Birds, Bugs, Beast: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2016

Another month is past with another round of watching wildlife do their thing in my garden.

Or, is it their garden?

It’s a lot about the birds for May, especially those who migrated through Central Texas as they vacated their winter quarters in Mexico and South America and are traveling to their summer breeding grounds–which is pretty much anywhere north of my garden.

I saw this darling ray of sunshine (or perhaps there was more than one??)  on a number of occasions, flitting in the shrubbery and bathing in the bog.

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This pretty fella is a male Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia.  What else could he possibly be called?

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Texas is on the migratory path of this dazzling fellow and the rest of his kind, but his summer breeding area ranges throughout most of the remainder of North America.

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I’m fairly sure I spotted a female Yellow, but never got a good shot of her.  Along with bathing alone, he shared a splash with another warbler–both had a good time and were drippy and squeaky clean at the end.

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The not Yellow Warbler is either a female or immature male Chestnut-sided Warbler, Setophaga pensylvanica.

I had the hardest time identifying this bird because most bird photos are of males–and why not?  The males are typically stunning in color and form and therefore make the most interesting subjects.  It was only when perusing the Birds of Texas Facebook group–which I joined not long ago–that someone posted a photo that looked just like my little gal or guy.  Yay–a match!

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I’m not generally a fan of FB, but it has its uses, that’s for sure.

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Actually, I’ve learned quite a bit following these crazy, nutty, obsessive Texas birders–and don’t even get me started on the photos that are submitted–WOW, nothing short of amazing!

Another eye-catching yellow bird that I’ve seen many times before (not this particular bird, mind you, but members of its species) and that I finally captured in photo form,  is the Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas.   

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I don’t think he’s the least bit common–especially in looks. I love his bandit’s mask, white headband, and bright yellow feathers–he’s a real head-turner.  I’ve seen females of this species too, though they’re quick, quick, quick through the greenery as they’re searching for bugs. The females tend to olive-green/with a little pale yellow, but are of the same shape. Another migratory species through Texas, I’m sure this guy and his gal are on their way to northern territories to make more of the same common warblers–good luck to them and their offspring.

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In spring 2015, ONE day, I spotted a male Rose-breasted GrosbeakPheucticus ludovicianus, visiting my garden.  This spring, for several days, a lone female snacked at my sunflower seed feeder.

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She’s not as showy as her male counterpart with his brilliant rosy chest, plus she was skittish and good captures were hard to achieve.  I hope she has a mate and that she’s on the nest by now–or preparing her nest.

Another bird that I spied last year but didn’t get photos of is the American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla.  

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Such a pretty bird!   I think this is a female–the males are black, orange, and yellow–but she’s just gorgeous.

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She flashed butter-yellow patches on her wings and tail feathers as she darted through the shrubs, on her way to the bog.  Later, I saw her again dashing through my Shumard Oak tree which is where I saw others like her last year.

During dinner one evening and while gazing out the big window,  I saw this tiny bird angling toward the pond. (That seems a destination of choice for many of the warblers. Good move, putting a pond with a shallow bog in the garden.)

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I believe this is a MacGillivray’s Warbler, Geothlypis tolmiei, probably a female.

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The light wasn’t optimal and these are the best captures of this bird I could manage. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this bird doesn’t migrate through Central Texas, but in fact, migrates through West Texas, breeding during summer along the West Coast of North America.  But none of the other grey/yellow warblers have the exact white eye arcs, nor the hood of gray that extends toward the chest that this cutey displays.  The Cornell site on MacGillivray’s (above) mentions that some individual Mourning Warblers can show traits of MacGillivray’s, but I’m going to stick with this ID–unless a reader steers me in another direction.

There were other migrants I saw and heard:  an Eastern Wood Peewee one evening at sundown chirping and dancing from a wire to catch insects, and on another day, a  Wilson’s Warbler–heading to the pond.  Alas, no photos of either.  In most cases during migration, the visitors were only here a day or so, then they were gone.

I’m already looking forward to fall migration!

As for the neighborhood birds, there was plenty of action from them as well. My Brazos blackberries were ready for harvesting this past month and certain birds got into the berry-picking action, like this Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos.

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Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Mock!!

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I hope you enjoyed those berries, because they’ll never make it into cobbler with you having eaten them!

The resident Black-crested Titmouse,  Baeolophus astricristatus, couple are around and singing while raising a small brood.

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There was definitely one youngin’ (who flew too close to me one day, surprising both of us, and who probably received a talking-to from mom or dad).  Maybe there were more of those titmouse kids?

As well, the Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, couple took turns at the feeder and preened in the trees.

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I haven’t seen them with offspring, but I hope they raised a family.  The world, not to mention my garden, could use more of that cuteness.

And this gangly, awkward teen,

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…will someday be as handsome as his dad.

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Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

As for the bugs part of this post, Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, have laid eggs on the fennel,

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…and a few caterpillars have eaten their fill.

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I haven’t found any chrysalises, but I’ll keep a keen eye out for one; it’s always a treat to observe an adult butterfly as it emerges.

Also nestled in fennel, was this attractive bug, a SpittlebugProsapia bicincta.

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I didn’t see any of its spittle–which looks like you’d imagine–but I’m certain there was some, somewhere.  The spittle covers the nymph stage to provide protection from cold, heat, and predators.  These bugs are not friends in the garden as they pierce plants and suck the sap.  In most home gardens they don’t cause much damage, but you want to keep tabs on these critters.  If I see more than a few, out comes the bucket of soapy water and into the bucket goes the insects–if I can catch them.  If I’m feeling especially murderous, squishing said bugs is the modus operandi.

Native and honey bees worked flowers when it wasn’t raining, but I didn’t catch any photos of their activity this month.   However, some native bees moved into the second native bee house that Bee Daddy built.

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Clear photos of these two bees eluded, but both–and others– were intent on nesting.

I never figured what species one of belonged to, whose little face and antennae were constantly at an opening for a week or so.  Several others, head first in the bee holes (presumably tending to their eggs/larvae), striped abdomens sticking out, are most likely some type of carpenter bee–but I won’t hazard a guess.

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I’m just pleased they’re making use of the homes.

Not an insect, this spider has also moved into one of the bamboo pieces of the house.

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It might be one of the many kinds of Bold Jumpers, Phidippus, spp. She peeks out often, but if I get too close for a look, she skedaddles back into the bamboo tube.

Finally, The Beast:

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Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)

There’re more than one of these beasts in my garden (gardener shakes fist at squirrels), but this one charmed as I puttered one afternoon.  Pesky and annoying, they’re also smart and adaptable.  And funny.

An update about my Eastern Screech Owl family:  for the last two evenings, just at sundown, I’ve seen all 5 juveniles and both parents.  The family roosts during the day in a large Bur Oak tree, two neighbors away, but fly to my immediate neighbor’s Ash tree at sundown, then follow their parents as the nightly hunting, teaching, and learning begins. The next-door neighbor reported last week that two of the babies bathed in a bird bath outside her bedroom window one morning at about 6:15 am.  Apparently, the two little owlets put on quite a show!

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for June 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.

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee,

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..as it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

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Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

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The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

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…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

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Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

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…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

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This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

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…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

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A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

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…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.  

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I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

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…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

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He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

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But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

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The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

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More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

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He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage. IMGP1652_cropped_2695x3304..new

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

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They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

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I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

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This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November 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 we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

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Good wildlife gardening to you!