Birds and Blooms Blog

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

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft

Jill Staake

I’ve been seeing versions of this butterfly shadow box craft around the web for awhile now, and finally had a chance to create my own. I decided to create a pair of shadow boxes, one with butterflies and one with blooms. I embellished the cutouts with tiny keys and gears, giving them a bit of a “steampunk” feel that matches my decor. You can easily customize this shadow box craft by choosing paper patterns and embellishments that match your style. No matter what you choose, the process is easy.

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft Materials

  • 8 X 8 inch shadow box (one for each)
  • Scrapbook paper in patterns of your choice for cutouts
  • Plain scrapbook paper in color of your choice for backgrounds
  • Butterfly paper punch (I used Fiskar’s 1.5 inch butterfly squeeze punch)
  • Flower paper punch (I used Fiskar’s 1.5 inch “In Bloom” squeeze punch)
  • Embellishments of your choice – 9 per box (try beads, stickers, gems, etc. if gears and keys don’t suit your style)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Tacky craft glue
  • Glue dots (optional)

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft Directions

  • Trim background paper to 8 X 8 inches.
  • Use ruler to find center of page, and mark a small dot with a pencil.
  • Use ruler to mark two more dots to the left and right of the center dot, about 2 inches apart. Turn 90 degrees and repeat. Finally, mark the last four dots in the corners. You should now have 9 dots in 3 rows, 2 inches apart.
  • Disassemble shadow box, removing back from frame. Use glue dots or craft glue to attach background paper to back of shadowbox frame.
  • Use paper punch to cut out 9 shapes (butterflies or flowers) from scrapbook paper of your choice.
  • Place a glue dot or small drop of glue on each pencil mark. Press one cutout onto each glue drop, being careful to secure only the center of the paper shape. Allow to dry.
  • Use small drops of glue to add embellishments of your choice to the center of each shape. Allow to dry.

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft

  • Carefully bend up edges of each shape as shown.
  • Reassemble shadow box, placing back into frame. (Be sure to clean the glass first.)
  • Repeat for other shadow box, if desired.

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft

This project was fun and easy, and has endless opportunities for customization. I’m very pleased with how well these turned out, though I can’t get a really great photo no matter how hard I try. I really love the tiny details of the embellishments – they helped me personalize this shadow box craft to really make it my own.

Flower and Butterfly Shadow Box Craft

Looking for more uses for those paper punches? Try this nature-inspired clothespin craft.

DIY Garden: Make Your Own Lemon Salt

DIY Lemon Salt 5

Do you like lemons?  How about salt?

When you combine these two ingredients together, you get lemon salt, which is a delicious way to add flavor to your favorite dishes.  There are so many recipes that lemon salt can be used for – it tastes great on chicken and fish, makes a great addition to your favorite viniagrette dressing and I use it for my salsa.  Of course, it doesn’t stop there – you can use it in soups or any other dish where you would add a dash of citrus and salt.

Lemon salt is very easy to make and you don’t have to have a tree filled with lemons to do it – grocery store lemons will work just fine too.

Here is how simple lemon salt is to make:

1. You will need 3 lemons and 1 cup of kosher salt.

DIY Lemon Salt

2. Zest the 3 lemons.

3. Mix the lemon zest, salt and the juice from 1 of the lemons in a bowl.

DIY Lemon Salt 7

4. Spread out the lemon salt mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet.

5. Place in a 200 degree F. oven and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Gently break up any clumps with your fingers or place in your food processor and pulse into a finer texture.

DIY Lemon Salt 6

7. Use right away or store in a jar with a lid.

And, that’s it!  Making lemon salt is a fun DIY garden project whether you use lemons straight from your garden or from the store.  It also makes great homemade gifts that costs very little.

Of course, lemons aren’t the only fruit you can use to make salts from.  For more detailed directions with photos and other citrus fruit you can make salts from, check out my personal blog post, here.

Top Winter Birding Hotspots

Rob Ripma

Many birders long for spring and fall migration and forget that the winter months offer some incredible birding all throughout the United States! I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite winter birding hotspots that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Some of them will will allow you to experience a true northern winter feel while others will help you escape the cold and snow for a warmer climate.

1. Duluth, Minnesota – The famous Sax-Zim Bog outside of Duluth is a birding hotspot that is sure to give you that north woods winter feel while you see some very interesting bird species. If you can handle the snow and cold, you can expect to see several owl species including Great Gray and Snowy, a host of northern finches, Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, and many others! Yes, it might be cold but you might not even notice with all of the interesting birds around. OK, even the birds might not distract you from the freezing temperatures but you’ll still have fun! For more information about birding in this area, visit the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog website.

Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.

Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.

2. Rio Grande Valley, Texas – If you would rather escape the snow and cold, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is the place for you! This part of the country offers you the opportunity to see several species that you won’t find anywhere else within the US including Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, and Red-billed Pigeon. In addition to the regularly occuring birds, the winter months are the best time to find rare birds in the Rio Grande Valley! Just this past week, a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat was found at Estero Llano Grande State Park. On some of my winter trips to the area, I’ve seen many rare birds including Rose-throated Becard, Golden-crowned Warbler, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Tropical Parula. The World Birding Center webpage is a good place to start if you are looking for additional information.

Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

3. South Florida – South Florida is another one of the birding hotspots that allows you to escape to a warmer climate. The region is loaded with great birding hotspots that cover a variety of habitats from beaches to the Everglades to the Florida Keys. If you love herons and egrets, this is definitely the place for you. Not only are there a good number of species, I’ve found that this area is the best spot to get great photos of them. In addition to the herons and egrets, the beaches of south Florida are a great place to look for many shorebird species that will provide you with some great identification practice! The Everglades are also a great place for birding and you could really spend days exploring Everglades National Park. If you continue south, you’ll end up in the Florida Keys which seems like a different world compared to the Everglades. Currently, there is a Key West Quail-Dove on Long Key which is a very rare bird in the US! To learn more about this area, the Tropical Audubon Society offers good information.

