SpaceX Rocket Launch – WOW!!!

Spectacular Sky Show of SpaceX Launch (star sapphire effect!)

SpaceX Booster Return Rocket Trail

On Saturday morning in the predawn hour of 5:21 am SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here on Florida’s east coast.  The sight was spectacular – WOW!!!  The rocket trail was illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon. The glow in the bottom picture is from the booster return landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” offshore, which at that point was 350 miles away!  Fifty-eight Starlink satellites and 3 Planet SkySats were sent into orbit.  Read about it at:  https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-8-planet-satellite-launch-rocket-landing-success.html  and https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-8-launch-amazing-twitter-photos.html

Huge Night Blooming Cactus Flowers!

Close-up of Cactus Flower

Three Cactus Flowers

Cactus Flowers on Sabal Palm

Daytime Before Blooms Open at Night

It’s that time of year here in Florida – our Queen-of-the-Night cactus is blooming every evening!  This unassuming snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus), which is unremarkable for most of the year, steals the show in early summer.  It is easily propagated because there are rootlets all along the plant.  Each bloom opens and lasts only one night.  The flowers are the size of dinner plates – wow!  

Great Crested Flycatcher Nest!

Great Crested Flycatcher on Nest Box

Great Crested Flycatcher with Dragonfly for Babies

Inside the Nest Box (Babies Hunkered Down)

Flycatcher Baby Fledgling After Leaving Nest

We are so excited to have a pair of great crested flycatchers nesting in our yard! For identification, look for the bird’s pretty lemon-yellow belly.  The picture inside the nest box was taken with our tiny Insta360 ONE camera.  We could see 3 babies in the nest at the bottom (middle).  Surrounding the babies are the flycatcher’s unique nesting materials – lots of feathers and even a bit of black and white fur (upper right).  Flycatchers are well known for weaving snakeskins into their nest, and this one has one too – how exciting!  The nest also has two round white empty mud dauber pots (top).  I wish we had gotten a picture of the eggs – they are creamy brown with purple squiggles on them.  Maybe next year!  A previous post about flycatchers is at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/great-crested-flycatchers-are-nesting/

Florida in Spring: Nesting Herons and Other Dark Birds

Great Blue Heron Pair on Nest

Great Blue Heron Nest Building on Tree Tops

Male Anhinga’s Beautiful Green and Blue Eye Colors in Spring

Fuzzy Anhinga Babies in Nest

Double Crested Cormorants Have Turquoise Blue Mouths During Breeding Season

Beautiful Iridescent Colors of Glossy Ibis

Green Backed Heron in Marsh

Yellow Crowned Night Heron in Tree with Spanish Moss

Juvenile White Phase of Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Transition from White Phase to Adulthood Plumage

Adult Little Blue Heron’s Dark Feather Colors

Tricolored Heron’s Crest Feathers

Adult Tricolored Heron’s Beautiful Blue Color During Breeding Season

Juvenile Tricolored Heron’s Funny Face

Tricolored Heron Baby Hello!

Paired with my other post about Florida’s egrets and other white birds in spring, this post is about herons and dark feathered birds during nesting season.  These colorful birds and their babies make me smile! 

Florida in Spring: Nesting Egrets and Other White Birds

Snowy Egret Breeding Feather Plumes

Snowy Egret Funny Face

Snowy Egret Plumed Head Feathers

Snowy Egret Golden Slipper Feet

Snowy Egret Face Breeding Colors

Snowy Egret Babies

Cattle Egret Breeding Colors

Cattle Egret Face

Great Egret Face Breeding Colors

Great Egret Feather Plumes

Great Egret with Outstretched Wing

Great Egret Babies

Great Egret Baby Hello

White Ibis Face Breeding Colors

Wood Stork on Nest

Wood Stork Family (3 babies)

We love our Florida birds, especially in spring.  This post shows egrets and other white birds during nesting season, when feathers are plumed and colors are bright.  If you are lucky, you will see great egrets, snowy egrets, and cattle egrets together in one big breeding colony – it is quite a sight!  Sometimes wood storks and white ibis nest there too!

Purple Martin Babies!

