Florida’s Smallest Owl

Owl. Florida is home to five owl species, with a few other species as visitors from time to time. The smallest of our resident species, the Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio is just now beginning its nesting season in Central Florida. You will often hear its descending whistle call before you actually spot the 7-10 inch owl as they are very well camouflaged animals. Listen here.

The Eastern Screech Owl is found throughout Florida in a wide variety of habitats from swamps to pine and oak forests, and urban and suburban areas. The tricky part about spotting Screech Owls is their feather pattern makes them very good at blending in with their surroundings. But, if you have a snag (standing, dead tree) in your yard or somewhere nearby, look for a large, circular hole, about three inches in size. If you find a tree with a cavity like this, it might be a woodpecker nest, or it could be the home of a Screech Owl!

Screech owl against a live oak tree to show how they can camouflage with the trees. Photo Credit: Lara Milligan

These birds of prey are great to have around because they feed on things like insects, rodents, and reptiles. They are also known for preying on other, smaller songbirds. While hunting is normally done by both the male and female, during nesting the females focus on incubating 2-6, small, white, round eggs, while the male catches food and brings it back to the nest. After four to five weeks, the eggs will hatch and both parents will care for the young until they are ready to go off on their own (after about three to four months). Screech Owls aren’t too picky when it comes to nesting habitat, but as natural areas are converted for development, their nesting options become limited.

Screech owl inside the cavity of a standing, dead tree (snag) that was carved out by a pileated woodpecker. Photo Credit: Lara Milligan

This is a cause for concern because Screech Owls are secondary cavity-nesting birds, meaning they depend on other species or Mother Nature to create a nesting hole for them. Species like woodpeckers and squirrels will sometimes create these cavities, or fungus and the natural rotting process of old and dying wood will create the perfect hollow for Screech Owls to nest. Nesting habitat is thus limited by the number of tree cavities they can find that meet their needs.

If you want to help out this cute little owl, you have a few options.

  • Provide a snag in your yard by leaving a dead or dying tree standing. Even a snag as short as 15 feet will provide potential nesting habitat. At the least, woodpeckers will love it!
  • Build (or buy) and install a nest box. This could be a fun, family project too! Screech owl boxes should be 8 inches wide, 16 inches tall, have a three-inch hole that is 10 inches from the base of the house, and be placed 15-30 feet off the ground. You can also add about three inches of wood chips in the bottom for an extra special touch. More details can be found online at: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw058
  • Consider supporting a conservation organization that helps protect Screech Owl habitat. It’s always important to do your research before you donate to any organization.

Sources: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/id

https://nbbd.com/godo/ef/OwlsOfFlorida.pdf

 

Sunday is a big day for a lot of football fans – whether or not your favorite team is vying for the top spot. Countless people will find themselves hosting or attending a watch party, relaxing with friends, and cheering loudly. Sustainability may not be the first thing on your mind this weekend, but there are ways that you can incorporate it into the festivities without sacrificing any of the fun.

  • Avoid single use dishes and utensils – It may mean a full dishwasher at the end of the day, but minimizing the amount of plastic is a score for the environment. Using dishes you already own also saves a few dollars.If you’re worried about guests not being able to distinguish their drinks you can invest in a drink marker for them to write their names on a glass cup. Or, if your cupboard allows, mix and match! If no two cups look the same, you’ve solved the problem before it starts.
  • Make recycling easy – Put your recycling bin out in plain sight during the party. Guests are more likely to use

    Cheer on your favorite team and use these tips to reduce your impact this weekend.

    it if they don’t have to 1) ask where it is or 2) leave the fun to go find it in the garage.

  • Offer more vegetables – Part of the fun of parties like these is serving up food that is a little bit indulgent, so don’t skip all of your crowd favorites. Instead, consider swapping out one dish that contains red meat or unsustainably-sourced seafood for a vegetarian option. Producing vegetarian alternatives generally requires less resources to be used and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than raising livestock.1 
  • Reduce food waste – This can be done in several ways. Before the party, you can think about how many people are coming, try to estimate how much they will reasonably eat, and prepare only that much food. You can also invite guests to bring (or borrow) a reusable container to take home leftovers. They’re more likely to get eaten before they spoil if everyone shares them.
  • Facilitate carpools – If several of your friends are coming from the same direction, get them in contact with one another and suggest that they drive together. This has the added benefits of making parking at your home easier and getting your guests more familiar with each other.

