Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday for December where all things feathered, scaled, and furred are appreciated and lauded for their contributions to a healthy environment and simply for being. Bees, butterflies, and birds are still active in the mid part of autumn and are visiting and/or residing in my gardens. Gardens are richest when they reflect the natural world in complexity and diversity of plant and wildlife. A wildlife garden is a refuge for insects and animals by providing ample food, water, and protection for critters and it’s also a challenging and educational endeavor for gardeners.
Additionally, wildlife are tricky to photograph, or at the very least, not always in cooperation with the photographer’s goal. I was attempting a pollinating shot of this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee,
…but the bee was too fast for me and my camera. However, I’m pleased at the shot of her in flight between the blooms of white Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea.
I spied this gorgeous caterpillar on a single fallen Shumard Oak leaf.
A Spiny Oak Slug Moth, Euclea delphinii, I knew better than to touch this caterpillar because it can deliver a wallop of a sting–birds and gardeners alike are forewarned by coloration and spikes. I placed the leaf up on a branch, entwining it with another leaf,
…in the hopes that the moth larva would continue its eating in preparation for pupating to its adult form. When I checked later, the moth caterpillar was off to other munching territory. Happy trails to you, buddy!!
A Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, visited and pollinated before the weather turned wet and chilly,
A year-round resident of Central Texas is the Queen, Danaus gilippus, who is a relative of the migratory Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, and is nectaring on Gregg’s Mistflower, a favorite nectar plant of this species.
Here, a male Queen rests and poses on the same Gregg’s Mistlfower plant.
I see a few Queens on warmer days, though lately, Queens and warmer days are fewer in number.
Early one morning, this Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, landed near to where I was working and hung out, practically begging me to take some photos. I obliged:
The belly on this beauty is a very light yellow, but often Mockingbirds sport grey bellies. The color differences aren’t entirely gender related, but judging from photos in my various bird books, might be age related. I think this might be a first year female.
I was tickled at the success of this photo of a Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.
These little birds are common in my garden, often announced by their lovely (and loud!) songs, but are quick-moving and hard (for me!) to photograph. They flit among the under-story shrubs and low branches at the back of my beds, looking for spiders and a variety of insects, but I do see them at the bird feeders, snatching sunflower seeds along with other birds.
Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, are a favorite bird species of mine. They love, REALLY LOVE seeds of aster plants. In the summer, they visit my large Sunflowers and Purple Coneflowers and in the fall and winter, the seeds of the Goldeneye.
There are still some flowers blooming and those will seed out in the next month or so. I should enjoy observing the Goldfinches, on and off, through much of winter. More importantly, they’ll have a food source readily available in my gardens for a long time.
There are two Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis, pairs who regularly visit my feeder.
Like the Carolina Wren, the Carolina Chickadee enjoy spiders and insects, but also eat seeds and visit backyard bird feeders. “My” couples feed in tandem with a pair of Black Crested Titmice, who have been very shy with me this month, thus no photos of either Titmouse.
Finally, there was this Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis.
I watched this guy for about a week, mostly seeing him in the brambly part of my back garden. I would also see him plopped on the ground, in a rather lazy dove-like position, munching away on sunflower seeds which the Blue Jays and squirrels messily and generously knocked out of the feeder.
I didn’t, however, see him fly. He’d flit, low to the ground, and waddled along if I made a move toward him. I noticed that he didn’t have tail feathers,
…but his wings appeared to work normally, not as if he had a broken wing. He never gained height in flight, but fluttered through the garden, and when landing, he’d tumble, as if he couldn’t quite land on his claws. I’ve wondered if he’s the mottled juvenile Cardinal that I wrote about in September’s Wildlife Wednesday, but I have no idea.
This past week, as the weather was turning wet with potential flooding (that didn’t happen) and cold (which did), I decided to intervene and catch this odd little bird, rather than have one of the neighborhood cats or perhaps a nighttime rat or raccoon do him in. I was able to catch him very easily, which isn’t a good sign. If I can catch a bird with little effort, how easy would it be for a predator to catch him?
