Wildlife Wednesday, October 2014

I breathe a sigh of relief and with a So long! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! farewell to the long hot of summer and a cheery, Well, hello there! Where have you been these past months? welcome to cooler nights, softer days, and more frequent rainfall.  I know I’m not the only one looking forward to the bounty of autumn.  Birds and butterflies are migrating, squirrels are gathering acorns–their silly, obnoxious behavior replete with more immediate purpose, and perennials and trees, formerly hunkered down for summer’s blasting sun and relentless heat, are re-engaging in life as they blossom and berry for winter provisions and the next generation.

Ever hopeful of seeing Monarchs wafting through my gardens, I sometimes ignore their kin, the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus,

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…and I shouldn’t.  The Queen is smaller, sports more dots than lines in its wing patterning, and also favors the Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, for nectaring.  It is equal in beauty to the Monarch.

If butterflies are the sparkly, showy theater kids of the Lepidoptera world, their moth relatives are the quieter, more reserved geeky kids. Early one morning, I spied this muted beauty,

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…resting on a Turk’s Cap leaf.  I almost missed him and had to double-back on my stroll, so unobtrusive was this Vine Sphinx mothEumorpha vitis.  

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On the stem of fennel, I observed a Black Swallowtail butterfly larva, Papilio polyxenes, as it was metamorphosing into its adult self.  I didn’t photograph the immobile J-shaped caterpillar until it was established in full, chrysalis mode.  The play of light on the chrysalis renders its colors iridescent.

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I observed this chrysalis for several days, but on the fourth morning, it was gone.  The strings that attached the chrysalis to the stem were severed and there was no empty chrysalis and no adult butterfly nearby, drying her wings. I suspect the chrysalis became someone’s meal during the night or at sunrise.  I know whatever breakfasted on the developing butterfly probably needed it, but I was sorry for the end of this winged jewel.

Strictly speaking, this photo of a Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, is not that great, but I love the glow of a late afternoon Texas sun on the colors and the shadows cast by the Red Yucca bloom on the wings.

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I saw this guy out of the corner of my eye, one evening.

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With his ephemeral movements, it took several minutes for me to find him again.

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He is a Great PondhawkErythemis vesiculosa, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before.  He was hard to spot, flitting, flying, and landing in rapid succession.P1060929.new

Camera shy, this chap didn’t remain in one place long enough for many good photographs. But he is oh-so-pretty when motionless for a moment or two.

Of course, my honeybees are active, as always.

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It feels like a cheat for me to consider my little bees as “wildlife” since building two hives for them in my garden.  However, they are essential threads in the pollination fabric of my gardens and the surrounding areas, so indeed they’re part of October’s Wildlife Wednesday!

This Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, darted to and fro as it nibbled on the sunflower seed I sometimes provide for birds.

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I confess to mixed feelings and some inconsistencies about using backyard bird feeders.  When I fill those feeders, I attract many White-winged Doves and various Sparrows, both of which I consider nuisance birds.  But during spring and fall migrations, or when lovely little songbirds visit, or someone out-of-the ordinary noshes, I’m glad those feeders are full.

Speaking of migration and out-of-the-ordinary, this Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, perched prettily on limbs of my Desert Willow.

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Migratory through Texas, this cutie was a brief visitor that I at first mistakenly identified as a female Lesser Goldfinch.  It was only when researching the identity of a hummingbird that my Cornell Ornithology Lab Merlin Bird ID phone app spit out a photo of the Least Flycatcher that looked just like this:

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I realized my original guess at the bird was way off base.  The truth is that I’m lousy at bird identification.  Oh, I can catch the obvious ones–Blue Jays and Cardinals and the like, but ones with the more subtle coloring and markings?  Those that are skittish, shy and hard to monitor?  I’m not so great with the required skills in observation and the patience in learning names and families.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m hosting this meme–it’ll help me to better learn about my garden visitors.

That’s the plan anyway.

Late summer has always been the best time of year for hummingbird viewing in Austin. There aren’t as many hummers as there once were (sadly, that is a common refrain in gardening and wildlife circles), but there were more hummingbirds in my gardens this past month than in several years.   For a few days there was quite the hummingbird rumble occurring in my front gardens. Primarily between this one,

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and this male Ruby-throated HummingbirdArchilochus colubris.

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These two and several others that I couldn’t get photos of, dive-bombed and chased each other–all between sips from the blooms of Turk’s Cap, salvias of all sorts, Barbados Cherry and numerous other quick-stop nectar sources.  The adversaries took turns landing on the top of the tomato cage on the Green Tower, presumably to survey their territory and harass competitors as needed.

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The Ruby-throated Hummingbird was an easy identification, but not so this other hummer.

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At first, I thought it was an Anna Hummingbird, but once I read they neither live nor migrate anywhere near Central Texas, I discounted that identification. Duh.