 

 

Resources

Fresh from Florida Recipes

Game Day Food Safety 

 

 

Citation

  1. Reijnders, L. & S. Soret. Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary protein choices. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003. Retreived: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/664S.full

 

Many people are aware that certain materials, particularly electronics and chemicals, don’t belong in your garbage. But do you know what you should be doing with them instead? When it’s time to clean out your garage or home, there are several resources for correct disposal available to Pinellas County residents.

  1. Take them down to the Household Electronic and Chemical Collection Center (HEC3). This is an option year round from Monday-Saturday (excluding county holidays). The HEC3 is located at 2855 109th Ave N, St. Petersburg and features a Swap Shop where you can find used household products free of charge.
  2. What about our north county residents? If you don’t want to drive down to St. Petersburg, there is a north county satellite site at 29582 US 19 N, just south of Curlew Road. This site operates on several Saturdays throughout the year.
  3. If neither of these locations work for you, the county also offers mobile collection events. Scheduled throughout the year at diverse sites around the county, you will have to plan ahead to be sure you don’t miss the one closest to you, but you can reduce your drive time by a good bit in many cases.

All of this information and more is available online on the Pinellas County Solid Waste page. The schedule for the north county satellite site and mobile collections can be found here.

Ensuring that these materials are collected properly allows for them to be handled safely and recycled appropriately. Have something that isn’t accepted at a mobile collection? Check the A to Z guide to find out what you can do to dispose of it properly. This tool was recently updated and now includes information tailored to your location.

America Recycles Day

One of the earliest introductions many of us will get to sustainability comes in the form of recycling. Blue bins for unwanted paper are popping up in offices across the country, curbside services are becoming more available and easier to use, and the recycling rate has risen over the past few decades.

But can we do more?

Keep America Beautiful believes so and is sponsoring America Recycles Day on November 15th. The current national recycling rate is 34%. In Florida, we hit 54% last year. This puts us on track to meet the state goal of 75% by 2020 – but there is still work to be done.

Some quick tips to help you recycle more and keep the recycling rate rising:

  1. Check the Pinellas County Solid Waste website when you aren’t sure how to recycle or dispose of something.
  1. Make sure that your recyclables are clean and dry. Rinse bottles and cans to make sure no food waste is left on or in them. Food does not belong in curbside recycling bins and contamination can make it difficult or impossible for the other materials to be recycled correctly.
  2. Take the pledge for America Recycles Day and then keep with it!
  1. Support recycling by buying products made from recycled materials. Recycling is a business and the larger the market for recycled products, the larger the demand for recycling to occur in the first place.
  2. If your city is hosting an event, make sure to participate:
    1. ShredFest at the Largo Recycling Collection Center:
    2. Read for Recycling in Dunedin – this one runs all week!

 

Resources –

Pinellas County Solid Waste

America Recycles Day

Florida DEP

As daylight saving time draws to an end, days get shorter, and the heat of summer finally begins to fade, the end of October is a time for ghoulish festivities and – perhaps surprisingly – energy savings! Read on for some quick and easy behavior changes that will reduce your ecological footprint and help you save up for next year’s Halloween costumes.

Energy Vampires

These little bloodsuckers are silently draining your wallet! Leaving cell phone chargers, laptops, printers, and coffee makers plugged in allows them to continue drawing energy and running up the electric bill. A good signal that something is an energy vampire is if it has a light to tell you that it’s off. If you often forget to pull the plug, smart power strips can be a great alternative. These strips cut power to accessory devices when you turn off a main device. Good uses for these include a computer (main device) and printer or a television and a DVD player, DVR, or extra speakers.

More Practical than Jack-o’-Lanterns

Changing outdoor lights to LED can add up in energy savings. And inviting lighting makes your home a better destination for trick or treaters!

Changing outdoor lights to LED can add up in energy savings. And inviting lighting makes your home a better destination for trick or treating!

 

Lighting your home and landscape is often the first line for energy savings. And while candles don’t use any electricity, they are less than practical (and a fire hazard!). A much better alternative to save money on lighting is to replace your lightbulbs with CFLs or LEDs. Outdoor LEDs are available in a variety of styles, including icicles and cascade tubes to spice up a holiday landscape without breaking the bank. To compare, CFLs are less energy efficient than LEDs, but are cheaper. LEDs have the additional advantages of not containing mercury and more models being usable in dimmable fixtures.

