Wildlife Wednesday: Migrants

The antics of North American neotropical birds (as they migrate from Central and South America to various parts of North America), continued in my garden during May and nearly into June.  Bird migration is the remarkable natural phenomenon transforming the skies into invisible (to us) highways for those seeking longer days in which to raise young, and to locate and dine on new and different food sources from what wintering grounds provide. Today is the first Wednesday of June, so let’s revisit the wild happenings in our gardens from this past month. In my case, it’s all about the birds.

I’ve been privileged to host a variety of migratory birds as they stop to rest, bathe, and eat in my back garden. This spring, plenty of species that I’d seen before popped in, some lingering for days and others, for oh-so-brief stints.  Yellow Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and more, comprise the regular sightings that I look forward to during spring migration. I appreciate these revisiting migrants (and their relatives), but this spring, the number and assortment of birds eclipsed any spring or autumn migratory period I’ve yet witnessed in my own garden space.

April’s Wildlife Wednesday saw the visitation of a lone female Baltimore OrioleIcterus galbula, but during May, a small band of two males and another female stopped for a couple of days to nosh on delicious tangerine slices that I had placed on several fences in the hopes that these colorful birds would take a load off and pay a call–and it worked!

This male made short shrift of the juicy treat one evening.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit of all sorts.  During migration, orange or tangerine slices placed in gardens provide a high-calorie snack for the bird and an opportunity to please the bird watchers.

I hastily nailed, and then impaled, tangerine slices when I read that Baltimore Orioles were winging their way through Central Texas.

I think that before next autumn’s migration, I’m going to rig some sticks for the birds’ perching pleasure.  This guy looks uncomfortable squatting on top of the flat surface while he slurps the sweet stuff.

I can report that the tangerines were fabulous!

During several mornings I spotted one, or more,  Swainson’s Thrush birds, Catharus ustulatus.

These pretty birds hung around the pond, bathing or fluffing from bathing, but each individual also traipsed through the garden, presumably picking up yummy bugs for post-bath snacks.  They have a funny way of running, reminiscent of how some water birds walk.

Swainson’s Thrushes enjoy a wide migration pattern, utilizing the entire width of the U.S. for migration and  then breeding throughout  a broad swath of Canada.

“Are you getting my good side?”

I’m looking over the shoulder, just so.”

 

Another bird that I’ve never seen before this spring, and who made several appearances, were Canada WarblersCardellina canadensis.  These beautiful, tiny birds were tough to photograph.  They flit constantly and would not pose!

Despite this study in blur, his beauty is obvious, with coordinated, yet contrasting gray and yellow coloring, adorned by a black necklace.

These birds are shy and constantly on the go.  They’re named for our fabulous northern neighbor, but are the last to migrate from South America and the first to leave Canada for their tropical winter home.  They like it hot, I guess.

I think this is a female Canada warbler.

This was the best photo I managed.  Her markings don’t quite fit the color patterns of other species with the gray and yellow scheme, but she also doesn’t show the faded black necklace that female and juveniles demonstrate.  That could be my limited abilities to capture and not her lack of identity markers.

 

A gorgeous gray bird is this Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis, who displays a you caught me!  goofy look on his face.

 

Ah, this shot is better–you can see just how handsome this relative of the mockingbird is.

I’ve enjoyed previous visits from these birds, though usually they spend time in the blackberry vine, enjoying juicy fruits.  This year my crop was a bust, but the Catbird visited nonetheless.

 

Black-and-white WarblersMniotilta varia, made appearances throughout April and May, but these are the best photos shots they allowed me:

I think the Black-and-white Warbler is a most elegant bird in both color and form.

Opposite from the Canada Warbler, the Black-and-whites are some of the first of the migrants to leave their tropical wintering homes and travel northward for breeding.

A Wilson WarblerCardellina pusilla,

The black cap is a sweet marking.

…and his mate,

…spent a couple of days with me.  They liked the pond–and the bugs!  Both male and female worked up,  down, and around various perennial plants, grabbing insects and hiding from the camera.

A Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, stopped briefly,

…and charmed.

A Great Crested FlycatcherMyiarchus crinitus, also showed up–and departed before the camera clicked.