Had it been a normal week, I would have taken him to Austin Wildlife Rescue, but the Great Cardinal Catch was the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve volunteered at Wildlife Rescue in the past and though I didn’t often work with birds, I know the basics of provisions: gentle handling while wearing gloves, a quiet, protected spot for the bird to rest, water and food. Ironically, my best cage is my cats’ carrier–but I don’t mention that to the birds that I’ve rescued. Nor do I mention the trapped and vulnerable birds to my cats.
The Cardinal seem to do well for the first 24 hours–from Wednesday through Thanksgiving Day. He ate and I thought that I would take him in to Wildlife Rescue on Friday, or perhaps, if he improved, release him. Alas, he was dead by Friday afternoon. I’m not quite sure what was wrong with him, but he wasn’t a normal looking or acting Cardinal from the first. Post-mortem, I looked over his body and didn’t see any obvious signs of injury and I’m sure of his wings were in good shape. That he couldn’t fly well or land properly and that he didn’t have tail feathers, which makes me think that he was askew in his development or may have had an injury that wasn’t obvious.
Should I have nabbed him and placed him in the cage? I don’t know. I am sorry for his death, but I don’t think he would have survived in my garden in the cold and wet weather and it’s probable that even the dedicated staff at Wildlife Rescue couldn’t have helped him.
This is a sad note to end on for this month, but a realistic one. There are many factors that impede the health and normal lifespan of wildlife; I sometimes wonder that any survive the myriad day-to-day obstacles they face. Northern Cardinals aren’t in any way threatened or endangered–they thrive in a wide geographic range and have adapted well to human urban development. But that’s not true for many bird (and everything else) species. North American bird species are in serious decline and that’s been happening for 5-6 decades. With the advent of industrial farming and urbanization (both of which are major ingredients in climate change), as well as habitat destruction and widespread chemical use in gardens–the list of damaging factors to the natural world, unfortunately, goes on and on–insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals need our support and consideration.
We don’t want to be responsible for creating a silent spring.
If you don’t yet grow for wildlife, why not give it a whirl? It’s easy: plant natives and non-invasive, non-native perennials which provide nectar, pollen, seeds, fruits, and cover. Get rid of some (or all!) of your sterile lawn–there’s nothing in a typical mono-culture lawn that feeds wildlife. Plant large native shade trees, under-story shrubs and small trees, perennials (evergreen and herbaceous), and ground-cover. Avoid using any poisons for insects (or any other critters, for that matter) because most insects are, in fact, beneficial. They pollinate, feed on other insects which can damage plants, and comprise a major food source for all species of animals. Most insects live and feed on native plants (remember my Spiny Oak Moth Slug from earlier in this post?) and rarely, if ever, “kill” a host plant–insects and host plants usually engage in beneficial symbiotic relationships. If the balance of the food chain is maintained, everyone wins: critters, people, and the environment!
Make water available for your wildlife visitors; it is the stuff of life.
If you provide these things, no matter where you live, wildlife of all sorts will settle in your garden. You will learn about your garden residents and visitors and also help repair the world, just a little and in your own plot of the Earth, by assisting those who cannot speak for themselves.
Did you have wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for December 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 Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.
Happy wildlife gardening!
Such beautiful photos. I love seeing all of your amazing visitors.
Thanks, Deborah–it was a good month for critter activity.
It is a sad tale of the beautiful cardinal, but like you say, if you could catch him, so could one of the neighbourhood cats. You have some beautiful photos again. I hope your words convince more gardeners to take some steps towards gardening with wildlife in mind. It really is the most wonderful way to garden!
Thanks, Sarah. I hope more folks will move toward wildlife friendly gardens, too–it’s easy and interesting, so why not? I was sad about the cardinal, but I don’t think he had much of a chance–it’s a tough world out there.
