Birds and Blooms Blog

Get the latest birding and gardening tips from our expert bloggers.

Beach Birding During Migration

Jill Staake

There’s no doubt that migration season is in full swing! This past week, I spent an afternoon at my favorite local beach, Fort De Soto Park, which also happens to be one of the best birding hotspots in Florida. Within just a few minutes, before we’d even gotten out of the car, I spotted a new life bird – this gorgeous Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Scarlet Tanager

Some shore birds migrate too, with the famous Red Knot (Calidris canutus) being a great example. These birds have one of the longest known migrations, traveling 9300 miles from their Arctic summer breeding grounds to their wintering grounds in southern South America. That means the Red Knots we spotted this weekend in Central Florida could still have a couple thousand miles to travel this spring!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red Knots

The Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) we spotted, on the other  hand, have probably finished their journey. They winter in the Caribbean and northern South America, but breed along the southern coasts. They also breed far inland along major river systems, though, so these birds could just be stopping for a break before continuing north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Least Tern

Red-Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) like this female have been seen here in large numbers this winter, but we were surprised to still see them this far south in the middle of April. Their summer breeding grounds include much of Canada and Alaska, so perhaps they’ve been waiting for this year’s seemingly-endless winter to finish before starting their journey north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red-Breasted Merganser (female)

Of course, there were plenty of regular park residents to enjoy as well, along with spectacular sunsets. All in all, it was a perfect way to spend a warm sunny Florida spring day.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Clockwise from top left: Laughing Gull, Reddish Egret, Short-Billed Dowitchers, Black Skimmer

What migrating birds do you like to watch at the beach? Tell us in the comments below!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Lorie Enjoy some funny photography and caption this photo!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Birds & Blooms’ Friday Fun Photography snapshot for April 18, 2014: Cup of Carolina Wren by Suzanne LaPalme of Havelock, North Carolina. Suzanne writes, “A friend gave me on of his homemade bird feeders. It’s a teacup and saucer glued together and mounted on a rod to stake in the ground. I put sunflower seeds in it, only to have squirrels gorge themselves. Then received a lot of rain and the cup filled with water. I saw a black-capped chickadee drinking from it one day, and then this Carolina wren taking a bath in the cup! As you can see, my husband was able to get a great photo of this.”

Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!

Garden DIY: Floral Ice Cubes

garden diy project - creating floral ice cubes

Spring has finally arrived and what better way to celebrate by bringing the beauty of your garden indoors, to decorate your table.  Floral ice cubes are a creative way to add beauty to the table and are easy to make.

I recently made some using flowers from my own garden and I can’t wait to use them for my next party.  Here is how to make your own:


Purple Violas

1. Choose your favorite edible flower and cut the flowers off, leaving a 1/4 inch of stem or less.  I used violas that were growing in my garden, which are edible and small enough for ice cubes.  Other choices that would work as well are apple, apricot, peach or plum blossoms as well as lavender, nasturtiums, rose petals or snapdragons.  Make sure that your flowers have been grown organically and have not been treated with any pesticides.


2. Gather together ice-cube trays, distilled water and your cut flowers.  You can use regular water, but distilled water freezes much clearer.


3. Place the flowers and then fill with water.  Fill 1/3 full of water and freeze.  Once frozen, add 1/3 more water and freeze again before filling it to the top and freezing it for the last time.


5. Serve your floral ice cubes in your favorite, beverage.  Clear drinks work best so that you can see the pretty flowers inside the ice cubes.

This garden diy project is so easy to do and will add beauty to your table while impressing your guests. What flowers would you choose to freeze into ice cubes?

For more information on edible flowers, check out the “Top 10 Edible Flowering Plants”.


Warblers of the Deep Forest

Rob Ripma

Warblers are some of my favorite birds, and it’s always exciting when the warblers that breed in the deep forests of southern Indiana return to the state. I was lucky to have the opportunity to go birding in that area often while I was in college at Indiana University, and I always like to make a return trip each spring to enjoy these warblers again. One of my favorite warblers (and actually one of my favorite birds overall) is the Hooded Warbler. This is a species that specializes in living in the deep forests and is an extremely common breeder within the right habitat in southern Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it's always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it’s always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

In addition to the Hooded Warblers, there are several other species that add a little more color and diversity to the forests of southern Indiana. Kentucky Warblers are similar in color to the Hooded Warblers and are also very common in the forest. Worm-eating Warblers are drab brown birds that skulk along the forest floor, and Cerulean Warblers add a splash of blue to the woods.