Purple Martin Nesting Gourds

Martins Collecting Pine Needles for Nest

Bird’s Eye View from Inside Gourd

 

Five Eggs in Nest

Newly Hatched Babies (Pinkies)

Growing Purple Martin Babies

Older Babies with Pinfeathers

Parents Bring Bugs to Growing Babies

Babies Waiting to be Fed

Hungry Baby with Mouth Wide Open

Rainbow Over Purple Martin Gourds

We have so many purple martin babies!  Did a backyard count here in Florida and the grand total for our nesting colony is 201 purple martins (107 babies, 22 eggs, and 72 adults).  Ages range from eggs to newborn pinkies to older babies with pinfeathers.  Love this time of year!  Learn more from the Purple Martin Conservation Association at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/

UPDATE May 16, 2020:  Lots of babies fledging this week!  Constant activity at the nesting gourds – great time of year!

Florida: Backyard Wildlife

Male Painted Bunting and Cardinal

Female Painted Bunting

Male Wild Turkey with Beard Feathers

Sandhill Crane

Peahen (female peacock)

Whitetail Deer

Armadillo

Raccoon Babies at Door

 

We love the variety of wildlife in our backyard here in Florida.  So much fun! 

Orchid Fragrance

Fragrant Deep Pink Purple Orchid

Green and Purple Orchid Smells like Lemons

Chocolate Orchid (Sharry Baby)

Purple Orchid Smells like Cinnamon

Fragrant Orange Orchid

Fragrant Pink, White and Yellow Orchid

Orchids have been around since the age of the dinosaurs.  Many people do not realize that some orchids have fragrance.  The scent is used to attract pollinators, such as bees or moths, and varies by when those insects are most active.  One of my favorites is the chocolate orchid – mmmm!   Other fragrances in our orchid collection include lemon, cinnamon, spicy, fruity, and delicate floral tones. 

Orchids and Vanilla

Group of Orchid Flowers

Purple-Speckled Phalaenopsis Orchid

White and Yellow with Purple Spots Phalaenopsis Orchid

White, Pink, and Yellow Dendrobium Orchid

Unique Purple and White Dendrobium Orchid

Purchased Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Bowl of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Did you know that vanilla flavor comes from an orchid?  Each bean pod of Vanilla planifolia contains thousands of tiny black seeds – these are the black specs in vanilla bean ice cream!  Pure vanilla extract in your spice cabinet comes from vanilla beans mixed with water and alcohol.  In nature, Vanilla planifolia flowers can only be pollinated by hummingbirds and special bees.  For commercial production, the orchids must be pollinated by hand.  Orchids get more interesting all the time!  Now who is hungry?  Read more at:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanilla-comes-from_n_5021060

Merry Christmas from Florida

Warm wishes from the beach here in Florida for a wonderful holiday and happy new year!

Driftwood Tree at Sebastian Beach

Spectacular Dawn Rocket Launch!

Long Exposure of Rocket Trail Illuminated by Sunlight Below Horizon

Close-up of Rocket Plume

Rocket Trail “Space Art” as Seen from our Backyard Pond in Palm Bay, Florida

We watched a stunning rocket launch yesterday at dawn here on the Space Coast of Florida!  An Atlas V rocket blasted off at 6:13 am and successfully placed a communications satellite into orbit.  Sunlight from below the horizon lit up the rocket’s exhaust plume and ice particles formed from it at high altitudes.   The resulting effect was spectacular space art in the sky – WOW!

Snoopy and NASA in Iceland

Snoopy at Iceland’s Moon Training Grounds

Snoopy at the Blue Lagoon

Snoopy Surfing at Diamond Ice Beach

Snoopy Napping on Black Lava Sand Beach at Jokulsarlon

Vintage 1969 Snoopy NASA Safety Poster

Snoopy’s “Greetings from Mars” T-Shirt at Kennedy Space Center

Snoopy (by Charles Schulz of “Peanuts”) is famous as being a safety mascot for NASA.  Since Snoopy was “First Beagle on the Moon”, he went to Iceland with us in June to see where the astronauts trained for the Apollo moon missions.  NASA is working in Iceland now testing the latest Mars Rover for the upcoming 2020 mission.  Astronaut Snoopy will be a featured balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade this Fall.

Happy 50th Apollo Moon Landing Anniversary from all of us here on the Space Coast of Florida!

If you want to see what Neil Armstrong’s parents said on the day he was confirmed as an astronaut, you can watch a sweet vintage 5 minute video from “I’ve Got a Secret” at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd7eWKCOk-A&t=16s

Spectacular Night Blooming Cactus Flowers!

