It’s baby squirrel season, and at the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale, babies from one to three weeks old are being hand fed every three hours. Eyes shut, toes splayed and tiny tummies filling, the babies in the nursery are among the 13,000 animals taken to the Center every year. Each baby squirrel has a dot of toxin-free nail polish on his/her head so volunteers can keep track of who has eaten, who has burped or who has diarrhea. After being fed and stroked so they’ll poop (mother squirrels do the same thing), the babies are put back in soft cloth pockets that rest on heating pads.
The Center, which became affiliated with the Humane Society of the Unitd States in 2009, used to be the Wild Bird Center that Bea Humphries started in her garage four decades ago. The executive director is Sherry Schlueter, who learned to care for birds at Bea’s side, then became a deputy in the Broward Sheriff’s Office, where she initiated the animal abuse beat. She is expert on the link between animal cruelty and human personal interaction, and she created the Special Victims and Family Crimes section of BSO. She helped write the felony animal abuse statute that became state law in 1989. When she retired, she joined the South Florida Wildlife Center, and her director’s office is in one of several trailers on the 4.1 acres. Everywhere you look in this trailer you’ll find signs that “Petey sleeps in the trashcan…” and “Don’t lock the bathroom door or Petey can’t get to his litter box.” Petey, now 16 or 17, is the gray and white office cat who was a legacy, says Schlueter.
|The hospital for wildlife.|
The Center recently changed its landscaping to all native plants and butterfly plants, and a Zebra Heliconian flutters at the porterweed near the hospital entrance. In the hospital, there are three full-time vets on staff, along with veterinary technicians and interns in wildlife medicine who rotate through for training. The Center has 3 ambulances and accepts animals from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The laundry is endless as all the injured wildlife rests on white towels or sheets so technicians and volunteers can watch for blood or any other distressing signs.
The Center also has an adoption program. You may have seen Gonzo, the scarlet macaw, on television showing off his overgrown beak and featherless chest. Gonzo’s beak gradually was filed down, and he was adopted last week. There is a trailer of hamsters, gerbils, and other small animals waiting for someone to give them forever homes.
|Recovering brown pelicans.|
This week, in addition to the squirrels, the center has several pelicans recovering from surgery for removal of fishhooks and fishing line, a great horned owl, several Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks, a turkey vulture, and three ospreys. Pigeons, songbirds, three night hawks, a Vasa parrot (surrendered, not injured), and Muscovy ducks as well as a limping female quail also were being watched and cared for. Box turtles and fresh water turtles have come in, as well as a bobcat. One of the largest hooks you’ve ever seen – probably meant to catch shark – was removed from an anhinga and hangs with other surgically recovered fishing flies and hooks in the hospital admissions office. Baby raccoons are in a section by themselves, where they learn to hunt for food. Marsh birds, which are skittish with people, are in a large pen that has screening on the sides to shield them from too much disturbance.
Publix and Whole Foods give the Center produce that may be a little beyond saleable, but fish for the pelicans and bird food must be bought. Injured animals are healed, tagged and sent back to the wild. Adult Muscovy ducks serve as foster mothers to older babies so they can learn ducky behavior before being released.
A couple of pigs and goats have found their way here. While the center won’t refuse to help animals, they are hoping that farm animals can be sent to other facilities, leaving more room for wildlife.
The staff of 60 includes several wildlife rehabilitators. Hawks, for instance, must learn to fly a 45 -degree bend in the big flight cage so they can escape predators when released. So once or twice a day, a wildlife specialist nudges them from their perches to fly the turn.
The South Florida Wildlife Center is the largest wildlife treatment facility in the country if you look at intake numbers, but it needs to expand because of the constant stream of animals that bump up against traffic, development, dogs, fishermen, and the rest of the human population constantly squeezing out habitats.
If you find injured or orphaned wildlife, call 954-524-4302 or 866-SOS-WILD.
Scarlet milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is a perennial sub-shrub from South America, yet because the caterpillars of Monarch and Queen butterflies are always chewing on the plants, they are sometimes even less than annual in my butterfly gardens. The leggy plants are about 2 to 3 feet tall with umbels of bright red/orange or yellow flowers. I’ve grown them in two different areas: on the east side of the house in a butterfly/bird garden without irrigation, and on the southwest side of the back yard, where, along with the rest of the yard, they are irrigated twice a week.
|Caterpillar safe house.|
Last year, the Monarchs found them right away, sipped nectar and laid their eggs. This year, several Queen butterflies, along with the Monarchs, are vying for a place at the table. After chewing the pointy leaves to nubbins, the caterpillars will eat the flowers as well as the thin stems. Some of the plants recover, but a few succumb to the pressure. A dry spring was hard on those in the area without irrigation.
