Migrants: Wildlife Wednesday, June

The antics of North American neotropical birds (as they migrate from Central and South America to various parts of North America), continued in my garden during May and nearly into June.  Bird migration is the remarkable natural phenomenon transforming the skies into invisible (to us) highways for those seeking longer days in which to raise young, and to locate and dine on new and different food sources from what wintering grounds provide. Today is the first Wednesday of June, so let’s revisit the wild happenings in our gardens from this past month. In my case, it’s all about the birds.

I’ve been privileged to host a variety of migratory birds as they stop to rest, bathe, and eat in my back garden. This spring, plenty of species that I’d seen before popped in, some lingering for days and others, for oh-so-brief stints.  Yellow Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and more, comprise the regular sightings that I look forward to during spring migration. I appreciate these revisiting migrants (and their relatives), but this spring, the number and assortment of birds eclipsed any spring or autumn migratory period I’ve yet witnessed in my own garden space.

April’s Wildlife Wednesday saw the visitation of a lone female Baltimore OrioleIcterus galbula, but during May, a small band of two males and another female stopped for a couple of days to nosh on delicious tangerine slices that I had placed on several fences in the hopes that these colorful birds would take a load off and pay a call–and it worked!

This male made short shrift of the juicy treat one evening.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit of all sorts.  During migration, orange or tangerine slices placed in gardens provide a high-calorie snack for the bird and an opportunity to please the bird watchers.

I hastily nailed, and then impaled, tangerine slices when I read that Baltimore Orioles were winging their way through Central Texas.

I think that before next autumn’s migration, I’m going to rig some sticks for the birds’ perching pleasure.  This guy looks uncomfortable squatting on top of the flat surface while he slurps the sweet stuff.

I can report that the tangerines were fabulous!

During several mornings I spotted one, or more,  Swainson’s Thrush birds, Catharus ustulatus.

These pretty birds hung around the pond, bathing or fluffing from bathing, but each individual also traipsed through the garden, presumably picking up yummy bugs for post-bath snacks.  They have a funny way of running, reminiscent of how some water birds walk.

Swainson’s Thrushes enjoy a wide migration pattern, utilizing the entire width of the U.S. for migration and  then breeding throughout  a broad swath of Canada.

“Are you getting my good side?”

I’m looking over the shoulder, just so.”

 

Another bird that I’ve never seen before this spring, and who made several appearances, were Canada WarblersCardellina canadensis.  These beautiful, tiny birds were tough to photograph.  They flit constantly and would not pose!

Despite this study in blur, his beauty is obvious, with coordinated, yet contrasting gray and yellow coloring, adorned by a black necklace.

These birds are shy and constantly on the go.  They’re named for our fabulous northern neighbor, but are the last to migrate from South America and the first to leave Canada for their tropical winter home.  They like it hot, I guess.

I think this is a female Canada warbler.

This was the best photo I managed.  Her markings don’t quite fit the color patterns of other species with the gray and yellow scheme, but she also doesn’t show the faded black necklace that female and juveniles demonstrate.  That could be my limited abilities to capture and not her lack of identity markers.

 

A gorgeous gray bird is this Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis, who displays a you caught me!  goofy look on his face.

 

Ah, this shot is better–you can see just how handsome this relative of the mockingbird is.

I’ve enjoyed previous visits from these birds, though usually they spend time in the blackberry vine, enjoying juicy fruits.  This year my crop was a bust, but the Catbird visited nonetheless.

 

Black-and-white WarblersMniotilta varia, made appearances throughout April and May, but these are the best photos shots they allowed me:

I think the Black-and-white Warbler is a most elegant bird in both color and form.

Opposite from the Canada Warbler, the Black-and-whites are some of the first of the migrants to leave their tropical wintering homes and travel northward for breeding.

A Wilson WarblerCardellina pusilla,

The black cap is a sweet marking.

…and his mate,

…spent a couple of days with me.  They liked the pond–and the bugs!  Both male and female worked up,  down, and around various perennial plants, grabbing insects and hiding from the camera.

A Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, stopped briefly,

…and charmed.

A Great Crested FlycatcherMyiarchus crinitus, also showed up–and departed before the camera clicked.

Last spring (2016) several male and female American Redstart WarblersSetophaga ruticilla, favored my garden and introduced themselves to me.  This spring, only ladies visited.