Cactus Flowers Surround Palm Trunk

Cactus Flower Trio

Side View of Night Blooming Cactus Flower

Close-up of Night Blooming Cactus Flower

So Many Cactus Flowers

Cactus Climbed Palm Tree (raccoon on lower right)

Our night blooming cactus put on the best show ever on Sunday night – over 60 huge flowers were in bloom!  This snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus – Princess of the Night) is only 7 years old and grew from a tiny cutting.  Moths pollinate the flowers.  What a spectacular sight!  (click any image to enlarge)

Sebastian Inlet State Park Beach Collage

Sebastian Beach Collage

We enjoy going to Sebastian Inlet State Park on Florida’s central Atlantic coast.  It is a spectacular place to visit!  The weather this winter has been especially beautiful.  We made this collage of our favorite scenes at the inlet (click on the picture to enlarge and see details).  Info and live cam links are available at:  https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/sebastian-inlet-state-park

Eclipse of the Moon!

Moon Before Lunar Eclipse

Peak Totality of Lunar Eclipse

Last night (Sunday), January 20, we watched the “Super Blood Wolf Moon” Eclipse. It was stunning!   It was “Super” because the moon was passing Earth at its closest point in orbit, so it appeared bigger and brighter than usual.  It was a “Blood” moon because it turned coppery-red during the eclipse.  And it was a “Wolf” moon because in January the moon is associated with increased wolf activity and howling.

It was a crystal-clear evening here in Florida and the sky was full of stars.  The eclipse began at 10:34 pm EST, totality started at 11:41 pm, and the peak coppery-red color appeared at 12:10 am.  What a beautiful sight!  The next total lunar eclipse will not be visible in the United States until 2022.

Bok Tower Gardens at Christmas

Bok Tower and Reflecting Pond

Golden Brass Door at Base of Tower

23K Gold Snake Gnomon Timepiece on Sundial

Pinewood Estate 1940s Sparkly Christmas Tree

Holiday Candles

Poinsettia Courtyard

Orange Bowl with Mr. and Mrs. Claus

Bird-of-Paradise “Red Christmas”

Camellia “Sweetie Pie – Red Stripe”

Red Camellia

Orange/Red Camellia

Pink Azalea

Purple “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

Yellow Celosia

Beehive Ginger

Bok Tower Gardens in Lake, Wales, Florida, is spectacular over the holidays!  The decorations are beautiful at the Pinewood Estate, and the camellias and azaleas are gorgeous too (peak bloom time is January and February).  Plus the weather can’t be beat!  More info is at:  https://boktowergardens.org/christmas/

Florida: Rocket Launch this Week

Long Exposure of Night Launch in Florida

We watched a beautiful launch from Cape Canaveral here on the Space Coast of Florida at 12:15 am on Wednesday morning (October 17,  2018).  It was a warm starry night as the ULA Atlas V rocket soared across the sky.  The advanced communications satellite successfully reached orbit about 3.5 hours later.

Florida: Rare Atala Butterfly Sighting

Atala Butterfly on Coontie

Atala Butterfly after Emerging from Cocoon

The Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct in Florida until a small colony was discovered in Miami in 1979.  This beautiful iridescent butterfly was protected and expanded its range over time.  We saw this rare butterfly for the first time in Sebastian a couple of weeks ago.  The Atala’s only native host for its eggs is the coontie – a small palm-like cycad.  If you live in Florida and want to do your part to help the Atala hairstreak butterfly, plant a few low-maintenance coonties in your yard.  The butterflies will travel miles to find these host plants by smell!  Locally, Busy Bee Nursery in Vero Beach sells coonties and regularly holds butterfly gardening seminars:  http://archive.tcpalm.com/specialty-publications/vero-beach/careful-gardener-uncovers-rare-butterfly-species-in-indian-river-county-ep-1233688624-340516281.html

Florida: Spectacular Solar Probe Launch!

Launch of Parker Solar Probe (click to enlarge)

Image of Sun Taken with Solar Filter

We had a beautiful launch of NASA’s new Parker Solar Probe last night.  Only a few hardy souls managed to be up watching at 3:31 am for the second night in a row (first night was scrubbed).  Nevertheless it was spectacular!  The night was very humid with heavy water vapor in the air.  Can’t wait to see what discoveries will be made about the sun!  As a bonus, I saw a Perseid meteor streak by below the arc of the launch.  Wow!  Read about the solar probe at:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-ula-launch-parker-solar-probe-on-historic-journey-to-touch-sun

Florida: Night Blooming Cactus!

