SEBRING — A self-described “nature nut,” Cindy Maxon is a Ridge Ranger volunteer, helps in the annual scrub-jay count, loves snapping photos of all kinds of critters, and for more than 25 years has nurtured in her front and back yard natural “sanctuaries” for the wildlife of the Lake Wales Ridge.
In May, she got her yard in Sebring Country Estates, where she has lived for 27 years, certified as a national wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.
When she bought her property, she kept some of the pristine habitat intact in these “sanctuaries,” which now nestle with natural oaks, palmetto bushes, wild lantana, periwinkles, day flowers, porter weed, Boston fern, pentas, azaleas, zinnias and Mexican sunflowers.
At one time, she used to see scrub-jays in her yard. Fox, raccoons, opossums, and quail also passed through before the residential building in the area, she said.
She still sees gopher tortoises in her neighborhood, however, and the birds come back with their young and teach them how to forage for food.
“Some times I have 15 birds in my backyard,” she said. “It is not the prettiest landscape-wise but it is very attractive to the wildlife.”
These native plants seem to be drought resistant and grow year-round, she said, so it saves water and money without the need to irrigate. “We don’t use pesticides either. We like creating a food source, water supply, and cover for birds, butterflies, bees, and small animals,” Maxon said.
A certified wildife habitat is a garden space that improves habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, and other wildlife by providing essential elements needed by all wildlife-natural food sources, clean water, cover, and places to raise young, the national wildlife federation said.
“Providing a home for wildlife in our communities-whether it’s at home, or in schools, businesses, or parks- is the demonstration of a healthy, and active ecosystem. There is no more rewarding way to stay connected to nature right outside your door,” said David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation.
The Maxon wildlife habitat has leaf debris for small wildlife to hide and birds to forage.
“Pesticides aren’t used to harm grub, and other small larvae that birds like to eat and feed their young, as well as keeping it safe for caterpillars turning into butterflies, especially monarchs, and Gulf fritilleries,”she said. “The habitat has all that is necessary to sustain a small ecosystem of animals.”
Cindy Maxon has also entered 10 wildlife photos she’s taken in the National Wildlife Federation People’s Choice Award nature photo contest, which ends Aug. 4.
Photographers ages 13 and up and all skill levels can enter the 44th Annual National Wildlife Photo Contest.
Some of the pictures are from her yard — like that of a luna moth larvae on an oak tree and a Gulf fritillery butterfly on a wild lantana bush in her backyard.
Some others are from her Ridge Ranger trips, such as that of an ibis and wild lupine in full bloom in Carter Creek refuge.
To vote: Go to www.nwf.org/PhotoContest. Put in Cindy Maxon. Her photo gallery should come up.