Pat’s Wildways: Backyard Bliss

By Pat Foster-Turley

My outdoor office in spring is enhanced with the sight and scent of a blooming wisteria vine.

It’s my favorite time of year in our backyard. The air is warmish, but not hot and the bugs are not biting. No-see-ums, mosquitos, yellow flies — none are bothering me. The bugs that are here are fun ones. The wisteria is in its annual fragrant bloom, and the bumble bees are buzzing around me, harmless and necessary for pollination of valuable crops; these bees charm me.

My butterfly garden still needs some work, but today, I am just sitting here, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells, and, yes, writing this column. The scent of wisteria blossoms saturates my outdoor office, on our deck under a lattice pergola covered with blooms. It is still cool now, in the morning, and the butterflies are not out and about yet, but signs of their presence remain. The pineapple sage I have let spread under my elevated garden beds provides me with spikey red flowers for my vases and, most importantly, a feast for butterflies. Spent butterfly chrysalises hang by their threads among the flowers.

A spent chrysalis hides between pineapple sage blossoms.

Ahead of me, two green anoles are climbing the bark of the bald cypress tree, showcasing their bright green colors that contrast with the brown bark. Looks like they want to be noticed, spring in the air and all that. The bald cypress tree itself is still in its “bald” state as is the large crepe myrtle tree. These two trees are late-leafers. The oaks and maples around me are full of leaves already. In our little patch of woods, the native azaleas are showing off their light pink blossoms, much daintier than the cultivated azaleas that are splendidly blooming all around our area.

Fragile wild azalea blooms decorate our woods in spring.

Bird activity is heightened now, too. I’ve filled my bird feeders and the usual array of birds have been visiting: doves, cardinals, Carolina chickadees, titmice. A pair of cardinals take turns feeding one another sunflower seeds. A pileated woodpecker works on its hole in a pine tree in the woods. And now, thanks to the Merlin Bird ID app on my phone I can finally identify bird sounds. All I need to do is press “record” and the app identifies all the bird calls it detects. And with this app some surprises show up. For instance, I don’t see it in the sky right now, but Merlin identified the call of a swallow-tailed kite above me. I saw my first swallow-tailed kite of the season a week or so ago in our area. These birds are migrating north from South America. A number of them have been fitted with GPS transmitters by the Avian Research and Conservation Institute and the first ones arrived in Florida on March 3. Keep your eyes in the air, and you might see one too.

Green anoles are a common sight in our yard.

It isn’t just bird sounds in our yard, though. We live near the Fernandina airport, and often, the planes are routed to a runway approach right over our heads. And now that neighbors have removed all the trees, shrubs, and other vegetation along the fence between our development and Simmons Road, the noise of cars, trucks, and even bicyclists and pedestrians talking wafts over the pond toward me. Over the years I’ve gotten used to this background noise since I can’t do anything about it. The Merlin app doesn’t bother with it either — it only identifies bird sounds even if the noise of planes and cars is much louder.

Bucko enjoys his riding mower.

By far the noisiest thing in my backyard right now is caused by Bucko. Spring to him means it’s time to get his riding lawnmower tuned up to make a first round through the grass that is beginning to grow again. And you know, as loud as this distraction is, it doesn’t bother me at all. Spending a beautiful spring day together with Bucko in our yard is a cherished time for both of us. We planted the bald cypress trees (now more than 40 feet tall), the wild azaleas in the woods, and the pink crepe myrtle tree and blooming wisteria vine that together shade our pergola. And now, after nearly 50 years of marriage, we both enjoy the backyard in our own way and with each other. And for us, there’s nothing better than this.

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Active Member
14 days ago

I was so excited this year about Spring that I wet my plants.

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