Cactus Blooms Ready to Open

Cactus Flower Extravaganza at Night

Blooms on Snake Vine Climbing up Palm Tree

Night Blooming Cactus Pair of Flowers

Our night blooming cactus was in its full glory this week – 30 HUGE flowers opened at once!  It was spectacular!   In the old days of Florida people would have parties in the evening centered around the blooms.  Our snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus – Princess of the Night) was grown from a cutting planted only 6 years ago!

Cute Baby Raccoons

Baby Raccoon Climbing Tree

Baby Raccoon in Bird Feeder

Baby Raccoon Face

Mama raccoon in our Florida backyard now has four little babies – what a handful!  The babies play, wrestle, and roll around together.  They are like puppies, except they climb.  One time I caught them swinging in the hammock at night for fun!  I was surprised to go outside recently and see this baby raccoon inside the bird feeder.  Even so, they are really cute.

UPDATE JUNE 2018:  A raccoon made the national news because she climbed a 25 story skyscraper in Minnesota!  Read about it at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/us/mpr-raccoon-building-climb.html

Purple Martin Nesting Time!

Purple Martin Gourd Rack by Pond

Five Eggs in Nest

Ten Eggs in Nest!

Six Newly Hatched Martins Hugging Egg

Five Newly Hatched Martins

Bird’s Eye View of Babies in Nest

Babies are Hungry!

Older Hatchlings Darken as Feathers Grow In

Our purple martins are nesting now.  So many birds – it is the best year ever!!!  Purple martins are here in Florida from about January to July, and spend the rest of the year in Brazil.  Current totals are 20 nests containing 63 babies, 50 eggs, and 42 adult birds (one pair is on the verge of laying eggs) — grand total 155!  Wow!  Many of the babies are in the process of hatching, and a couple of nests contain older nestlings.  The tiniest babies are called pinkies, for obvious reasons.  One stumper is the nest containing 10 eggs; normal is 4-6.  We don’t know if it is a re-nesting attempt after the first eggs didn’t hatch, or another bird laid in there too.  Love this time of year!  More info is at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/

Florida: Our Orchid Collection

Purple Phalaenopsis Orchid

Orange and Yellow Sunset Phalaenopsis Orchid

Yellow and Purple Golden Phalaenopsis Orchid

White and Purple Tiger Stripe Phalaenopsis Orchid

Pink, White, and Yellow Brilliant Smile Dendrobium Orchid

White and Purple Angel Moon – Love Letter Dendrobium Orchid

Lady Slipper Atticus Orchid

Fragrant Fringed Star Orchid

Recently we became very interested in orchids and now have a collection on our back porch here in Florida.  Orchids are fascinating on many levels and produce the smallest seeds in the world.  Besides the tropica flora already on our porch, we recently added a tree rose to the area and will soon add a fragrant gardenia.  Our goal is to turn the pool deck into a beautiful lush atrium and relaxing retreat!  A great article about orchid collecting in the Wall Street Journal (Feb 18, 2019) is at:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/roses-are-red-orchids-are-addictive-11550516025?mod=flipboard

Florida: Cute Baby Sandhill Crane

Baby Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane Family

Look who showed up at our house this week – the sandhill crane family.  The baby crane is so cute!

 

Florida: Epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch!

Author Pam with Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

Apollo / Saturn V Center

Space Shuttle Runway

Commemorative Launch Brochure

3-2-1 Ignition Take-off

Falcon Heavy Launch into Space

Close-up of SpaceX Rocket

Twin Side Boosters Returning to Earth

SpaceX Tweeted Photo of Tesla Roadster in Space

On Tuesday I watched an epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was incredible!   I had purchased the “Feel the Heat” package to view liftoff from the closest public viewpoint at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at KSC (only 3.9 miles from launch pad 39A across the Banana River).  We could hear and feel the rumble of takeoff when the engines ignited and everyone wildly cheered!

While we waited in the viewing stands, we were entertained by Bill Nye “The Science Guy”.  Earlier we got the chance to walk on the shuttle runway.  The runway is so long (~3 miles) that you can’t see from one end to the other because of the curvature of the Earth.  Locals call it a “gator tanning facility”, because alligators like to warm up in the sun on the concrete. 