This species hops and dances, flashing decorative, butter-yellow patterned tails.

 

A single male Chestnut-sided WarblerSetophaga pensylvanica, briefly brightened the garden.

So much color on one little bird: white, black, bright yellow, and rusty-red

This multicolored cutey was a fleeting guest–I hope his kind returns one day.

 

The last warblers who vacated my garden was a pair of Common Yellowthroat WarblersGeothlypis trichas.   Cornell Lab of Ornithology (see previous link) describes their insect-hunting vocalizations as  “witchety-witchety-witchety” and that’s exactly how I found them as the female worked the garden for some protein, witchety-whichetying all the while.

 

Here, she contemplates a dip in the pond.

 

The male, jaunty mask in place, enjoyed the pond, but I’m sure snatched his share of insects, too.

It’s been just over a week since I last spied these two;  I hope they’re flying north to do their duty and raise a family.  Moreover, I hope that they–with their offspring– pop back for a visit in September or October.

No male Painted BuntingPasserina ciris, ever landed with his signature splash of color, but several females enjoyed my pond.

They’re always  welcome in my garden–as are most wild critters.  Come back soon, feathered friends!

Migrating or otherwise, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for June Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to 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!

 

Spring Forward: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2017

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked each first Wednesday of the month with the purpose of learning about and celebrating the diverse fauna with whom we share our world and gardens.  Fanciful or plain feathered birds, pollinators and their insect brethren of all stripes and dots, fluffy mammals, and scaly reptiles and amphibians bring our gardens to life.   Wildlife is intrinsic to the healthy operation of our environment, in both the macro of the wider world and the micro of our own garden plots.

All winter long and on a variety of plants, I’ve seen representatives of this handsome bug:

Sipping the bloom juices of Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Succinctly, this guy or gal is a Largus Bug, Largus succcinctus, and he is a true bug belonging to the Suborder Heteroptera and Family Largidae, also known as Bordered Plant Bugs.  I haven’t fretted at their mating on the entry board of the bee hives (well, if the bees don’t mind, who am I to judge??) or muddling about on stems and leaves:  I’m a live and let live sort of gardener–to a point.  Considering that these buggy sorts have been a constant presence this winter, I wonder if I should have administered, or will need to consider administering, a method of control.  If it proves necessary, I’ll probably opt for the soapy water bottle technique which entails picking off bugs and dropping them into a frothy concoction. I’ve heard of gardeners who hand vacuum for undesirable critters, cruising their garden spaces and vacuuming where necessary.  But my neighbors already think I’m a gardening oddity, so I’m likely stick to patrolling with a bug-death bath in hand.

Swim little bugs, swim!  (in basso) Bwahahahaha!

Last autumn, I’d observed and photographed some small black beetles on Frostweed and Turk’s cap which I couldn’t  identify; I wrote about them in my November Wildlife Wednesday post.  I now know that those beetles are an instar (phases of insect molt) of the Bordered Plant bugs.  These bugs have been in my garden for months and at some point, I might need to make a decision about their future endeavors as they crawl along plants and give the bees a peep show.  In a University of California ‘Green Blog’ article about these bugs, the author suggests that they don’t cause much damage and I haven’t observed any real problems like munched, crunched, or otherwise damaged flowers or foliage, but I’ll keep a keen eye on them, just in case.

This lovely bird resting on a utility cable behind my back garden is a Monk parakeet, and a member of one of several introduced colonies here in Austin.

I often see 2 or 3 fly over my house in spring–flashes of bright green against the blue Texas sky–screeching their screeches, but rarely do they land in or around my garden. Though not native to this area, they apparently haven’t displaced native fauna and aren’t considered a problem.  In spring they choose mates and build their nests high on utility poles and tree tops.

Green (Carolina) anolesAnolis carolinensis, are back!

I know, he’s not green and in fact, he never left.  Sightings of these tree-dwelling lizards are scarce during winter, but since spring sprung a few weeks early in February, I’ve spotted several. This guy isn’t green because he’s lounging on a wooden fence; he’s also giving me quite the stink-eye.   He skedaddled shortly after I took his photo; I’m sure we’ll see one another again.

Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria,  were the first native bees I observed this spring.

They’re mating:

Coupling,

RICOH IMAGING

…conscious uncoupling.

…and building their nests for their blue bee babies.