Last spring (2016) several male and female American Redstart WarblersSetophaga ruticilla, favored my garden and introduced themselves to me.  This spring, only ladies visited.

This species hops and dances, flashing decorative, butter-yellow patterned tails.

 

A single male Chestnut-sided WarblerSetophaga pensylvanica, briefly brightened the garden.

So much color on one little bird: white, black, bright yellow, and rusty-red

This multicolored cutey was a fleeting guest–I hope his kind returns one day.

 

The last warblers who vacated my garden was a pair of Common Yellowthroat WarblersGeothlypis trichas.   Cornell Lab of Ornithology (see previous link) describes their insect-hunting vocalizations as  “witchety-witchety-witchety” and that’s exactly how I found them as the female worked the garden for some protein, witchety-whichetying all the while.

 

Here, she contemplates a dip in the pond.

 

The male, jaunty mask in place, enjoyed the pond, but I’m sure snatched his share of insects, too.

It’s been just over a week since I last spied these two;  I hope they’re flying north to do their duty and raise a family.  Moreover, I hope that they–with their offspring– pop back for a visit in September or October.

No male Painted BuntingPasserina ciris, ever landed with his signature splash of color, but several females enjoyed my pond.

They’re always  welcome in my garden–as are most wild critters.  Come back soon, feathered friends!

Migrating or otherwise, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for June Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!

 

Worth the Wait

A recent stroll in the back garden revealed surprises and eagerly awaited gifts. My one and only WinecupCallirhoe involucrata, is blossoming, a bit later than usual.

The Winecup is accompanied by spring greens and a cheery Clasping coneflower in the background.

This single bloom was the first of what might be a limited Winecup flowering engagement this spring.  Shade, which is becoming the norm for my back garden, is probably the culprit responsible for this tardy fuchsia offering.

The pollinators and I will enjoy these flowers over the next month, but I’m considering a move for this perennial native in the fall.  I think I have just the right spot–one delivering of full sun–that will treat this plant right.

 

This pretty was a welcomed surprise.

The wide green straps belong to iris, the lily foliage is slender.

I can tell you that it’s a Zephyranthes, but I’m not sure which one; if I ever knew the name, it’s long forgotten. I purchased some bulbs a few years ago from one of the stellar, locally owned nurseries here in Austin and happily planted away.   Foliage, plus occasional snowy blooms, have made appearances after rains, but over time, the floral representatives of Zephyrus (Greek god of the western wind) disappeared from my gardens.  I attribute the decline to the ever-increasing shade (that again!) and also, to heavy, clayey soil.  Rain lilies thrive in sun and also in situations where the bulbs aren’t disturbed.

I planted the bulbs at the opposite end of my garden from where this bit of serendipity popped up, so I suppose that Zephyrus did his job and blew seeds (one, anyhow) to a different home.

I’m tickled at the one–and look forward to more!

 

My Claude Ikins pond lily didn’t return this year.

It’s odd that a pond lily would decline, but so it did, with rotted roots and no new foliage.  I needed another lily to cover the pond surface, the foliage acting to decrease water temperature and serve to protect fish from fish-hungry birds.  I’m sorry that the Claude didn’t return, as I loved the pure yellow blooms and more importantly, so did a variety of pollinators. Perhaps I should have replaced it with the same brand, but I allowed myself talked into this gorgeous critter:

Wanvisa waterlily has vibrant pinky/orange petals with cream-to-yellow streaks; it  is a dramatic and richly colored lily. Though it didn’t happen with this first bloom, apparently Wanvisa will sometimes open with a section of petals rocking a Bride-of-Frankenstein streak of cream or yellow with the rest of the flower as you see it here.

I guess the lily thought that might be too wild for this gardener to handle for the debut bloom, so it’s demonstrating its more subdued side.

The lily pads are equally lovely, with deep burgundy mottling.  Individual pads are large and rapidly covering the pond surface. That Great blue heron who has visited will have to hunt his goldfish from some other pond.

 

The other water-lily in my pond is a Colorado, and pink, though of a tamer hue.

Tiny native bees working the lily.

It’s also a beautiful flower and the native bees are pleased with its donations of pollen and nectar.

These bees are most likely small Ceratina, sp., or Sweat, Lasioglossum, bees.