This launch was the historic demonstration flight of the world’s most powerful rocket.  It launched from the same pad used by the Apollo moon missions.  Nestled inside the rocket was Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla roadster, including a dummy driver named Starman in a SpaceX astronaut suit.  Usually demonstration flights include demo payloads like a block of cement as weight, but Elon Musk wanted to make it more interesting.  And he certainly did, based on camera images beamed from the roadster!  My favorite one, which simply looks unreal, is a picture of the car after payload release showing Starman driving the bright red cherry roadster through space with Earth in the background.  Until the batteries give out, the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie will play on the car’s stereo.  A display panel in the Tesla says “Don’t Panic” – a reference to the sci-fi classic book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  Ultimately the Tesla roadster will endlessly loop around the sun for billions of years in an orbit past Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, just as thrilling was to see the twin side boosters simultaneously descend to Earth and land on target at Cape Canaveral.  Their speed was so great they generated double sonic booms.  The third core stage was set to return to the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean offshore.  Unfortunately the core crashed into the water near the platform.  But that was a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless and amazing spectacle.  WOW!

The space center seems to be booming lately with private enterprise, and it is exciting to see new projects in the works.  Hopefully these launches capture people’s imaginations about future possibilities!  A great article about the launch is at: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/02/07/spacex-debuts-worlds-most-powerful-rocket-sends-tesla-toward-the-asteroid-belt/

If you would like to visit Kennedy Space Center (highly recommended), learn more at:  https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for more detail.

Florida: Mama Owl is Nesting!

Eastern Screech Owl

Yellow Rose

Mama screech owl has been in her nest box all week – she is here to stay.  Nesting season has arrived – it is spring in Florida!

Florida Manatees in Winter

Mother and Baby Manatees at Homosassa Springs

Mother Manatee Nursing Baby Underwater

Manatee at Crystal River

Manatees Have Good Eyesight

Manatees Have Sensitive Bristles on Body and Breathe Through Two Round Nostrils

Manatees Have Flexible Lips to Grab Sea Grass

Manatees Drink Fresh Rainwater

Manatees Have Round Paddle-like Tails

Florida manatees are easy to spot in winter because they congregate in springs and canals to stay warm.  Famous places to see them include the Three Sisters Spring at Crystal River (http://www.threesistersspringsvisitor.org/) and Blue Spring State Park (https://www.savethemanatee.org/manatees/manatee-webcams/).

Sea cows live 40-60 years and are related to elephants.  They weigh up to 1200 pounds and use their flexible, sensitive snouts to graze on sea grass. Their whiskers can feel water ripples that are smaller than a human hair!  They surface frequently to breathe air through two round nostrils.  Manatees do not have eyelashes, and close their eyes in a circular motion like the aperture of a camera.  Manatees move through the water by pumping their round paddle-like tails up and down.  They communicate with a series of chirps, whistles, and squeaks.  Kids especially love these slow moving, gentle giants.  Fun info and activities for kids is at (https://www.savethemanatee.org/manatees/education-materials/student-resources/.   Learn more at:  https://www.savethemanatee.org/

Florida: Backyard Wildlife at Christmas

Deer and Raccoons

Deer Eating Corn

Two Deer Together

Deer Looking at You

Turkeys Inspecting Deer Statue

Male Turkey with Wattle

Sandhill Crane Portrait

Ducks Waddling By

Bunny Snack Time

Raccoon Gathering

Smiling Raccoon Family

Mama Raccoon with Tiny Triplets

Mama Raccoon Baby Kisses

We’ve been seeing lots of wildlife in our backyard this Christmas – deer, raccoons, sandhill cranes, turkeys, and bunnies.   We hope you have a wonderful holiday season full of great surprises!  Best Wishes!  Pam and Richard

Florida: Merritt Island Holiday Boat Parade

Boat Parade 1

Boat Parade 2

Boat Parade 3

Boat Parade 4

Boat Parade 5

Boat Parade 6

Boat Parade 7

Boat Parade 8

Boat Parade 9

Boat Parade 10

Boat Parade 11 – Nativity

The Merritt Island Holiday Boat Parade was the best in its 30 year history!  It was held on December 16, 2017.  There were over 200 boats!  The lights and reflections on the water combined with the joyous holiday spirit are a fun time.

Warm Florida Beaches

Sebastian Beach Waves

View of Sebastian Beach from Pier

Seagull with Mouthful of Fish

Sanderling Running with Waves

Shell Pile-up Near Pier

Brown Pelican Flying

Inlet Side Opposite Beach

Two-Tone Water where Indian River Meets Atlantic Ocean

Gopher Tortoise Eating Grass

The weather is perfect here in Florida!  Migrating birds have arrived, and it is a beautiful time for a walk at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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