About Tina

I’ve gardened in Austin, Texas (zone 8b) since 1985. I garden with low maintenance, native and well-adapted non-native plants to conserve water and reduce workload. I also choose plants which attract wildlife to my gardens. I’ve completed the Travis County Master Gardener and Grow Green program (through the city of Austin). I’ve volunteered for a number of public and private gardens, as well as consulted and designed for private individuals. Formerly, I managed Shay’s Green Garden at Zilker Botanical Gardens and Howson Library Garden for the City of Austin. My garden is a certified Monarch Waystation and a Wildlife Habitat.I blog about my garden adventures at: https://mygardenersays.com/ I love blooming things and the critters they attract. Tina Huckabee

They Have Arrived

They’re back.  The Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are now wafting through Central Texas, orange and black wings gracefully flit against the Texas sun before alighting at blooming plants for nourishment, sustaining their long flight, continuing their annual life cycle.

Like so many of us, Monarchs face an uncertain future:  climate change, deforestation in Mexico, overuse of pesticides and herbicides in urban gardening and commercial farming in the United States are just some of the challenges to a viable population of these insects.

I am joyful at the first Monarch sighting in spring and then again, in autumn.  Currently, my garden offers a diversity of flowering plants–native and nonnative–in which the butterflies nectar from before they move southward toward their winter home.  In autumn, it’s all about providing blooming flowers for these hungry, hungry butterflies.

In spring, the availability of milkweed (Monarchs’ host plant) is paramount for the hungry, hungry caterpillars.

Female Monarch on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

This generation of adults are those last born in the northern parts of the United States and Canada and are now headed to Mexico.

Female Monarch on Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

Once these remarkable insects arrive at their destination, they will gather in dramatic clusters by the millions, high up in the Oyamel fir forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The unique situation offers cold temperatures and high humidity during the winter–the evolved perfect environment for Monarchs’ winter rest.

Male Monarch on Frostweed. The two black marks located on the hind wings, plus thinner black webbing indicate a male.

The adults who overwinter in Mexico are those who will return through Texas (the major migration pathway) next March, laying eggs on a variety of native milkweed plants.  That first (or is it the last?) generation begins the life cycle all over again: adults mate, females lay eggs, the adults then die.  Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat the milkweed, morph to the next generation, the flights resume.  The ancient rhythm continues in leap-frog fashion, northward through spring and into summer.

Female Monarch on Skyflower (Datura erecta)

At some point in August, six generations later, because of a change in light and through a magnetic pull that the Monarchs have responded to for eons, the last set of adults turn southward and begin their 2000 mile journey toward the Mexican mountain firs which await winged occupation.

Stopping briefly as they migrate to Mexico, Monarchs are enjoying a respite in my garden; the first of many arrived a couple of days ago.

I am an appreciative witness to this natural event.

I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

 

Praying for Snakes and Birds

As the days shorten and cool, it’s once again a pleasure to be out-of-doors.  In my spare time, I’m re-configuring parts of my garden (when am I NOT re-configuring parts of the garden?), and enjoying the seasonal change from summer to autumn.

In my compost area, I was wrangling rogue fallen leaves and when I peeked into an empty bin, discovered this slithery fella.

A young Texas Rat SnakeElaphe obsoleta lindheimeri,  I imagine it’s the offspring of a adult snake that I saw in June.  Several times, the Blue Jays were yelling at something in the back corner of my garden.  I’d investigated, assuming that they were screaming at an owl, but they were looking down at the ground and not up into trees.  After several inspections driven by the jays’ caterwauling, I finally I saw a bit of a good sized snake.  The snake was mostly nestled under groundcover, but enough was visible showing a circumference several inches, meaning that the snake is most likely 5-6 feet long.  I left the snake alone, not out of fear, but because rat snakes are good predators to have in the garden.

The Blue Jays were quiet after that, but a few weeks later I heard the alarm calls of a crowd of Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and Black-crested Titmice as they fluttered around my back neighbors’ large elm tree.  The little birds were inspecting something in the crotch of large limbs, and only once I grabbed my binoculars could I see that it was several bits of shed snakeskin hung on the bark of the tree.  Rat snakes can climb trees, so I was certain the skin was the remains of my snake.  I emailed the neighbors and they were excited about the find, but never saw the live snake.

Fast-forward through summer and I suppose eggs were laid and snakes were hatched.

