Boarded Up

After our disappointing winter/spring with no resident Eastern Screech Owls living in the nest box–wooing, mating, and tending offspring–we moved on to other concerns and projects. Personally, I missed the show, though I suspect the owls didn’t miss my oooing and aahing at their antics. And I know that an owl pair raised a family nearby, so that’s a consolation. Mama stopped by for a visit one day to show off the owlets, and occasionally I hear and see one or two at sundown.

Once owl nesting season is done and the family has moved on, I typically don’t pay much attention to the nest box as it sits unoccupied and unadorned in the Red Oak tree. But in late June, and just out of curiosity, I plugged in the owl cam cable into the computer.  Expecting nothing more than a placid scene of lonely leaves and discarded grass, I was surprised to see this: two snoozing Virginia OpossumsDidelphis virginiana.  

Two?  The second is underneath the top–opossum bunk-bed style–but there are definitely two hairless tails, so unless there was an alien invasion of two-tailed opossums, there were two owl house interlopers on that particular day.

Over the next couple of weeks, I checked the cam daily.  Sometimes a sleeping marsupial filled the box, sometimes the box was sans opossum.  I assume the cuddling two are juvenile siblings, but I only saw them together that one (first) time.  All other nest box peeks have delivered just the one opossum, but I’ll bet it’s one of the pair. Usually, he/she has been asleep, breathing peacefully; once, I viewed a very cat-like grooming session.

Because we built the nest box for the owls and the last thing we need is a repeat of a nesting mama possum settled in the box like last winter’s squatter (which you can read about here), we’ve boarded up the place for the season.

Closed for summer.  Will reopen in December, 2017.

If I could convince the opossums that this is only a summer home for them and I knew they’d vacate prior to the owls looking for their winter/spring nesting place, I wouldn’t object too much to hosting a nest box time-share. However, opossums are notoriously difficult to engage rationally and I suspect that my protestations at their presence and ultimate threats of expulsion would go unheeded. Therefore, the nest box will remain boarded up and none but a few ants and the like will be allowed!

I see a juvenile opossum once or twice each week in the back garden, usually when flip on the outdoor lights to let my girl cat inside for the night.  Kitty Astrud watches the marsupial movements, unimpressed and uninterested, showing no desire to follow.  The individual(s) scurry through the garden to avoid detection; no doubt the opossum is pleased when the light goes off and once again he/she has unfettered access to insects from the garden and partially composted goodies in the compost bin.

Fatal Attraction

Sultry and steamy are the norm for July summer mornings in Austin, but the open blooms of Jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, deliver a dose of cooling bloom to the garden.

Large and glowing, Jimsonweed flowers open at night and close by mid-day.

These two petulantly refused to greet me as I trundled along the path for closer look and a breath of their intoxicating fragrance.

What is this?

A Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans rested on the creamy expanse, clutching what looked like a breakfast tidbit.  As I leaned in for a look, Ms Lynx skittered to the underside of the petal, prey in hand.   We briefly played photographer/spider hide-n-seek, but I succeeded in snagging a couple of photos of her–and her intended meal.

The wings of the victim are visible and I suspect the spider’s snack is some sort of small fly.

I didn’t figure out what she captured; it was probably a small bee, gnat, or fly, but she certainly wasn’t going to share with me, nor did she want to dine while I was loitering around her choice of dining establishment.

The spider proved lethal for its winged prey, but Jimsonweed (also known as Sacred Thorn Apple, Thorn Apple, Angel Trumpet, and Sacred Datura) has always been recognized for its toxic properties–all parts of this tough native are poisonous. Southwestern Native Americans utilized the narcotic qualities of Jimsonweed for religious ceremonies, but if prepared improperly (I don’t know what improperly means in this context), the dosage is fatal.

Reveling in the heat of arid summer, my one shrub blooms from July until September, typically with 5-10 flowers each week.  If Jimsonweed grows in full, blasting sun, the plant flowers more, and for a longer period of time.

I’ll need to pop out at night during the next set of blooms and perhaps I’ll observe a pollinating moth.  Until then, I’ll stick with coffee and some fruit for my breakfast and leave the spiders to their own meals.

Pollinator Review and Early Summer Scenes: Wildlife Wednesday, July

Summer is in sweaty swing and the garden accompanies that dance with a blooming boogie-woogie.  Wildlife rely on the warm season’s bounty of summer flowers and resulting seeds and fruits.  In addition to contributing to plant procreation and augmenting biological diversity, these wild critters–winged, feathered, furred, and scaled–add beauty, complexity, and life to the garden.  Welcome to my garden and to Wildlife Wednesday for July!

Due to some travel and other distractions, I missed posting during the annual celebration of pollinators (Pollinator Week, June 19-25), but my garden certainly enjoyed its share of pollination pow-wow this past month.

This is the best photo I’ve snagged of nectaring hummers. I see at least one daily, but rarely have the camera at hand for a shot.  This little beauty slurps sweetness from salmon blooms of a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.

I’m fairly sure that this female is a Black-chinned HummingbirdArchilochus alexandri. There are at least two females currently visiting and I’ve also spied a male Black-chinned.

Butterflies ramped-up their presence in May and June, though recently I’ve only seen the smaller butterflies in my garden.  In the following photos, do you detect a theme?

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on a Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

Sharing the bloom with a Leafhopper Assasin Bug, (Zelus renardii)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on a Purple coneflower

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on a Purple coneflower

Purple coneflowers are boss pollinator plants.  No pollinator garden should be without a few of these North American native flowers.  If you plant them, they will come.

