Snap!: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2020

In the garden, if no where else, this spring has been normal:  irises, columbines, and poppies set forth their early blooms exactly on time.  Then, as the days lengthened and temperatures warmed, coneflowers, salvia species, and sunflowers flowered-up, right on cue.  Bees, butterflies, and birds are out-and-about doing their things: mating, nesting, seed-eating and pollinating. 

What has been weird and also wonderful (or mostly so) are appearances by a variety of reptiles that I rarely, if ever, see in my garden.  I’ve enjoyed a quick look from a Texas Spiny Lizard, never before seen in my garden, and visits by two different Texas Rat Snakes, a large adult and a small young one.  It’s not odd to see one rat snake from time-to-time, but several look-sees within a couple of weeks is a special treat. 

My most recent reptile encounter was with this critter, a Common Snapping Turtle.

I was gazing out a window early one the morning, trying to recall what day it was, coffee cup in hand, when I saw plants waving in the wind at the border of a path.  From the greenery emerged a turtle, bumbling onto the pathway.  By the time I approached the turtle, it had stopped its lumbering, no doubt because it sensed a larger predator nearby.   I’m confident this is a Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, because its geographic range is wide and includes Austin.  Another turtle species, the Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macrochelys temminckii,  is threatened, living in a limited range, primarily in East Texas.   Also, Common Snapping Turtles, while spending time in water, are also found in brush, whereas Alligator Snapping Turtles are mostly aquatic creatures, on the ground less often. 

I think this turtle is relatively young, as snapping turtles can grow quite large

I like this shot:  live snapping turtle headed one way on the path, ceramic armadillo (with accompanying ceramic babies) headed in the opposite direction.

 

Astrud the Cat was enjoying her morning garden stroll and padded over for a look.

She wasn’t quite sure what to make of this new garden creature. 

Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Whatever this thing is, I’m going around it–who knows what it’s up to?!

 

Well, the turtle had been up to something and that became clear over the next day or so.  My pond normally looks like this in May.

This photo was taken a year or two ago, but the pond plants are all the same.

After spring pruning and lily re-potting, the lilies send up stems topped by new foliage–lily pads.  The foliage spreads out, covering much of the pond’s surface.  The foliage protects the fish from the hunting eyes of predators and also helps maintain the average temperature of the water during the upcoming hot months. 

The day of the turtle sighting, I noticed that all the lily pads were arranged in a half-moon shape around the edges of the pond, the pads all bunched up, with no social distancing. Had something disturbed their normal pattern? The water was also murkier than normal.  Raccoons have sometime mucked around in the water, though no real damaged has ever resulted;  the raccoons just scare the poor little fish.  I didn’t think much about either bit of evidence until the next morning, when I observed that of the lily pads remaining, most were upended.  The pads had clearly been chopped off from the source of the plant. 

This pad found itself in the bog area, face down, stem up:

Look at the the lily closely. Do you see the tadpoles swimming in the water covering the bottom of the lily? Toads of the future!

Other lily pads were free-floating on the pond’s surface, untethered from their roots.   I fished out the wayward pads and tossed their decapitated heads into the compost bin.

I lugged the lily plants to the surface and they were definitely eaten down, practically to their base.  Someone had a lily stem late-night lunch.  Or dinner.  Or breakfast. 

Common Snapping Turtles eat just about anything, including plant matter–and so he/she apparently dined in my pond!   I didn’t notice any goldfish missing, but it would be hard to tell if the turtle ate any of the gambusia (mosquito fish), as they’re small and  too numerous to count.  The turtle definitely ate greens and its meal might have included a side of protein. 

Since the turtle-led lily decimation, the pond’s water has been cloudier than is typical, in part because the lilies, along with the bog plant, Pickerel Weed, help filter the water, keeping it clear.  Interestingly, the turtle didn’t bother the stems of the Pickerel Weed, which is a bog plant;  they remain intact and unmolested.

The not-so-wonderful part of a snapping turtle in the garden is that the pond is lacking in lilies, nearly lily-less, and has resigned its moniker as lily pond–for now. 

The lily plants should recover and probably quickly;  I’ve already spotted some new stems, stretching upwards, making their way to the surface.  