Blue orchard bees are important pollinators for commercial fruit growers, but are easy to attract to the home garden: they like to build their nest in holes.  Providing wood with drilled holes or bamboo pieces with ready-made holes is an easy way to  encourage these beauties to nest in and pollinate your garden.

My Blue Orchard bees also build their nests in the mortar of the outside of my house.

Like most Osmia bees, Blue Orchards are solitary in that they don’t build a hive or live communally.  However, they are comfortable building their nests alongside one another in a kind of condo/apartment living arrangement, if you will. The females mix plant pollen and nectar with their own saliva and then deposit the mixture for the larval food source in the brood chamber, where one egg per chamber is laid.  The mom bee then seals each one-egg brood chamber with mud, which is a combination of plant material and soil. Each female will lay 5-8 eggs, prepare and then seal the nest, and then, sadly, she dies.  The offspring created this year will emerge next year, ready to start the mating, pollinating, nesting cycle again.

Go Blue Orchard bees–see you again next spring!

No fruit trees in my garden, but the Blue Orchard bees thoroughly worked the blooms of Mountain laurel.

 

Another early bee who’s out-and-about-and-pollinating is this green metallic sweat bee working the blooms of a Dewberry bloom.

Identifying native bees is tricky (for me, that is).  My best guess is that this is an Augochloropsis metallica which is found in Central Texas.  I’ll see more of these, as well as many other native bees, during our long growing season.

 

Furry friends are also active as the weather warms.  This Eastern fox squirrelSciurus niger, played hide-n-seek with me one weekend afternoon.

Now you see me!

Now you don’t!

Scamper!

After his flirtation (no doubt attempting to distract me with charming antics), he landed where he intended: under the sunflower filled-n-spilled bird feeder for his share of seedy nosh.

In search of seeds.

 

Male Great-tailed GracklesQuiscalus mexicanus,  are in machismo, mating mode now. I wrote about a rather scraggly fellow last fall who had lost his tail in the annual molting rite common to many birds.  It’s entirely possible that this gorgeous avian hunk is the same bird as the seasonally sad specimen formerly profiled:

He is oh, so pretty as he bathes,

He’s downright sparkly.

…and preens in the tree.

What a poser!

Courting and posturing is underway and grackle exhibition will provide chuckles for this gardener and chicks for grackle moms to rear.

I continue to enjoy the visits from winter Texans, like this Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I  presume that they’re also enjoying their visits to my garden.

He positioned himself for a splash in the pond bog.  Various song birds rely on the winter-damaged limbs for  perching and because of that, I haven’t removed all of the limbs yet.

I will need to prune this Yellow bells, Tacoma stans, soon, but I can hold off a bit longer allowing the birds some cover and a safe place to observe their world.

Spring.  It’s here and preparing for the season’s work.  Birds-n-bees are active, pollinators are pollinating, and gardens are awakening to new possibilities and promise.

Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Whether your garden remains in winter’s deep, or is experiencing spring flush, or perhaps if you’re Down Under, ready for autumn, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to 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!

Owlets, Owlets, Everywhere!

Owlets really know how to keep us on our toes.  I missed documenting the appearance of owlet #3 (Frankie? Franky?) on Monday (5/2) evening at the nest box hole, though I saw him/her poking out his/her head briefly when I arrived home in late afternoon.  I intended to take photos, but due to blogger incompetence or distraction by something shiny, no captures of the newest neighborhood raptor ensued.

I figured Mama and Daddy Owl would successfully usher Baby Owlet into their world of dark, trees, foliage, and mice during the night.

At about 6:30 Tuesday morning–the alarm was up, but we weren’t–there was insistent doorbell ringing and a frantic neighbor who’d been awakened by scuffling noise at her bedroom window and a little owlet staring at her in her jammies.  (The neighbor was in her jammies, not the owlet.) Pre-coffee, my husband and I grabbed necessary items like clothes, camera, and gloves and met with the next door neighbor in her back yard to commence the Great Owlet Rescue.

A darling, but not very happy owlet–Frankie(y)(?)–was sitting on the grass.  Mama was nearby, watching with steely eyes while I gently picked Baby up and placed the forlorn fuzzball in a low crook of a large ash tree.

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Daddy Owl flew within about 12 inches of my unprotected and early morning face and glared at me as I verbally assured him that I only wanted the best for Baby Frankie(y).

