification purposes.

The three birds that are sharing the feeder in this photo above are (from left to right) a House Sparrow, a Dove, and a Red-winged Blackbird. These are all common birds in the Houston area, but before yesterday I did not know what the small brown and white birds were that love my backyard: House Sparrows.

House Finch 2
Photo by Carolynn Waites

On the right is a picture of another interesting bird that was spending time with us. We were fascinated by the impressive red coloring around his head and breast. I compared my photos with an on-line bird identification guide and learned that it is a House Finch. They are also supposed to be fairly common in our area, but I honestly can not tell you if I have ever noticed one before.

I have a number of books about local birds, but the pictures never seem to look like the birds that I am trying to identify. I have fallen in love with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. If you want to know anything about birds, this is a fantastic site. I find their identification tools to be extremely helpful.

I have always enjoyed watching the birds in my backyard, but have never taken the time before yesterday to learn about our feathered guests. I enjoyed a beautiful day with my husband, furnished some local birds with a tasty treat, and educated myself on my own backyard ecosystem.

No matter where you are, when you step outside take a moment to breathe deeply and notice your natural surroundings. Even if you are in the middle of a concrete jungle, there is still nature coexisting with the city. Take a moment out of your day to enjoy the life outside of your own.

Bees in Bottlebrush

Bees in Bottlebrush
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I was walking back to work from my lunch break yesterday, when I passed by a row of vibrant bottlebrush shrubs. I noticed that they were covered with bees. Not being allergic to bees, I thought this was marvelous. Bees need our help and we need them to survive. One of the best ways to help the bees is to plant flowers and shrubs that attract bees. Bottlebrush fits the bill and is beautiful at the same time.

The Callistemon plant is more commonly known as the bottlebrush because of its cylindrical, brush-like flowers. The flowers are red on most plants, though there are some species with yellow,green, or white flowers. This plant is native to Australia, but has become common throughout moist, temperate areas of the world. They are certainly popular here in the gulf coast area of Texas. I am tempted to plant some in my backyard

If you would like to know about other honeybee-friendly plants, check out this article by the Mother Nature Network.

Fuzzy Caterpillar Hanging Out

salt-marsh-moth
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I just happened upon this cute fuzzy visitor hanging out in my Plumbago plant. I showed a picture to my friend and she identified it as the caterpillar of a Salt Marsh moth (Estigmene acrea). This appears to be a mature larvae, according to The University of Florida.

My husband initially though it was a Woollybear caterpillar, but those have a rust-colored band. This guy was pure black fuzziness.

I love how they use the fuzzy hair to form their pupae. Here is a picture of a pupae next to an adult Salt Marsh Moth:

saltmarsh_caterpillar07
Photo by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida

Apparently these caterpillars and moths are considered pests throughout North America, especially in the south. They are known to damage crops including cabbage, cotton, leaves of walnut and apple trees, tobacco, pea vines, potato plants, corn and clover.

Oh well, he (or she) is a cutie and I’m not growing any crops, so live and let live.