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Tina, this is such a packed post, but your story of the Cardinal was quite touching, I am sorry for the ending but better to end its days in your care than at the mouth of a rat. Your Butterflies are as always beautiful, we have a couple of wasps about and a few Queen Bumble bees but that is all. Your Northern Mockingbird is gorgeous, I find it hard to tell some male and female birds with similar markings apart. I apologise in advance for my slim post, life just kept getting in the way of any proper stop and stare time this month, but we have had time to prepare for winter in the garden. Although I haven’t expanded as well as you, I whole heartedly agree with your post. Thanks to for your continued support and hosting this meme.
I agree, Julie–at least the cardinal died in relative comfort and not cold and wet, or terrified at someone’s teeth and claws. Or, that’s what I’m telling myself. Thanks so much for reading and participating.
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My heart ached when I read about the cardinal dying. I hurt whenever I see or heart about an animal’s death.
Yes, J, it’s sad, but it’s also part of life. If the cardinal was injured or malformed, he was not going to survive. It’s a hard truth, but a common one.
As always this is such an interesting post packed full with information. I was so sorry to hear about your beautiful cardinal. At least you made his last hours as comfortable as possible. You do have some amazing birds, I always enjoy looking at them.
Thank you, Chloris. I hope the little cardinal was comfortable, but I always question myself when I intervene like I did with him. The birds are very active at the moment; they’ve been fun to watch and photograph.
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a lovely post Tina, though sorry to read about the cardinal bird, as others have said you gave food, shelter and safety in his hour of need, the Queen butterflies are very beautiful, and you have succeeded in getting a photo of a wren, I never have, they move so fast, I love the first photo of the carpenter bee in flight,
with the dreadful weather we have had here in North west Scotland my only photos are through a window this month, most wildlife has left for more sheltered places or hibernating, thank you for this meme I do enjoy it, Frances
It is great to have wildlife in the garden. Mine is filled with birds today. Maybe they know a cold snap is coming.
They probably know and are eating to prepare. That’s certainly what I do. 🙂
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Such an extensive, well-illustrated post again. Everything looks so colourful and fantastical in your part of the States. Sad news about the Cardinal though, even though it sounded inevitable.
I haven’t had a freeze yet, though it’s come close, so most things are green and my deciduous leaves are just beginning to turn. This is what I live for in August. I think the Cardinal’s death was inevitable, sad, but probably there wasn’t much to help him.
I am so sorry your little bird didn’t survive Tina. You are quite right, the wildlife that visits our gardens soon become ours too don’t they? Thanks for sharing all the amazing creatures you photographed and well done for spreading the word about gardening for wildlife.
I become quite attached to many of the critters who visit. I adore the Chickadees and Titmice, but maybe I’m not so fond of the squirrels?? )
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Beautiful pictures again, Tina! Sorry about the cardinal, but you did everything possible for him. I noticed one that’s in habit to sit on the ground at our place too; it is in good health but still it worries me (we have a visiting cat almost every day).
Well, I prepared some pictures but didn’t get to post them. Do I get an extension of a day or two? – or maybe next month? Is it the Wildlife Wed. continuing next year?
Thanks! I don’t think the cardinal was healthy, though I wish I knew exactly what was off about him.
You are welcome to post whenever you have time–it’s all fun! Hope it’s soon!
It’s sad and sometimes nature just has to take its course. As you say there are plenty of Cardinals to keep going. The goldfinches seem to have left my garden for the past few weeks. Good to see they are around.
Here’s mine for December:
Hi Shirley! That the bird is not of a rare breed is a comfort. The finches are munching away….
Tina what a wonderful post….to see bees and caterpillars and butterflies. Your sweet cardinal sounds like he did have some birth defects with his tail development which is essential for birds. I am surprised he lasted this long. I bet your garden was part of the reason.
I do have a post for you and look forward to reading others…thanks for hosting….
I think it was probably a birth defect too, but gosh, I’m surprised he lasted so long! Thanks for reading and joining in!
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And I finally made it with my December post. Thanks again for the push Tina!
You’re welcome!! Glad you made it!
