One of my favorite garden plants is the bell pepper I planted over a year ago. Apparently here in Florida vegetable plants just go on and on. The pepper survived some pretty cold nights (below freezing temps) over the winter, and has come back stronger than ever.
Besides giving me some nice juicy peppers to eat, it is home to some special “beasts” that are common to this area.
I see lizards all the time scampering around my garden. Skittle the cat catches them, but seldom kills them. She simply likes to play with them. Often I see them without tails (which grow back) and figure they lost it when Skittle pounced.
This one is a brown anole, and I see them much more often than the green anole. After reading the Wikipedia article, I guess I know why. The brown one is an invasive species and eats the green one!!This thing really is a beast. It used to be that all I ever saw were the green lizards, but come to think of it, I don’t see them any more. I don’t see many green tree frogs either, so what has happened to those?
Florida is always changing, and usually NOT for the better.
There is a tree frog that seems to change sleeping spots from the garden to the umbrella to the hose holder. Is it the same frog? I only ever seem to see one at a time. Usually he sits on the bars beneath my table umbrella. The other day he spent the whole day tucked between the hose rolls on the garden hose holder. Each time I watered I was careful not to squish him.
As I was checking out my peppers the other day, there he was. Tucked in under a leaf and sitting on top of a big pepper. I think he is a Pine Woods Tree Frog. But it could be the Cuban Tree Frog… hope not. I’ll have to get a better look at him.
Skittle the Cat is not hanging out on the pepper plant, but she has always loved snooping through the greenery of a garden. Her happy place these days is sleeping beneath the big leaves of the eggplant. It’s where she takes her cat naps between hunting lizards and getting into other mischief.
Wildlife is abundant in Florida. Birds are everywhere so getting them to come to the backyard is not difficult. They enjoy the same things here as they did when I lived in the North. If you’d like them to visit regularly, give them a proper welcome. They need food, water, trees and places to land and hide.
Birds Love Water
Like us, birds need water to drink. Birds also love to play in the water. It looks like playing, but they are cleaning their feathers. They dip their heads and swiftly shake from head to toe while fluffing out their plumage.
In the north cardinals are more rarely observed than they are in Florida. It was a wonderful sight when they landed in my snowy winter yard. Here they are everywhere. But they are still just as afraid and skittish. Any movement will scare them off.
I captured (not so great) video of this red cardinal splashing around in my makeshift birdbath. I have a good view from my home office area and with the windows open, I can hear the birds land in the birdbath. He stayed there preening for a good five minutes, but the video is short.
This cheap “bird bath” was thrown together one day using a large plastic plant saucer with a brick in the center (or a rock would work). The brick helps hold the saucer in place and gives the birds a place to stand. Birds don’t like deep water and I don’t like the price of real birdbaths, so we are both happy! Sometimes birds will line up waiting for one bird to finish for the next to have his turn – like these gray catbirds waiting for the cardinal to finish up.
I’ve also seen robins, mockingbirds, goldfinches, a thrush, brown wren, and bluejays at the water. Change the water daily, and put it in the sun to remove mold in summer. The water can get pretty hot in summer, so it needs to be changed more often.
Feed the Birds
A winter ritual for me when I lived in New Hampshire was to stock my big metal barrel with sunflower seeds. I had to keep a heavy rock on top so the black bears wouldn’t get into it. Feeding the birds in winter was a nice thing to do. Here in Florida I will not feed them, except to provide plants that may have berries or fruit they eat.
In the North I would make my own suet, which the birds LOVED. Suet is not used in summer (unless you buy the non-melting kind), nor is it used in Florida where it will go bad quickly. If you decide to make your own, you’d better make a lot – it goes fast.
The tray feeder is something I will try in my Florida backyard. I don’t plan to buy seeds for it. Seeds will draw squirrels and the birds don’t need feeding here.
The tray feeder will be used for old bread and fruit bits that some birds may like. When pulling worms from garden vegetables (think big juicy tomato hornworms) or grubs from the grass they can be plopped into this feeder and birds will swoop down and scoff them up! I already have the shepherds hooks .
Trees and Bushes
Birds like to have a place to hide, or land, which is up off the ground. I have two cats, but they have never caught a bird in this yard. I had a cat once that was an absolute killer, but these cats are not. The birds seem to know this because they come to my yard even when the cats are sleeping near the garden.
Trees, like the Dahoon Holly which grows next to my property, are perfect places for birds to gather. My yard has scrawny oak trees and a few palm trees, but the birds love the tangled mass of branches right next door.
The Dahoon Holly treeis not something I was familiar with. This wild specimen grows hanging berry clumps and draws the birds to feed. It’s maze of branches give the birds a great place to rest and feel safe.