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I’ve decided that this hummer is either at female Ruby-throated or a female Broad-tailed HummingbirdSelasphorus platycercus. I’m leaning toward the Broad-tailed as the correct identification only because of the slight orange tint toward the bottom of her belly.

The Hummingbird Wars were entertaining, with the hummers zooming and buzzing by me a they waged their territorial turf war.  I tried to talk sense to them, to convince them that there is plenty for everyone and that they need to work and play well together. Alas, they continued aggressively protecting their temporary food bar.  I left town, a cold front or two has blown through, and I haven’t seen any hummers since because they ride the southward-bound winds to Mexico and Central America.  I wish them well as they make their way, each migrating alone, to more southern latitudes and tropical growth–where there should be plenty of nectar for all to share. Play nice, little hummers.

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I enjoy lots of wildness in my gardens and I’m sure you do too. Please join in posting about the wild visitors to your gardens for October Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your post for Wildlife Wednesday so we can all enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!

 

They’re Coming! It’s Coming!

Last week while winging my way home from Oregon, I read this article on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Facebook page. The article, from The Atlantic CityLab, by John Metcalfe, discusses a weird “cloud” moving southward into and through the mid-western states. Meteorologists realized that the “cloud” is actually swarms of migrating Monarchs. They’re coming! By the thousands and thousands, so it seems.  After the steep decline of the Monarch butterfly species in the past two decades, for this season at least, the numbers appear stronger than in recent years.  Not as strong as they should be, but better than they’ve been. I hope this might indicate that the population of this iconic and unofficially threatened North American butterfly, is on a rebound.  Considering the threats to their habitats and migration routes, time will tell whether this butterfly species will survive.

I’ve only seen a couple of Monarchs here in Austin, but am heartened by this news. Truly, truly heartened.  My garden is flush with blooms of all sorts, so I hope these lovely insects will stop by for a visit, a sip and a re-fuel as they make their way to Mexico.

I doubt this dude is waiting for Monarchs, but what could he be waiting for? P1060981.new

Maybe for Wildlife Wednesday and his chance to shine in the garden blogosphere? Wildlife Wednesday, which is this Wednesday, October 1, showcases the wild and wonderful critters in our gardens. On the first Wednesday of each month, garden bloggers are welcome to join with me in sharing photos and stories about wildlife in our gardens: the flighty, fluttery, creepy, and crawly who are essential to the purpose of a garden.

Be there or be square.  Wildlife Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, October 1.

Luscious Lycoris

It’s fall!!

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I can always tell, especially when these beauties surprise me.  Even if I wanted to, there’s no way to ignore this!

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After our first decent rain in early September, the Red Spider Lily, Lycoris radiata, sends up its bloom stalk and in the following days, stunning blooms unfold.

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The long stamens give rise the the common name, spider.

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These petals and those extravagant stamens still sported rain drops on a recent morning after overnight rain.

In the Amaryllis family and native to the Far East, this bulb has naturalized in the southern part of the United States. Here in Austin, they’re easy to grow.  Plant now (in the early fall), in a part shade to shady spot and wait.  And if you’re like me, forget about them, go on with your life, your stuff, and your gardening.  Then be happily surprised each September–I never remember that I’ve planted them.  They pop out of the ground and do this:

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…and then they do this.

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Usually there are several blooms, one atop each scape, rising from the dormant-since-last winter bulbs.

After the flowers fade, the foliage will emerge–it looks similar to liriope foliage, except with a pale-yellow stripe up the middle.  The foliage will stick around until sometime in late winter–I don’t really know because I never realize that they’ve gone.

I only have three groups of L. radiata.  In this area I planted two bulbs in two different spots,

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…while here resides a single bulb.

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I planted my bulbs three years ago and this is the second year they’ve bloomed. They seem happy here.

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So you know how I’m always preaching about planting for pollinators–bees, butterflies, and other assorted wildlife?  Well, forget all that for this one post:  you plant Red Spider Lily for yourself.  Go ahead, be completely selfish and shoot for style over substance. I’m sure in its native range, there’s something that feeds on Lycoris radiata–but not here.  No sir, I haven’t seen anything so much as hover around the Spider Lily, wondering whether this is something worth sipping from or chewing on.  This plant is for looks only–it’s a total fluff plant, indulging the pretty-plant-person resident in every gardener.

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And that’s okay.

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Plant, wait. enjoy!!

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Foliage Follow-up, September 2014

As with our blooms, the Central Texas foliage perks up with September rains, shorter days, and the suggestion of cooler temperature ahead.  I join with Pam at Digging to celebrate the end of summer, new beginnings for autumn, and all things leafy.

The pond garden is a riot of fascinating foliage.  Just take a look! P1070046.new

Lots of foliage action in this shot!  Clockwise from the bottom, the actual water plants include the lily pads of the two lilies I grow (Colorado and Claude Ikins), the Ruby Red Runner, and the showy leaves of the Pickerel RushPontederia cordata.   All three pond plants contribute to the biological filtration of my pond, though I also have a mechanical filter.