Avoid Spine-Chilling Settings

A final quick tip to save energy this fall is to look at your thermostat settings. While the weather is still warm, keeping the temperature set at 78° F and utilizing ceiling fans to keep cool is a great strategy. For every degree above 72° F you save 5% on cooling costs. But as temperatures take a dive lower your thermostat setting to 68° F and pull on a blanket. Another option is to use natural ventilation when outdoor humidity falls below 70% – just be sure to turn the A/C off before opening the doors and windows to enjoy the autumn air and turn it back on after you close up.

Additional Resources:

http://livinggreen.ifas.ufl.edu/energy/heating_and_cooling.html

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1026

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1044

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1031

Boat Ramp GO!

Florida summer air temperatures, calm waters, and diverse recreational opportunities beg boaters to get out on the water! The first step is to check the operation of your vessel, trailer and safety gear.  The next step, deciding where to launch, can be just as daunting.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding where to launch:Veterans Boat Ramp

  • What is your primary boating activity? Fishing? Diving? Beachgoing?
  • How long do you want to be out?
  • Are there any concerns about the weather forecast?
  • What is the draft of your vessel? What are the tides?
  • For what sea conditions is your boat intended?

If you plan to go diving, you will probably want to go offshore and therefore want a ramp with deepwater access and a shorter travel time to the Gulf of Mexico.  If your boat is a Carolina Skiff, you are probably planning to enjoy your recreation in the calm, shallow waters of Tampa Bay.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has a great, interactive Boat Ramp Finder.  The Boat Ramp Finder provides descriptive information, maps and photographs for hundreds of public boat ramps throughout Florida. The Find-A-Boat-Ramp menu on the left side of the webpage provides several options to search for the particular type of boat ramp you want to visit.

The online tool provides information about both publicly and commercially maintained boat ramps. Some of these boat ramps might require a user fee.  As the condition and operation of boat rampBoat Ramp Pinellass can change rather quickly, boaters are advised to check ahead before making a trip to an unfamiliar boat ramp. Staff of the FWC and collaborating agencies continuously update this information. However, no warranty is made as to completeness or accuracy of this information.  Boaters are encouraged to report updates or corrections via email to BoatRamps@myFWC.com. Our region has been the fortunate recipient of several state grants. You might be pleasantly surprised to find a boat ramp you haven’t visited in a while is new and improved!

Find more on safe boating at this archived blog.

Breathe Easy Indoors This Summer

Contrary to popular belief, the air inside your home can actually be more polluted than the air outside and it is not because the pollutants are coming in from outside. In fact, many of the objects and furnishings in your home affect the air quality. Items such as paints, carpets, furniture, cleaners, and your home’s structure all add chemicals to the air. One of the biggest pollutants is formaldehyde, which comes from new furniture and paints. If left unchecked, these pollutants can possibly reach levels that are harmful to your health. This poses threats to sensitive populations such as children and the elderly by increasing their chances of respiratory ailments. Check out the Center for Disease Control’s fact sheet on indoor air quality.

BLOG PIC
A great way to improve your air quality is through ventilation. Allowing outside air into your home can help reduce pollutants to acceptable levels. It is important to remember not to over ventilate because if the relative humidity in your home reaches 70% or higher, this can lead to the growth of mold. Ideally your home’s humidity should be between 45% and 60%. Closets and other places of low air-flow are at highest risk for mold, so keep an eye on these areas when you choose to use natural ventilation. The best times of the year to ventilate are cooler, less humid months from late fall into early spring.

Some other good tips include regularly changing your air filters, and using cleaning supplies that are non-toxic and do not off gas. Some household items that can be used as cleaners include hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. These perform best in rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens.

If you are also on a budget, check out this fact sheet on how to make homemade cleaners that will not break the bank.

Additional Resources:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1044

http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/The-Inside-Story-A-Guide-to-Indoor-Air-Quality/

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pdfs/epa_retrofit_protocols.pdf

 

Written by Trevor Ackerman, UF/IFAS Summer Intern

My Summer Internship

Designated Green Business Partners do their best to protect the environment and show this commitment through their business practices.

Designated Green Business Partners do their best to protect the environment.