One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.

One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.

4. San Diego, California – I’ve always enjoyed birding in San Diego and the surrounding area. The weather is usually beautiful and there are many amazing birds to see. One of my favorite parts of birding in San Diego is that you can go from the ocean, up to the mountains, and then back down on the other side to the desert in one day. This allows you to see several different habitats and many different birds! You can learn more about birding in this area by visiting the San Diego Audubon Society.

One species that I always like to see when I'm in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.

One species that I always like to see when I’m in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.

5. Barnegat Light, New Jersey – This birding hotspot is a little different than the rest of the ones I’ve listed here. It’s along the East Coast and is famous for watching and photographing waterfowl. I made my first trip to this area last year and was blown away at the volume of waterfowl as well as how close you could get to them for photos. Some of the most sought after waterfowl species like, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks and all three scoter species can be seen here. In addition to the waterfowl, keep an eye out for some of the alcid, such as Dovekie and Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper, and Northern Gannet. More great information about this location can be found on the New Jersey Audubon website.

Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I've ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!

Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I’ve ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!

Have you ever had the chance to visit any of these amazing birding hotspots?

Parsley Accents in the Flower Garden

Jill Staake

Though most of you are probably huddled under blankets inside right now, looking at your flower garden covered in a blanket of snow outside, January in Central Florida is a great time for planting. As I helped to install the mid-winter plantings at the butterfly garden where I work, I was reminded that parsley makes great filler in containers and flower gardens. The pretty green foliage adds texture that sets off your flowers, and the fresh scent is always welcome. Even better, parsley is one of the host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly, so you really can’t miss!

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

This year, we mixed parsley with sweet alyssum and ageratum in our cinderblock wall planters, for a sweet green and white effect.

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

In past years, I’ve added parsley to “all-in-one” butterfly planters, mixed with pink pentas and blue salvia.

Parsley Butterfly Planter

I’ve even seen it grown in large containers all on its own – this was at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival a few years back. I was surprised at just how striking this really was.

Parsley Planter

Parsley is very easy to grow. You’ll find two basic kinds available, often known as “curly parlsey” and “flat parsley”. Each of these adds their own texture, depending on the look you want to achieve. Parsley can take full sun to part shade, and does require regular watering. You can start it from seed – it’s a little slow to get going, but it loves cold weather, so start it early and be patient. (Get some great tips for starting parsley here.)

Parsley Eastern Black Swallowtail

Jill Staake Eastern Black Swallowtail eggs and newly hatched caterpillars on parsley.

In most parts of the country, growing parsley means attracting Black Swallowtail butterflies, because parsley is one of their host plants. Learn more about the Black Swallowtail and its life cycle here.

DIY Garden: 3 Easy Ways to Preserve Lemons

Do you cook with or use lemons around your house?  I do.  In fact, there are so many ways that I use lemons from making household citrus cleaner from its peels, natural air fresheners and of course, I am always using lemon juice or zest when I cook.

Where I live, lemons are plentiful during the winter months and I am often at a loss on how to use them all.  But come summer, I wish that I had lemons again instead of having to head out to the store to buy them.

Lemon Harvest

In warm winter areas, it’s not unusual to be gifted with lemons from friends and neighbors.  This bunch of lemons came from our veterinarian, who also happens to be our neighbor – (I didn’t mention to him that we already had a lemon tree).  So with all of these lemons, I decided to preserve them so that I would be able to use them throughout the rest of the year, once they had disappeared from the trees.

Here are 3 easy ways to preserve lemons whether you grow them yourself, receive them as gifts or buy them at the store:

Preserve whole lemons by freezing them

1. Freeze whole lemons. Did you know that you can freeze an entire lemon? This is an especially handy tip when you have too many lemons at once or if you have bought lemons and haven’t had time to use them right away. Simply place whole lemons in a plastic freezer bag and make sure to squeeze out all the air before freezing. When you are ready to use them, they will be somewhat ‘mushy’, but can still be zested and/or juiced. Place them in the microwave to help thaw them out or in a bowl of water for 15 minutes.

How to freeze whole zested lemons

You can also freeze whole, zested lemons, but be sure to cover them with foil first, to help keep them from drying out. This is a great tip when you need lemon zest, but not the juice right away.

DIY Freeze Lemon Zest

2. Freeze the lemon zest.  How often do you find yourself needing lemon zest for a favorite recipe.  Wouldn’t it be nice to simply reach into your freezer and grab a pinch or two of lemon zest?  Simply zest your lemon and place the zest in a plastic freezer bag.  The zest will keep its flavor for over a year!  Whenever you need it, take some out and add it directly to your dish.

lemon-juice-ice-cubes

3. Freeze lemon juice into ice cubes.  Lemon juice is used in all sorts of ways including in desserts, lemonade and savory dishes as well.  I freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays and then store them in plastic freezer bags.  They are the perfect size and easy to melt in the microwave.

*All of these freezing tips can be used for other types of citrus including grapefruit, limes and oranges.  So, make the most of your citrus, whether you harvest it or buy it at the supermarket with these helpful DIY garden tips!

Want to learn more on how to use lemons?  Check out how to make lemon salt for a delicious flavoring for your favorite dishes!

In Search of a Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings make just about every birder’s life list. My quest to see one was easier than I thought – once I looked in the right place.

Gomphrena in the Flower Garden

Gomphrena, also called Globe Amaranth, is an easy-to-grow annual for any flower garden and makes a great addition to dried bouquets.

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