Will the turtle come back for more pond salad?  I would prefer it move elsewhere, but my garden is open to wildlife.  Sometimes, toleration of a little wildlife wildness is part of a wildlife gardener’s commitment to critter survival.

For more information about snapping turtles, check out this short, educational video illustrating the differences between the Alligator and Common Snapping Turtles.  Watch your fingers!

We live in wild times, that’s for certain.  But the good kind of wild occurs in the garden, with the occasional munched plant(s) served up as sacrifices.  I hope your garden hosts both captivating critters and pleasing plants.  As well as being Wildlife Wednesday, I’m also joining with Anna and Wednesday Vignette.  Please post about your wild garden happenings and then pop over to Flutter and Hum for vignettes, garden and otherwise.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Reptilia

My little female cat, Astrud, stays mostly indoors.  However, she enjoys brief early morning tours of the garden and relishes her garden nightcaps after sundown.  I oblige her, especially with the evening forays, as the birds are done for the day, nestled in the trees and safe from cat eyes, teeth, and claws.  Astrud hasn’t exhibited much interest in nocturnal critters.  She watches the various moths and June bugs, wielding an occasional, lazy swat, but rarely acts upon any instinct to kill and eat.  As for the toads, she looks at them from a respectful distance and with slight disgust;  she has no interest in tangling with their warty hives.  However, Astrud has, once or twice, dismembered and partly devoured geckos.  I grieve at that bit of predator business, because I’m fond of geckos and like to see them whole and not scattered in bits and pieces.  But this time of year, there is little in the way of prey that she wants to dismantle.  She spends her evenings sprawled on the driveway, adjacent to the front garden, acting as guard cat, until she’s called in for the night. 

Recently, well before her time to come in for the night, I was surprised to hear her collar bell jingle near the back door.  I flipped on the patio light and saw what Astrud was interested in and jingling about.

It was a gaggle of reptiles!  Or maybe it would be called an assemblage of reptiles? Or troupe of reptiles?  I’m not really sure, especially since only one of the reptiles is actually a reptile.   A baby Texas Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri, had joined in a reptilian huddle on the back patio.  Its cohorts were inanimate reptiles, both made of metal and which once belonged to my late father-in-law:  one represents a turtle and the second, Texas Horned Lizard.

Not too many weeks before this, I’d seen an adult Texas Rat Snake at my pond, which you can read about here.  Is this little one an offspring of that big adult?  Are there more of these slithery beauties around?  No doubt there are more, though not necessarily in my garden; like all critters, rats move where the food sources are plentiful.  Rat snakes have plenty to eat around here:  insects of all sorts, birds (especially baby birds), rodents of all sizes, and anything else smaller than themselves.  It is odd for me to see two rat snakes within a few weeks of one another, but it’s been a banner year for reptiles in my garden.

I think the baby Rat Snake was annoyed and not with its companions or Astrud, but with the clumsy, noisy (and nosy) humans.  We took photos from different angles and strategized about how to encourage the snake to vacate the patio and enter the garden.  After some deliberation and a squeal by yours truly (I was going to pick up the snake, but didn’t…), The Hub and I herded slinky to the garden, where it was, I’m sure, glad to be rid of us.

I don’t know if the snake has returned to visit its kin, but I’m certain it’s still around and that we’ll cross paths again, perhaps when it’s grown a bit.

The turtle and the horned lizard remain at their posts:  protectors of the patio, keepers of the container plants. 

 

Lovely Lavender

This Althea, Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, is full of big, showy blooms right now.  Its branches bent with the weight of the blooms, the hardy perennial will bloom on and off during our long warm season.  The rangy shrub buds and blooms profusely, especially after rain moistens the soil and flower production ramps up for the show.

I don’t remember which cultivar this is but I’m sure that I have the name tag stashed away somewhere.  

The Althea sits near my pond and last year I planted two specimens of another hibiscus cultivar, Lemon Rose Mallow, Hibiscus calyphyllus, just in front of the Althea.   I think they’ll be great bloom partners, yellow and lavender faces open to the sunshine, bodacious blooms both, cheering and thriving during summer’s heat.

I need some happy vibes today and these flowers are the ticket.  I’m joining in today with Anna’s Wednesday Vignette, to celebrate garden stories.