Tuesday, November 25, 2014

St. George Island, St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge, Florida

We took a quick trip to Florida last week to visit St. George Island again. 

St. George Island is dog-friendly, allowing them on the beach as long as you clean up after them and have them on a leash.  It is very peaceful here, no high rises or big tourist areas, just the kind of place we like. 

 This time, I rented a house right on the beach so that if it was cold and windy (which happened just two days later), we could still enjoy the view.  Having a private path to the beach was a luxury.

And the house worked out fine--dog and people friendly.  I cooked sea food every night that I bought daily in Eastpoint at Lyn's Seafood Market.    I was glad we had a covered porch the next day.....

...when a fierce storm blew in.  We had a tornado warning in the morning.  A tornado actually touched down north of here, doing major damage to a prison and other areas.  It almost felt like a hurricane.  The next day I noticed the house behind us had shingles missing--wasn't sure if that happened during the storm but the wind gusts were very strong.

After the storm, a cold front moved in.   Checking weather back home though made us feel better since the temperature was in the teens at night while here just below freezing.

Still, I bundled up in the 50 degree weather and walked the beach where I photographed these beautiful sea oats....

...and the lovely sunset. 

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

We took a trip to St. Marks wildlife refuge almost two hours away but it was well worth the time and effort. Here's the description from the webpage:
"The refuge was established in 1931 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds. It is one of the oldest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. It encompasses 70,000 acres spread out between Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties, and includes about 43 miles along the Gulf Coast of northwest Florida." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 St. Marks Lighthouse was built in 1842 and is still in use today.

 It was great to see some flowers--I think this was goldenroad which was covered with bees and other insects.  The refuge is a stopover for monarch butterflies too although we were probably a month late for them.

 In the grass is a large alligator, probably the first time I was not scared since he was across the way and too cold to move much.

 A great blue heron and the great ibis behind it.

  There were lots of these little birds in the shallow areas. 

 Back on St. George Island, I loved watching the pelicans fly as I walked along the beach.

On the day of departure, I got up early to take one last walk along the beach.  Just before we turned to go back to the house, Kookie stopped and stared at these dolphins.  I would have missed seeing this pod? of about 5 of them swimming parallel to the beach.    

I finish with another photo of Kookie who I hope appreciates that we plan our trips around her now!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

October Colors

The fall foliage in Rye Hollow was the best in many years.  I am just now getting around to posting some photos.

 A view down into Rye Hollow did not show much color on October 4.

A little color shows up on October 12 on the back part of our land looking toward Walker Mountain.

 The dogwood trees are always the first to turn color (October 12).  Our woods sometimes reminds me of the rain forest.

I love the look of the dogwood leaves with the sunlight behind them.

The red oaks turn later, this taken on October 17, usually considered peak time for foliage here.
This view is west from the top of Guinea Mountain (October 17)

Another photo of the back part of our land taken October 17.

Also on October 17, I took this photo driving up to Mountain Lake---little hazy but still colorful.

Finally, this photo taken last week on October 24 of view into Rye Hollow shows that the color has really hung in there.   Not today though, it is rainy, gloomy and cold for the start of November.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Life of a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar--updated

On July 31, I watered my parsley plant and noticed this small caterpillar wiggling when the water splashed on him...

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar          July 31, 2014

I missed a lot of instars (earlier caterpillars) before I saw him--some naturalist I am! 

July 31, 2014

This is a close up view where you  see the water drops from my watering can.  He looked like he hadn't eaten much of my parsley thankfully.

 Black Swallowtail Caterpillar          August 6, 2014

The caterpillar grew big and fat as he quickly ate the parsley.  I noticed he would eat voraciously and then rest for awhile.  I wished he would eat the outer leaves since it would not have been so noticeable.  I hoped he would not eat all of it since I only planed this one pot of parsley.  Yet, there was no way I would get rid of this fascinating caterpillar.

August 10, 2014 
On August 10, the caterpillar got into this position I had not seen before.

This close-up shows how he attached himself to the stem.  Then I knew he was going into a pupa.   I checked on him a lot that day and the next.