Continuing with the tour d’ foliage, the plants adjacent to the pond include tropical Yellow Bells, Tecoma stans, Soft-leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, Firecracker Plant, Russelia equisetiformis, Martha Gonzales Roses, Iris, Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii, and Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima.  All of these perennials sport differing widths, textures, and colors of leaves.

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Ruby Red Runner dies back in the winter, but by late summer into fall it’s full-on lovely and spreading.

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It’s seeded out in several places around the pond. This plant, usually used as a waterfall biological filter and prized for its attractive foliage, produces teensy puff-ball flowers,

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…which go to seed, thus, the spread.

Another view of the plants near the pond…

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Not much blooming in those photos, but a variety of leaf beauty.

I particularly like these water shots with the creeping roots of the Ruby Red Runner, spreading its spidery fingers toward the lily pads,

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…as if the roots are creeping outward to grab the pads.  Or maybe they’re just reaching out for a watery hug!

The soft, elegant foliage of Lindheimer’s Senna, Senna lindheimeriana,

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lends structure to, but also softens the back of my garden.  Combined with the bright green leaves of the Yellow Bells and spiky, but matching-in-color American Century Plant, Agave americana,

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…the Senna fits well in this spot.

The morning after a recent rain,  the foliage of the Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida, retained droplets along its edges.

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With “traditional” autumn coloring, (which doesn’t happen for Central Texas on a large-scale until late November/December), the plumes of the Maiden Grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, beautifully complement the flowers of Turk’s CapMalvaviscus arboreus, and the orange blossoms of Flame Acanthus, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii.

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Here’s a closer look at the inflorescence of the Maiden Grass.IMGP0268.new

Along with the orange-y and autumn-y color theme, this new ceramic container is planted with the ‘Color Guard’ YuccaYucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’, accompanied by Woolly Stemodia, Stemodia lanata.

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The container sits amidst a nest of blooming and berrying Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis.

What interesting foliage is gracing your garden space now?  Celebrate foliage in your gardens and learn about other foliage by visiting Digging for September Foliage Follow-up.

 

Bloom Day, September 2014

September heralds a change from the blisteringly hot to the merely hot in Austin, Texas. This gardener welcomes that subtle, but fundamental change:  the shorter days, the approaching autumn cool and if we’re lucky, some rainy days ahead.  Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this lovely blogging meme celebrating all that flower.

It’s somewhat about the Ruellia this time of year in my gardens.  I grow both a native, Drummond’s Wild PetuniaRuellia drummondiana, like these cuties peeking out through foliage,

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…and these that aren’t  quite so shy.

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I also grow a well-behaved cultivar, the Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’,  blossoming beautifully during the late summer and autumn months.

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Additionally, a less mannerly variety, the Chi-Chi Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Chi-Chi’, makes its home in my gardens.  Here is it nicely co-mingling with the blooming and berrying PigeonberryRivina humilis,

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…and flowering alone.

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I love the first two Ruellia species and have a complicated relationship with the third.

The various Salvia in my gardens, like this red Autumn SageSalvia greggii,

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…really strut their stuff in the fall. Flowers that appear on and off during our hot summer, the blossoms on these woody, native shrubs will consistently impress both pollinators and gardeners throughout our productive autumn months.

A different salvia, the white Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, was knocked back this past winter with our  late freezes,

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…but are lush with snowy, bee-friendly blooms now and will bee that way until there is a killing frost.

Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, opens its Barbie Doll Pink blooms each morning, remaining open longer as the days get shorter.

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Another perennial with pretty-in-pink blossoms, is the Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’.

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I grew up with Purple Heart rampant in my mother’s garden–I have warm memories of playing near stands of this naturalized ground cover with its dramatic purple foliage and charming blossoms.

Sweet Basil produces tiny flowers for pollinators,

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… and the native, wildlife perennial, Lindheimer’s Senna, Senna lindheimeriana, blooms from August into September for the pollinators, then sets seeds for the birds later in fall.

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I always forget that I planted these Red Spider Lily bulbs,  Lycoris radiata,

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…. until they pop up, overnight it seems.

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These are such gorgeous flowers! I don’t know why I can’t remember that the bulbs are in the ground, waiting for the first of the September rains, to grace the gardens with their exotic beauty. The strappy foliage (which emerges after blooming) disappears in the late winter/early spring.  The memory of those exquisite blossoms should stay with me, but I’m always surprised to welcome them again, each September.

Finally, a Monarch butterfly is now visiting my gardens, sipping on his preferred blooms of the Tropical MilkweedAsclepias curassavica.

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My heart lifted to see this North American beauty after all I’ve read about the very serious decline in the monarch butterfly population.

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Go Monarchs!

Here in Austin we enjoy a second, spectacular blooming season, beginning just about now.  Fall blooms abound and there’s more to come!  For today though, check out blooms from everywhere at May Dreams Gardens.