This Cerulean Warbler was being banded along the Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

This Cerulean Warbler was banded recently along the US Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

While I’ve talked a lot about these warblers occurring in the forests of southern Indiana, there are many places throughout the eastern United States that you can also find all of them. Have you seen any of these warblers yet this year?  If so, where were they?

Spring Butterfly Gardening Reminders

Jill Staake

Some people watch for robins patrolling the lawn. Others wait for the first sign of cherry blossoms. But for some people, spring hasn’t arrived until they see their first butterfly, colorful wings flashing in the sun. Perhaps you’ve already seen your first butterfly this year, or maybe you’re still anxiously awaiting its arrival. Here are a few things to remember about springtime butterflies and butterfly gardening.

Butterfly Gardening

Jill Staake Don’t forget the small ones! Spring Azures are roughly the size of your thumbnail.

What happens to butterflies in winter?
The answer to this question varies by species. A few species migrate or move further south, like the famous Monarch migration. But most butterflies overwinter in the same area where they spend the summer, in various forms. Some butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak, overwinter as butterflies without migrating (though some populations will head south for the winter). These butterflies seek out dry cracks in the rocks or warm tree hollows and hunker down for winter. Other butterflies, like Great Spangled Fritillaries, overwinter as caterpillars buried in the earth. And some, like Cabbage White butterflies, overwinter in chrysalis (pupa). In all cases, these creatures enter a state known as “diapause“, which is much like hibernation, in which all of their bodily functions stop until the weather warms up again. (Learn more about butterflies in winter here.)

How warm must it be for butterflies to fly?
Butterflies are “poikilotherms”, which is essentially like being cold-blooded; their body temperatures reflect the temperatures outdoors. Most butterflies need a body temperature of about 80 degrees F to fly, but it doesn’t need to be nearly that warm outside. Butterflies use solar energy to pump up their body temperature by as much as 20 degrees above the temperatures outside. So when outdoor temperatures consistently start reaching 60 degrees F or so, butterflies will begin flying, at least on sunny days.

Which butterflies appear first in spring?
This of course varies by region, but here are a few to look for as soon as days hit the 60s and 70s in your area:

  • Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) overwinter as butterflies, and will emerge as soon as the days warm up, probably looking a little tattered and worn. They can be seen across most of the country.
  • Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) also overwinter as adult butterflies, emerging in early spring and laying eggs on the first new growth of nettles and elm trees. As the name suggests, they’re found in the eastern half of the country, except the Deep South.
  • Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae) and other members of this genus overwinter in chrysalis, making their appearance in early spring as newly-emerged butterflies. They’re seen around the country, and their caterpillars are often considered pests by vegetable farmers. (Learn more here.)
  • Spring Azures (Celstrina ladon) are another butterfly species that overwinter in chrysalis and appear in early spring as newly-emerged adults. This tiny blue butterfly is found throughout the country, except in the Deep South.

What if butterflies emerge before there any plants for them to nectar on?
The “first” butterfly of spring, the Mourning Cloak, has this problem solved. It actually rarely nectars on flowers, instead preferring tree sap, which by now has been running for weeks in most places. In other cases, the earliest wildflowers of spring coincide with the first butterflies, and some of the best early nectar plants are actually flowering trees like redbuds and dogwood.

Butterfly Gardening

Jill Staake Cabbage Whites and other early butterflies lay eggs on early spring flowers and plants.

How do I attract early butterflies to my yard?
The earliest butterflies may not visit flowers as often, but they’ll still need the right host plants to lay their eggs. Find out which butterflies visit your area in early spring, and make their host plants a part of your butterfly gardening efforts. Provide a few large flat rocks in your butterfly garden, too, for butterflies to bask in the sun on cooler days, and some native ornamental grasses or shrubs for them to seek shelter when spring rains pop up. Get good nectar plants started early, so your garden will be full and inviting when more butterflies arrive. It’s also not uncommon for some butterfly species to visit hummingbird feeders when plant nectar is scarce, so fill your hummingbird feeders when butterflies start to appear to see if you can lure in a few extra visitors.

Have  more questions about butterflies? Drop by our Community forums to send me your questions. Have you seen your first butterfly yet? Share your sightings with others here!

Garden Basics: How to Dig a Hole

Did you know that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to dig a hole? Learn what size your hole should be before planting to ensure a happy plant.

From Our Community

Bird of the Week (4/13/2014): Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is a medium sized grayish-brown bird with a pale yellow belly, a stunning black mask and a crested head. Measuring 6-7 inches long…
Read more >

Saw My First Scarlet Tanager Today!

It was a gorgeous day here in Tampa, so my husband and I turned our back on all the housework waiting for us and decided to spend the…
Read more >