Bird Houses and Shelter
The previous section pretty much covers shelter in my opinion, but some people like to add a birdhouse to the yard.
I used to have one and watched the chickadees build a nest inside. If I see a chickadee in Florida it won’t be the northern Black-capped chickadee (in my photo), it will be the Carolina Chickadee.
Then there are the curious big birds that stroll through.
Don’t you love the Sandhill Cranes? They are the coolest birds. These three come strolling through the yard regularly, and they are not afraid!
(For great photos of backyard Florida birds visit the CatandTurtle blog. It’s how I discovered that the gray birds in my photo were catbirds.)
After we moved into our new house in Florida, we noticed every night that raccoons would come out of the woods next door and explore our yard. They came right up to the back door, with the outside light on.
Oh, they were so cute. One time we looked out back to see three little raccoon faces peering out of the woods at us. Similar to the photo above (not taken by me), plus one. It was adorable, and if I were any kind of photographer I would have had the camera handy and captured that image.
However, I know that raccoons are not the sweet, adorable creatures they appear to be. And these days I abhor seeing their cute faces. They are thieves, that even wear masks as a warning! They have no regard for the hard work farmers and gardeners put into growing their crops.
Raccoons have sharp claws and teeth. They can be vicious if need be, and the ones that visit my yard are mostly unafraid of humans and my cats. They mostly do their damage at night, but we’ve been sitting at the outside table, in full daylight, and had one come out of the woods a mere 10 feet from us. Once he noticed we were there, he left. Rabies is common among them, but this one did not act in an unusual manner. I think he just wanted to see what we were up to.
I usually leave water outside for the cats during the day because of the heat. If I don’t empty the bucket, the raccoons always get into the water overnight and leave a muddy mess. Occasionally they dump the bucket.
One evening after we had been out on our boat, I rinsed my expensive water shoes and left them to dry on the back patio. The next morning one of my shoes was missing! Luckily I found the shoe at the edge of the woods where apparently the raccoon decided it would be of no use to him.
That same morning I discovered my tall sunflower stalk broken and dragged across the grass. It was the only sunflower seed that grew for me, and I really had hoped to see the flower bloom.
But worst of all is the stealing of my tomatoes. I just picked two ripe tomatoes and left about 4 more green ones on the vine. Today I saw that all the green tomatoes were gone! Last week they stole 2 nice red ones just before I had a chance to pick them.
They will drag pots and my fabric potting bags around. It seems they have a grand old time during the darkness of night. When the weather is nice, and my windows are open, I can hear them outside my window at night scampering around and occasionally “screaming” at each other. Yes, they make noise, and it’s creepy.
I’m thinking it’s time for a fence. However, I am not sure that will keep them away. I’ve read that they can climb fences, and we’ve watched them climb down from way up in a neighboring tree. The fence may have to be made of slick material, like metal or plastic, that they cannot climb. I’m saving my money, as we had planned to fence the yard anyway. These creatures just give me more incentive to do so.
I can only hope that with a wall between them and my yard the little robbers, or bandits as they are rightfully called, will forget about my garden and go someplace else to scavenge.
(Thanks to the photographers of Pixabay for these raccoon photos.)
I really don’t remember how I came across this little mouse. But I believe I saw my cat, Skittle, chasing something outside my back deck.
When I went outside there he was, “hiding” behind the dying nasturtium vines. Luckily for him, Skittle doesn’t seem to have the greatest eyesight. She couldn’t find him, but she knew he was in there someplace.
This is skittle perched on the deck post, looking for the mouse down in the plant (lower right). The little guy stayed very still, thinking he was hidden… or maybe too scared to move.
His little nose was pushed into the vines and maybe he thought that made him safe.
Now, mice are cute. But up north, where I lived in New Hampshire, they always seemed to find a way inside the house for the cold winter months. I fought them every winter.
I hate to kill anything, but they can’t be left to take over the house. I set traps in my basement, and trusted the cats to help keep them away.
More than once I was up in the night because the cats were out in the kitchen “playing” with a mouse. They never killed one in the house, but Skittle liked to bring them into my bedroom – up on my bed – in the middle of the night, just to show me her treasure!
I would get a plastic bowl and plop it over the mouse, then slide a piece of cardboard under it to catch the thing. This was surprisingly easy to do. Then, I would open the door and let it outside… where it belongs. Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep if I knew there was a mouse running around my home.
This little mouse in the Nasturtiums got away, as Skittle gave up looking for him. I’m sure he eventually made his way inside and scurried around my basement enjoying the warmth. The never-ending cycle.