I don’t think he was assured at all.

Baby Frankie(y) sat, confused and bummed, in the tree for a brief period.

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Very brief.  Baby fluttered to the ground almost immediately and three inept humans tried several more times to keep the owlet in the tree, admonishing Baby Owl to “stay!”.  That command doesn’t quite work as well with Eastern Screech owlets as it does with dogs.

Actually, “stay” doesn’t work very well with my dog, either.

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Within a couple of minutes, the owlet flew from the safely of the tree to the middle of the large back yard, just beyond the pond,

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…and we decided to let Mama and Daddy take care of Baby Frankie(y). There was no real fear of cats or dogs bothering the owlet and we thought it was best to let Mom and Dad take matters into their own hands.  Wings.

Let me remind you, dear readers, that all this avian drama happened PRE-COFFEE! Yes, no caffeine was involved and I would very much appreciate a virtual pat-on-the-back for my rather lame attempts of wildlife rescue prior to my morning fix.

Thank you.

So, basic math suggests that with 5 eggs laid and 3 owlets out of the nest box, there is a theoretical possibility that there are two owlets left to fledge.

Indeed.

Mid-day Tuesday, this little cutey was clinging to dear life on an oak tree branch after its daring daytime escape from the nest box.

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This is owlet #4, named Fritz.  Though, she could be a girl owlet–I don’t know, they all look alike to me.

Left to her own devises, Fritz managed to make her way near the top of the oak tree, where I could barely see her amongst the spring greenery.

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The only reason I knew where to look for her is that the little song birds–Carolina chickadees and wrens and Cardinals–were fussing-up-a-storm about something at the top of the tree and my bet was that it was a an owlet who was the offending creature.  I was right.  But Fritz  was undeterred by the noisy little bird-pests and determined to stay in her leafy spot for the duration of daylight hours.

In the mean time, a fifth fuzz face was peeking out of the owls’ nest box–owlet #5, who I think I’ll call Jo–because I can.  As of Wednesday, Jo was still in the nest box, but I’m fairly sure that a plan of action to get out of there was in the works.  At about 9 pm Wednesday night, I stepped outside for a possible owlet look-see and in the sitting area underneath the oak tree was a little grey bit of fluff looking disgruntled.   I picked “Jo” up and place her/him in the Mountain Laurel just as Mama flew by me in warning.  I backed off immediately and moved to another part of the garden.  Mama watched for a bit and so did I, but I decided it was time to vamoose and to give the parents privacy to teach Jo to fly–if only well enough to stay in the trees for the night.

I thought the grey fluff on Wednesday night  was baby #5– Jo– but alas, Jo is still in the nest box as of Thursday afternoon.  Maybe it was Fritz?  Maybe Fritz never left the oak tree?  Who the heck knows? I’m sure that Mama and Dad Owl know who’s in and who’s out–and really, that’s all that matters.

Good luck to you all, little owlets: Jo–and Fuzzy, Frizzy, Frankie(y), and Fritz–may you  fly well and catch plenty of mice, rats, and other assorted yummies.

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The excellent Eastern Screech parents raised 5 chicks to fledgling age–an impressive feat, I’d say. I’ve read that the predation rate for Eastern Screech Owl chicks is about 70%–that’s high–and it suggests that with well-learned flying and hunting skills, coupled with some good luck, 2, perhaps 3 of these babies will survive to adulthood.

I always miss the owls–adults and offspring–when the babies leave the nest box.   The intimacy of observing them daily, or almost daily, will cease and I’ll grieve a little bit for my loss, while celebrating their success of a family raised.  I never know which of the babies survives, but I’m sure to see some of them (and their parents) in the coming months, here or there, when I’m outside after sundown. In the next 10 weeks, the babies will be learning the skills they’ll need to improve their chances of survival and eventually, the parents will let them make their way, on their own, in the neighborhood and beyond.  By mid-summer, the owls will melt into the rhythm of the hot Texas summer days and nights and they’ll seemingly disappear. But I know they’ll be around, hunting late at night and resting during the day in the relative safety of lush and leafed out trees.

Later in the year, during some evening in late November or December, I’ll hear the gentle and melodic trill of a male Eastern Screech Owl for the first time in months as he’s looking for a mate, or letting his mate know that he’s found a nice spot in which to raise a family.