August 12, 2014

He finished making his pupa on August 12.  Maybe he had done it overnight I am not sure but I missed the process.   I saw that he had only eaten about 3 or 4 parsley strands so there is plenty left for my cooking.

August 17

I am amazed that the pupa has survived the many rainstorms with just that single strand of silk holding it. It appears to be smaller than the diameter of fishing line.

Today is August 23 and the pupa looks pretty much the same.  I worry that a bird might get him or that strand might finally break.    I am awaiting the birth of a black swallowtail butterfly and am afraid I won't be there to see it.   The life of a naturalist is sometimes fraught with worry! 

I am going to make a note in my gardener's journal to plant lots of parsley next year.  I may plant with native flowers so the newly hatched butterflies will not have to go far for nectar. 

UPDATE:  The pupa turned brown.  I had heard from a biology professor on Facebook that the pupa might overwinter so I put under chicken wire (hardware cloth) to protect against birds and the weather.  Today (Sept. 4) I noticed a distinct change in the pupa.  I thought the butterfly had emerged since the pupa looked empty but it is translucent and no opening noted.  I think the butter fly will emerge soon!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cooking with My GoSun Stove

 As soon as my new GoSun Stove arrived today, I read the user guide and set it up in the shade.  I was one of the early investors on KickStarter for the GoSun Stove.  I was impressed with the design and quality of the materials.  I had always wanted to make a parabolic sun stove myself but never got around to it.  So, I was pleased to invest in a company that was making a quality product and also sharing their work in undeveloped countries.

Of course, I wanted to try it out right away since it was a sunny day.  I decided to use what I had in my refrigerator and garden to make a "ham and vegetable stew/fry."  See recipe below.  I have cooked this many times in my cast iron skillet but the sun stove allowed me to do this outside, saving the cool air in the house*.

*We don't have air conditioning and cool the house by opening the windows at night and then closing up the house when the temperature outside is close to the inside temperature.  We successfully keep the house about 20 degrees cooler on the inside than outside (or 70 degrees if outside temperature is 90 degrees). Of course, living in the mountains where nighttime temperatures are usually well below 70 makes this possible.

 I put the food in the stove. 

 It was exactly 11:30 a.m. when I angled the sun stove directly towards the sun.  Sky was slightly overcast with a few clouds but mostly sunny. 

I checked the food at 11:45 or 15 minutes later and tested with a fork to see that the potatoes were cooking. 
 I checked a couple more times and at 12:20, the vegetables were done.   So I added my fresh herbs...

and covered the stove with a flour sack dishcloth to "turn it off," much like I do with my cast iron skillet when I turn off the burner and leave the food to simmer in its own juices.

About 10 minutes later, I  took the food out with a wooden spatula and put on two plates for my husband and me.   My husband was impressed that it was all done in less than an hour outside with just the sun as fuel.  The food tasted a little like a stew but also like it was fried so that's why I call it a stew/fry.  I think the last 10 minutes really helped to meld the flavors together.

The stove was easy to clean, using only mild soap and water on the cooking tray and the brush for the tube.   So far, I am pleased with my range.  I believe it could be used by folks here in the Appalachian Mountains to cut down on electricity usage or during the many times when the power goes out.  For those like us without air conditioning, it is helpful to keep our house cool also.

Note on operation:  Although it did not seem to make much of a difference, I had neglected to put the steam vent on the handle.  I think that the shield protects the glass or fingers and creates more of a tighter seal.  I have it on there now so I expect the food might have cooked in less time had I used the steam vent. Also, I might assemble in the house next time.  The stove was heating up even  though it was in the shade and angled toward the north sky.

The recipe that follows could be adapted to your taste such as different herbs or spices or using redskin potatoes or squash which I did not have in the garden.  The quantity makes a good lunch for two but for supper, I would add more potatoes. I think the cooking try could have held more but I did not want to risk getting food on the tube which might be more difficult to clean than the cooking tray. 