Hi my name is Trevor Ackerman and I am working at the UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County office as their Sustainability Intern for the summer. I am a senior sustainability studies major with minors in history and wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida. My goal this summer is to revitalize the Green Business Partnership program here in Pinellas. The program was started several years ago but did not gain much traction. So far, I have been able to recertify most of the businesses that originally joined as well as update all of the marketing tools. I have also recreated the application by streamlining it and making it is easier for businesses to complete. I plan on not only revitalizing this program in a way that will be sustainable, but on recruiting several new businesses in new market areas to increase awareness as well.

TrevorEarthBoxesInsta

Trevor working with the kids at Seasons of Care to plant two Earth Boxes.

As part of my internship, I have been shadowing other agents in the office in order to see what all the Extension Office does other than sustainability. So far I have worked with 4-H, Farm to School, and our Family Nutrition Program. I had the opportunity to teach low income families how to shop healthy and cheap at the grocery store. It
has been very rewarding because most of the work has been hands on and the people are always incredibly appreciative. It is refreshing to see some good change going on in the world. Overall, I am very happy with my progress so far and am looking forward to my remaining few weeks here at the Extension office!

Green Business Partnership Resources:

Overview

Application

Meet Our Partners

 

(Contributed by Trevor Ackerman, UF/IFAS Extension Intern)

It’s Florida Arbor Day!

That’s right, the third Friday of January every year marks Florida Arbor Day. Florida celebrates Arbor Day in January because that is the best time of year to plant a tree in Florida. National Arbor Day is celebrated in April when most of the other areas throughout the United States are just beginning to thaw out from the cold and snowy winter.

trees cropped

Trees that will be up for adoption at the Adopt-A-Tree program were made possible through grant funding from the Florida Forest Service.

Florida Arbor Day has been celebrated since 1886 and we are sticking to that tradition! On Saturday, January 23, 2016 from 8:30-11:30am a team of UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County staff will host an “Adopt-A-Tree” program just for you! Learn everything you need to know about how to choose, plant, establish and maintain a new tree. Topics covered will include: “What Trees Provide for Us”, “Fun Tree Facts”, “Putting a Tree in the Right Place”, “Initial Planting and Tree Care” and “After-Care and Maintenance”. There will be both hands-on and lecture segments for this program.  Class subjects are taught by UF/IFAS Extension Agents. There will be a variety of adoptable trees to choose from that are specially selected to fit in the different types of habitats found in Pinellas County.

adoptatree

We look forward to seeing you there!

Also, if you are on social media, please help us spread the word about this opportunity. You can always find out what is going on by visiting our website at www.pinellascountyextension.org or liking us on facebook, twitter, instagram or subscribing to our blogs!

Fun Fact: Did you know that our State Tree is the Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto). Sometimes referred to as a Cabbage Palm, this tree was designated as our state tree back in 1953! Funny thing is the Sabal Palm is not a true tree, but is actually more closely related to grasses. Other trees that were in the running for the state tree include the: royal palm, slash pine and longleaf pine.

An Equal Opportunity Institution.

New Year’s Conflict Resolution

In the New Year, we encourage you to make a resolution to champion a sustainable change, whether at home, at work, or in your community. But what if your sustainable vision doesn’t line up with the people around you?

A vital first step to resolving a conflict is to understand the root of the disagreement.  Several major causes of conflict have been identified, including conflicting needs, conflicting perceptions, and different personal values. For example, let’s say you want to start composting at home. If your partner does not want to build the compost bin because they want to build a tool shed in the same location instead, you have conflicting needs for that space. Taking a step back to understand the conflict better will allow you to identify the best strategies moving forward.

You and anyone else involved in a conflict likely have a conflict resolution style that you rely on. Five major conflict resolution styles are: confront, compromise, collaborate, accommodate, and avoid. There are times when each style can be appropriate, but knowing your own preference and making sure not to use that style at an inappropriate time is key to successfully managing conflict.

Finally, no matter what strategy you have decided to pursue in order to resolve your conflict, there are certain rules that you can follow to have a constructive conflict. Constructive conflict does not damage relationships in the way that destructive conflict does. Avoid being defensive, showing contempt, stonewalling, and criticizing as these are destructive tactics.  Another good way to have a constructive conflict is to focus only on one issue at a time, instead of bringing up multiple issues and failing to resolve some or all of them.

Additional Resources:

Causes of Conflict

Conflict Resolution Styles

Constructive Conflict