This summer, I decided to buy several containerized milkweeds, rotating one after another into a shade house so its seed pods could mature without being eaten. When we discovered scale on the leaves, milkweeds were banned from the orchid house. That was OK; the pods matured and I collected seed. To germinate them, I removed the silk that normally carries them on a breeze, soaked them in water four a couple of hours, then – following the procedure that Mary Collins uses for her nursery seeds – added a bit of bleach for a few minutes to ward off fungus. One more rinse and the flat seeds were planted just barely below the surface of the peat/perlite on June 30. They now are about 3 or 4 inches tall.
|Jewel-like monarch pupae.|
However, since last winter was so mild, the anoles were left unharmed and there are a gazillion of them in the garden. They have been eating the caterpillars as fast as the caterpillars can eat the milkweeds.
I bought a $20 butterfly-rearing house online, and last week installed a large three-gallon container of milkweed inside, complete with a few ½-inch monarch caterpillars. In a week’s time, and three milkweed plants later, four caterpillars have pupated and several more are approaching that size. The little green pupae, each with four golden spots, are hanging from the ceiling of the house like jewel cases. I’ve just returned from the nursery with more milkweeds as we wait for the butterflies and the seedlings to grow.
|When supplies are tight, competition is strong.|
After computing hundreds of votes, our Special Events department reports that the mangos with the most flavor appeal are these:
First Place: Kent
Second Place: Mallika
Third Place: Beverly
Close Fourth Place: Duncan
So why didn't Nam Doc Mai garner any ribbons? I think we should hold this thing over again.
|Talking about mangos in the Garden House at the 20th annual mango fest.|
There is only one International Mango Festival in the world. And the 20th annual festival at Fairchild proved once more that this fruit is prized above all others in the tropical world.
An hour after the festival opened, the line for the tasting room stretched around the back of the Corbin building to the allee. Inside, Mallika from India and Nam Doc Mai from Thailand were running neck and neck as taste treats.
|Rating the tastiest mangos.|
In the Garden House, hundreds of fruits drew admirers as if they were Queen Elizabeth’s jewels. Colorful mangos from Africa, South America, India, Malaysia, Israel and Florida begged to be touched, smelled and handled for heft. The wild mangos, tiny and full of genetic promise, were as thrilling to see as the demure Jean Ellen, the red Neldika from Africa and the big fat Keitts.
There were cooking demonstrations, mango talks, and 17 varieties of mango trees for sale, as well as the mango marketplace, food vendors (the mango pie in the Garden House is to die for), food trucks and even mango festival sunglasses for sale. What’s better on a hot day in July than a succulent, delicious mango?
|Mango trees awaiting new homes.|
First it was in, then it was out, and then it was in again. The Geiger tree (Cordia sebestena) has been
|Bold orange flowers of Cordia sebestena.|
the subject of debate among people devoted to natives: is it or isn’t it?
All along, however, this orange-flowering small tree has been minding its own business, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds; growing its sand-papery leaves with aplomb, and finding its way onto more street plantings, as well it should. It flourishes throughout the West Indies and Venezuela, and, some experts argue, in the lower Florida Keys and the southern tip of the peninsula. The tree has a round crown and rough bark, and may grow to about 25 feet tall.
When John James Audubon was in the Florida Keys to paint birds, he depicted white crowned pigeons on a Geiger tree. Key West is known to have been the home of a wrecker named Capt. John Geiger. It was Geiger, in fact, who built the Audubon House in Key West.
When the debate was more vocal on whether the Cordia was native, naturalist Dr. Roger Hammer wrote that the Geiger tree does not behave like an exotic in South Florida, seeding itself thither and yon, but has always been found sparingly in the coastal hammocks. Its salt and drought tolerances, however, are leading humans to plant it more widely.
The brilliant orange flowers occur in clusters at the tips of branches. They are wrinkly or crepe-paper-like, with white stamens creating a contrast to the corollas. Many years ago, I had a seedpod develop on a Geiger, and scarified the hard seeds to plant them. Through the fog of history, I can only remember that at least one germinated and grew because I gave it to a friend who lived near by. While I don’t actually recall what happened to either tree, my hunch is that they were killed in the freezes of the late 1980s. The leaves tend to drop in cold snaps. Geiger beetles that chew on the leaves are less likely to feed on a single tree than several planted close together.
|Pineland strongbark is attractive and fragrant.|
Small white flowers that occur in clusters of two or three or four and bright orange fruit are the attractions of smooth strongback or pineland strongbark, Bourreria cassinifolia. It is a small-leafed shrub that is pleasing to the eye, good for wildlife and easy to grow. Summer is its time to shine, as it is sprinkled with dots of fragrant white flowers that twinkle like little stars. A native to Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as well as the Caribbean and South America, flowers of this great plant is visited by many butterflies, including Giant Swallowtail, several sulphurs, Monarch, Queen and Julia; by bees and other insects and by hungry birds. Evergreen, Bourreria cassinifolia can be shaped by pruning, or allowed to grow nearly as wide as it is tall, which is on the plus side of 10 to 15 feet. The longer you have it, the more you will like it.