Sun Cooked Ham and Vegetable Stew/Fry

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cooked ham, 1/2" chunks or slices
1/4 cup red peppers, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1-2 potatoes,  1/2" chunks (about 3/4 cup)
1 pat or about 1/2 tablespoon butter
chopped parsley and chives

Pour the olive oil in the cooking tray.  Layer the ham and vegetables evenly.   After vegetables are tender (50 minutes for me this day), add the butter and chopped parsley and chives and shade the stove.  Food will continue to cook for awhile so remove food after about 10 minutes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Butterflies, Moth, and Frog UPDATED

June has consistently been in the 80s and sometimes in the 90s (far too early for that in the mountains!).  I emptied my rain barrel  twice to water the garden so rain has definitely been less than needed.  Today has been the first completely cloudy day so I am finally getting around to doing post.

Two things seem to love this weather:  fireflies and butterfly weed (or as I call it orange milkweed).

 Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black       June 15, 2014

From this angle, you can't see the orange spots but another showed it so I believe it is a female. 

 Great Spangled Fritillary   June 15, 2014

The fritillary butterfly finds the orange milkweed irresistible with as many as five on it one day.  I learned that violets are the host caterpillar plant so I am glad I let lots of violets grow in my yard.

The Neighbor Moth   Haploa contigua   June 28, 2014

I posted on the group "Moths of the Eastern United States" on Facebook.  Within an hour, some one identified it.  None of my field guides have many moths in there so if you know of a good field guide, let me know.


We finally got a frog in our waterfall.  He is only about 1-1/2 inch long so it is hard to take a photo.  I hope he stays around awhile so I can identify him.

 Here's another photo of him.  The closest match on my Audubon iPad app is the Southern Leopard Frog which is fairly common around ponds.

 This toad was sitting under our deck light for a couple of evenings, waiting for  an easy meal.  He has not been seen since so I hope a snake did not get him but that he decided it was not so easy after all.

I have not gone on too many nature walks because we had several bear sightings, one in the driveway and then in the backyard.   My blackberries are starting to ripen so I am afraid he will be back!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Garden Tour

On April 26, I went on a tour of 3 local gardens and I thought it would be great to share the good ideas....

Solar Woodland Garden

 At the first garden, I was most interested in this passive solar house.  It was built in 1986 and is very characteristic of solar houses built at that time--large array of south-facing windows.  I did a field study of passive solar house for my dissertation but it was done before this house was built.  The front yard had lots of sedum and other sun-loving plants.

 Woods surround the back yard where the owners have built woodland paths.  This is a wood poppy and was the main flower blooming.

This lilly (similar to the native trout lilly) was about done but I liked the way it was plant at the base of a tree stump. 

Garden of Surprises

 The front yard of the next garden looked like most of the yards in this older subdivision.   A cute sign on the gate welcomes you to the backyard where there are few surprises.

 The backyard is a man-made stream with meandering paths.

 In the back is a waterfall with a nice bench under a tree.

I took this photo while seated on the bench which would be nice and cool in the summertime heat (or on a day like today where it hit 92 degrees!).

 My favorite part was the shed and the vegetable garden.  The mirrors on the shed help to cut down on all the purple and reflect the beautiful garden.  I like the Gothic metal window frame too.

 On the other side are the raised beds.

You could sit on a stool and work this garden!

 I bet the short bed is for something tall like corn.

I couldn't leave this garden without showing another one of the cute critters made out of stones and metal.

Native Garden
At the last garden I volunteered to answer questions about the native plants which comprise the majority of the vegetation.  This garden had a main feature: huge man-made waterfall and pond which attracts birds, frogs and other critters.

Marsh marigold and yellow pickernel were blooming in the pond.

In the back of this yard, the pawpaw was blooming while the leaves were just starting to grow.

 My favorite part of this yard was the great blue heron sculpture done by a local artist.  The locust tree had the top sheared off by the derecho a couple of years back.  They used the upper part as log pedestal  for plants on the patio.   The sculpture's life can be prolonged with the use of linseed oil.

 Here's a close up.

Hope you enjoyed the garden tour.