 

While the Colorado seemed the choice of the moment for the bees, don’t think that the Wanvisa is a slouch in the pollinator buffet department.

As if on cue, a small metallic bee flew in to the bloom, just as the camera clicked.

 

I think these two lilies will get along just fine and that the bees and the gardener will cheer their success.

Undercover

No Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, pair took up residence in our owl house this spring, owing to the tardy eviction of a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus which you can read about here. We dissuaded her owl box residency, but likely too late for the courting owl couple who’d visited our garden during January evenings. Observing the lovers, I was hopeful for a ninth year of Screech owl doings, even witnessing the female checking out the box early one evening, but alas, I suspect that by then she was considering our box as her backup. During these past few months, I’ve occasionally seen an adult owl swoop through the back garden just after sundown, which means that they were probably somewhere nearby. I’ve had to glean my owl fixation through other sources like the local folks who placed cameras in their owl boxes and generously shared antics of their owls on Facebook during the nesting and fledging, as well as responding to a frantic phone call from neighbors who were attempting to remove two fledgling owlets from the middle of a busy nearby residential street and who requested my help. The owlets were rescued, placed safely in shrubs while owl parents were present in the trees, supervising inept humans fumbling with cell phone lights and quibbles about where to place the little raptor.

Rest assured that it all ended well: no one (person or owlet) was squished by a car.

My Texas red oak tree, Quercus buckleyi, where the owl house is situated, is fully leafed out for the year.  Lovely and lush, the foliage provides energy for the tree, shade for the gardener, as well as sanctuary and sustenance for many critters.

Note the black line underneath the nest box, heading away from the tree trunk. That’s the cord to the owl cam, which sadly showed no activity in our box, except for industrious ants.

 

Recently, the foliage has stepped up, or rather, layered over, and is acting as cover for a mama Eastern screech owl and her two fledglings.

Pretty mama Eastern screech owl.

Helloo! Aren’t these owlets adorable?

I don’t know where she holed up and nested or where she and Dad nurtured their offspring prior to their debut in the big, wide world, but for one day, they decided that my tree was a good place to rest from the responsibilities of teaching their youngins’ how to fly and hunt during the nights.

I realized before I saw the owls that the male toads in my pond–which were loudly, insistently, and nightly crooning for mates–had been silenced, and I know from experience that neighborhood owls are usually why love-sick toads are muted. Screech owls find toads delicious and the toads choose noisy flirtation over quiet survival–every time. The evening before I spotted the owls in my tree, I heard the owlets’ chrrrrrrrr, which in owl-talk means feed me, and I spotted two adults and two owlets perched along my fence, flying to and from my tree and a neighbor’s tree. The family may have been in my tree prior to that evening, but apparently I wasn’t looking up.

Even if I was looking up,  the canopy of leaves works successfully to keep owls hidden from prying eyes.
Foliage serves as good cover for wildlife. It was challenging to take photos, as the birds were hidden, at least partially, behind the leaves and owls certainly blend in to the trunk and limbs well.

Interestingly, while Screech owls have nested in the box on this tree for years, each May once they fledge, they never perch in the tree for more than a couple of days. Soon after exiting their nest box for good, the owlets’ wings strengthen and carry them to other trees in other gardens, and under the tutelage of their adept parents, they learn the skills needed to survive. During the summer months, I see them occasionally and sometimes they even land in their home tree for brief periods. I like to think they’ve come by to say hi!, but I suppose that’s wishful anthropomorphizing.

Mama keeping a keen eye on the intrusive human.

 

I’m conflicted when the oaks leaf-out in spring as it makes warbler and owl watching significantly more challenging, but that’s one of the important roles of tree and shrub foliage–providing cover for wildlife, especially for the vulnerable young ones.

Foliage serves as a plant’s method of breathing, generates energy for plant health, provides oxygen for all of us, and food and sanctuary for wildlife.

And, foliage is beautiful.

The owls haven’t appeared since Friday, but I’m sure I’ll see them again at some sundown, swooping from tree to tree. If I’m fortunate, I’ll spot them resting during the day, camouflaged by limbs and hidden by luscious leaves, making good use of the protection and life-giving qualities that foliage provides.

Given the beauty and the importance of trees and shrubs for wildlife, why wouldn’t we appreciate foliage in our gardens?