 

Evidence of a butterfly life cycle is apparent on the foliage of Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.  Nourishing larvae of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia, Zexmenia–like most native plants–provides a food cart whammy: the leaves are sustenance for the host-specific butterfly caterpillars; the flowers provide nectar and pollen for a variety of pollinators.  Additionally, Zexmenia also feeds finches, warblers, and sparrows once the flowers go to seed.  Zexmenia is a powerhouse wildlife plant.

The cheery daisies of Zexmenia are nice for adult pollinators, but caterpillars adore the leaves. Check out the caterpillar poop sprinkled on the leaves just below the clump of cats. Everybody poops!

Butterflies are important pollinators and beautiful to behold.   To attract butterflies and moths to your garden, you must provide host plants, which attract specific butterfly species, so that the larvae, or caterpillars, can eat, grow and morph to their adult winged stage that we all desire for our gardens. Tolerance for munched leaves is a must when seeking to promote a healthy and diverse garden environment. Caterpillars generally do little serious damage to foliage.  Rather than engaging in chemical warfare at the first sign of foliage problems or gooey caterpillars wiggling on leaves, it’s best to observe who’s eating what in the garden, as most insects are beneficial and not harmful to landscape plants. If you (or your neighbors) spray insecticides (even those labeled organic or natural), beneficial insects will be collateral damage. Insecticides don’t discriminate: they kill all insects, not just  those targeted.  A live-and-let-live attitude is useful for a wildlife gardener and the minimal damage from desired insects is usually short-lived: the compromised leaves slough off and new foliage grows in place, ready for a new cycle of life.

 

I’ve seen this bee on occasion and it’s usually on Purple coneflowers; I assumed it was some sort of carpenter bee.

I use several local native bee resources for identification when I spot an unrecognized bee, but have never figured out just what kind of bee this industrious worker is–until recently.  I uploaded this photo to BugGuide.net and a nice, insect-loving bug guide pegged this yellow-legged critter as a Two-spotted Lorn-horned BeeMelissodes bimaculatus. 

So now I know!  The Two-spotted belongs in the grouping of bees (like bumbles and miners) which are ground nesters, but I don’t know if that holds for this one. I’m glad to see him–the BugGuide person said the bee was a him–I didn’t peek. Regardless of gender identification, this dude and his girlfriends are welcome to my coneflowers anytime.

 

My favorite native bee is the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis, and there are plenty of them in my garden this summer.

Working a bloom on the Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora),

…and another at an Autumn sage (Salvia greggii).  Strictly speaking, this bee is nectar stealing and not contacting the reproductive organs of the flower, therefore, no pollination.  But, I won’t quibble too much, I’m certain this bee pollinates, even if he/she is cheating at this particular moment.

I provide wood for these cuties throughout my gardens for their drilling and nesting pleasure and am rewarded with pollination action galore, as well as delighting in the charm of their dreamy blue eyes and groovy racing stripes.

 

I missed most of the short bloom time of my orange passalong daylilies because of travel, but was fortunate to catch some of its loveliness, along with the gorgeous metallic native bees who also appreciate these flowers’ orange goodness.

There is one digging in and one winging away

Look at the pollen gathered on this little bee.

This shiny pretty is probably a Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica.  These  bees are common in my garden; I’ve noticed that they prefer flowers in the red-to-orange color range.  While the daylilies were blooming, and if I was out before their petals unfurled for the day, I’d see these bees buzzing around the blooms, seemingly impatient for their breakfast spots to open for business!

 

Another native bee species active this past month are these tiny critters, probably one of the carpenter bees, Ceratina sp

These two work the pollen of a Martha Gonzales rose.  The one to the right holds quite a load of pollen.

These itty bitty pollinators enjoy a variety of blooms, native and non-native alike.

 

I don’t pay nearly enough attention to moths.  I’m intimidated by the sheer numbers of species and the ever-so-slight variations which differentiate those many species.  Plus, I usually don’t see them that much–they hang out at night, I’m a day varmint.  But in summer, I sometimes notice a few as they rest along the outside walls of the house, near a door I use, or along the framework of my back patio.  I spotted this one resting one afternoon:

I searched several databases (local to Texas) and concluded that this was likely a kind of ‘underwing’ moth, but as I perused photos, I couldn’t find an exact match.  I uploaded this photo to Butterflies and Moths of North America, and received a confirmation ID of a Agrippina UnderwingCatocala agrippina.  The moth’s obvious beauty aside,  my photo is one of five verified sightings of this moth.  Woot!   

Another gorgeous moth who chose a window shutter as his resting spot was this Black Witch mothAscalapha odorata.   The moth’s wing-span is about four inches and you can see that a bit of one fore-wing looks like it was nipped.  This handsome moth is a male, as the females have pink bands along the fore and hind-wings, which this fella lacks.

Pollinators rule the summer garden, but you know I’m going to profile a few birds for Wildlife Wednesday, right?

Surveying his realm atop the street sign, this Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,  often serenades me when I’m in the front garden.

 

As the sunflowers, Plateau goldeneye, Zexmenia, and Purple coneflowers go to seed, Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria, show up for the seed buffet.

Acrobatic little birds, they often dine, upended.

She’s wary as I move closer.

The Lesser male has more black than the American Goldfinch. He’s munching from the Plateau goldeneye

Showing his white patches on his back

 

Mama Eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger,  regularly thieves commercial sunflower seeds that I set out for birds, though I suppose I set the seeds out for her too, since I don’t prevent her from eating. She’s quite an adept high-wire artist, balancing along the wire that the bird feeder hangs from and skittering, unerringly, to the roof of the house whenever I step outside.

 

If you don’t have wildlife in your garden, it’s easy to plant for them and provide a welcoming home: they’re entertaining, beautiful, and necessary for a well-rounded garden. If you do have wildlife, please post for July Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife; 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!