Great caterpillar pics – caterpillars can be really fascinating. We have a different species of goldfinch but like you I am very fond of them. In my garden they love to eat seeds from the Cup Plant, Yellow Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, and Rudbeckia triloba,
I agree–caterpillars are beautiful and interesting critters. I’ll bet you have the American Goldfinch? I think we get them here, but all I ever have are the Lessers—not complaining, mind you, I think they’re quite darling.
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Yes, the ones we see here are the American Goldfinches.
Awwww…. Poor Cardinal…. At least he didn’t end up,as a cat toy… Michelle
Yes, Michelle, the Cardinal was a sad case. But, better to die, warm, dry and calm, rather than terrified at the teeth and claws of a cat.
Gosh, what an impressive post ! Fantastic photos too! A real insight into the wildlife in your locality. Very different to mine here in the UK. I saw cardinals for the first time when we visited the USA last year, and loved watching them in the trees. Sad about your little one, but that is life
Awe, thank you! It’s interesting how different our bird species are. I’ve enjoyed learning about the Blue and Long-tailed Tits in the UK, as well as your Robins, Jays and Woodpeckers. Beautiful, all of them!
“Should I have nabbed him and placed him in the cage?” Yes. Thank you for helping him pass in peace.
I have decided my mystery oak might be a Shumard. Maybe one day I’ll a similar caterpillar. It sure is a beauty.
I have seen mockingbirds with that same beautiful yellow. In fact, the colour was so striking I spent a few hours scouring the internet one day trying to decide if what I saw really was a mockingbird at all. Nice shots!
Do you have chickadees all year round? During the hottest part of summer they disappear from my feeder. They have returned recently though and gosh they sure are cute. ❤ the wrens of course! They are darling.
Yeah, I think Mr.Weird Little Cardinal had a more peaceful death, dry and warm in the cage, than hunkered down, wet and miserable. I’m okay with what I did. isn’t that caterpillar a gorgeous one? I find cats soooo fascinating, though they can be hard to identify. The Shumard oaks seed out, so you may very well have a seedling of one.
As to the mockingbird, yes, I’ve seen that butter-yellow tummy color too. It’s so pretty and different from the more typical grey. I did the same thing, trying to figure out if it really was a mock, or something else. One of my bird reference books had a lighter coloration on the tummy for a juvenile, so maybe that’s it??? There’s so much to learn about birds! Yes, this past year, the little Carolina chickadees hung around, as have the Black-crested Titmice. All of them: wrens, chickadees, finches, titmice, weird little cardinals, are darling!
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So sorry about the cardinal. Mother Nature is a harsh mistress.
Thanks, Katina. Nature is a tough place to make a living.
I promised myself I wouldn’t comment until I had my own WW post to share but then didn’t get anything organized and here it is over a week later….and….. Ooof.
You followed your heart with that cardinal’s situation and there is no argument that can be made in my book against compassionate care offered to a dying creature of any sort. We’ve had a cardinal pair mating and nesting in our spaces for years but with yet another round of construction firing up in the homes around us many of our “usual” birds seem to have had their patterns disrupted. The habitat opportunities in this part of town are constantly shifting it seems. Part of growing up “wild” in an urban setting.
Those moth slugs are incredibly intricate aren’t they! The first one I saw (on the windshield of my car when it was parked under oaks) had me staring for nearly a half hour. It looked like the product of an artist’s fever dream! Great photos – great post!
OK – better late than never. Here’s what will have to pass for my WW post this month. Happy Holidays everybody! http://austinagrodolce.blogspot.com/2015/12/december-wrap-up.html
The building here in “green” Austin is playing havoc on wildlife. And people, I suppose, too. I don’t know what would happen with the varied wildlife in my ‘hood were I to move and someone pull out my native habitat and replace with lawn and such. The thought verily breaks my heart. And yes, those oaks slugs and the like are fascinating–intricate and beautiful, fun to have around!
Always a pleasure to have you join in with Wildlife Wednesday, Ms. Agrodolce