Once I snapped photos of the binned beauty and dragged the Hub out to see our slinky friend, we deposited the little reptile in a different part of my garden.  I hope it eats lots of rats and mice, but not the various birds that are around.  Alas, birds and their eggs (remember, rat snakes climb!) are part of rat snake diets.

Predators eat.

 

After checking the honeybee hives recently, I spied this smaller, but no less deadly, predator hanging out near our hive, Scar.

“Arms” held aloft, perhaps this adult Praying mantisStagmomantis sp. is praying for me to go away so that it can continue its dinner hunt.

Mantids eat a variety of things, most of which are smaller than themselves, including honeybees.  Flies, butterflies and moths, as well as other insects are also on the mantid menu.  When I checked the next morning, the mantid was gone from this spot, but is probably nearby.

Fall bird migration is underway as they travel from their northern breeding grounds to winter in Mexico, Central and South America.  I’ve seen a Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, on several occasions, finally catching it still enough for a couple of shots.

Actually, I have no idea if this is the same warbler I’ve spotted several times, or simply another Nashville sojourner, though all the ones I’ve seen have been male.  Nashville Warblers breed in Canada, migrating southward through a wide swath of the United States, and wintering in Central America.  I’ve seen individuals of this species in my garden before during spring migration, but never during fall.

The only other migratory bird in my garden has been a Yellow Warbler, flitting late one afternoon around the pond.  Their flashing sunshine yellow feathers are hard to miss.   I also saw a magnificent hawk at my pond, but I had bumbled noisily out the back door and so startled it, causing it to take flight immediately.  When will I learn to first look through the glass to check out the surroundings before I open the door and scare everyone away?

There’s never a dull moment in the garden–one just needs decent observation skills and to practice quiet, subtle movements.

I guess I have some work to do.

 

Listen to Mama: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2019

Listen to your mama, young Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.

I tell that same thing to my 24 year-old son all the time, omitting the ‘little woodpecker’ part of course.  Because my fledgling lives half a world away, most of the time when I’m dispensing sage mama advice, I can’t actually see him rolling his eyes, but I’m reasonably certain that particular eye movement is occurring.  Sometimes, he does agree with me and that’s a definite mama win.

Recently while in my front garden, terra firma, I heard chittering from high up in my neighbor’s ash tree.  Mama woodpecker and her fledgling were conversing, but who knows–except themselves–what mother and child woodpeckers discuss?  Was she annoyed that she wasn’t getting any mama-me time?  Maybe he was complaining that he wanted to hang out on his own branch and not be always in mama’s sight.  He is entering those teen weeks and we all know how trying that time is.

For a brief moment, they were both distracted by something, their voices silenced.

Soon enough, they were back at it: mama digging into the deep crevices of the ash tree’s bark with her strong beak and eating her find, her teen chittering as she rummaged.  This tree is the nursery and home base to several generations of Red-bellied families. The nesting hole where the eggs are laid and chicks are raised lies on another thick branch just beyond the one in the photo, but apparently the family likes hanging out after the little ones are too big for sequester in the nesting hole.

I didn’t see dad in this charming family scene; maybe he was at my peanut feeder in the back garden or perhaps hunting insects at another tree.  I think this is the second woodpecker brood, as in the spring, there were chicks (two, I think) in the hole and I would imagine they are long-fledged by now.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers produce two to three broods each season.

The woodpecker youngster has become a regular visitor at my peanut feeder in the back garden.  At each sighting, I notice more red on his head and for that reason, I believe he’s a male.  The male Red-bellies have a large swath of red on their heads, the bright blush of feathers reaching down toward their eyes.  The female Red-bellies are also redheads, but with less area covered.

Why are they called Red-bellied Woodpeckers when they sport those snazzy red heads?  Firstly, there’s a blush of red on their tummies which is the descriptor of their name. Secondly, there’s another common species of woodpecker in this area, the Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocelphalus, whose deep, rich red head out-reds the Red-bellies’ heads.  Got that?

Whatever mama and and her boy were yammering about up in that tree, it seems that the little dude has learned some valuable lessons from his parents.  He knows where the peanut feeder is and how to go about grabbing a snack without the supervision of his elders.

Good job growing up and great job parents!  The neighborhood welcomes more Red-belly Woodpeckers.

I hope this past month was a good one for your wildlife watching. Please share your wildlife happenings and remember to leave a link when you post here and happy wildlife gardening!