May Flowers

I wish I could say that April showers brought my May flowers, but here in Austin, Texas (zone 8b), it was a dry April and so far, May is in fine copycat form as the dry late spring segues into summer. Nonetheless, there are plenty of blooms in the garden because I’m a lazy gardener and choose tough plants that withstand the tricky Texas conditions while delivering valuable and pretty blooms–a win for pollinators and a delight for the gardener.

A stunning set of blooms, the always dramatic, royal-blue Majestic sageSalvia guaranitica,  currently reigns in certain spots of the garden.

I expect this crew to be the last of the Majestic blooms for a while, as this perennial’s blooms enjoy our gentler months of spring and autumn and then temporarily abdicates blooming during the toasty summer months.

 

Brightening a front garden is a reliable spring and autumn bloomer, the low growing shrub, DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

Handsome evergreen and aromatic foliage, plus perky daisy flowers, equals floral sunshine.

 

This nice combo sits nearby and includes some of my favorite flowers: Purple coneflowersEchinacea purpurea and ZexmeniaWedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.

Both are superb pollinator plants and almost always have insect visitors in, around, or on the blooms.

 

Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora, are now in full, salmon-and-yellow glory.

The flower stalks are 4-5 feet in height and bear multitudes of belled blooms during spring, summer, and through fall, nourishing insect and avian pollinators alike.

 

A spray of Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata, dances in front of surrounding shrubs and grasses, its violet blooms a floral contrast to the other foliage-prominent perennials.

A closer look…

 

Nothing shouts summer!  like sunny sunflowers and this threesome nod approval for a fast track to the summer blooming season.

Some of this season’s sunflowers are already in seed production and the finches and sparrows are taking notice.

To enjoy more May blooming beauties, please pop over to Carol’s May Dreams Gardens and enjoy bloom-filled-blog posts celebrating blooming in May.

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!

Birds of Winter: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2017

Greeting the new year with my first 2017 post, I’m glad to kick 2016 to the curb–good riddance, what a difficult year–but I am glad that the birds in my garden are busy with their winter work of eating, singing, bathing, gearing up for spring flirting, defending territory and providing interest in the garden and entertainment for the gardener. It’s the first Wildlife Wednesday installment for 2017, where critters are wild, occasionally woolly, and always welcome.

Central Texas enjoyed a couple of nights of sub-freezing temperatures a few weeks ago, just enough to leave  the garden crinkled and wrinkled, foliage-deprived and bloom-less. On the up-side though, it’s easier to see the birds as they forage  in the undergrowth for winter sustenance and prepare their game-on for spring migration, spring wooing and summer chick-rearing.

I’m observing and listening to winter Texan warblers again this winter–and pleased that I’ve learned a bit about their habits and vocalizations.  This past month, my garden has hosted several of the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata.  So far, it’s mostly males in their winter plumage that I’m spying.  Flashes of sunny yellow and soft cheeps  in the trees are my clues in identifying these cuties as they fly between trees or perch on bare limbs.

 

I’ve no idea if this is the same fella, but he rested in the glow of the late afternoon light, which rendered  his colors a golden hue.

I especially like this shot,  as he points his yellow rump at me.  Avid birders call these North American songbirds Butter butts.  A silly and apt name, I think.

I believe that the Butter butts in my garden are the “Myrtle” subspecies common to the eastern part of the United States because my Butter butts have a white or cream-colored throat.  The “Audubon” subspecies common further west sports a yellow throat.

 

Many are my “favorite” birds, but the Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, really holds a soft spot in my heart.  From their pretty songs, to their decorative popping presence in trees, to their break-neck snatches of sunflower seeds from the feeder, these year-round residents are fun to watch because of their antics with one another and curiosity about their surroundings.

 

Thrilled this winter to have at least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, in the gardenhe’s challenging my photography skills because he’s super quick flitting in the brush and shy after any movement I make.  He’s hard to shoot–that is if I’m aiming for a clear photo.  If you click on the name link (which takes you to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page on this bird), you can see the red “ruby” crown in a photo.  For now,  I can only dream of getting that splash of crown color which is this species’ namesake. However, I can gleefully report that I’ve seen the red stripe atop his darling head through my binoculars.  My goal this winter is at least one shot of the ruby crown on the Ruby-crowned.

I think there might be a female coming in for visits too, but for now, it’s all about the guy and his red crown.

 

Several Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata, are currently hanging around, much as they did last winter. I’ve observed two males and a female.  Like most other warblers, their movements are fast and their body language–all head tilts and swishy tail flicks–charming.

A butterfly chrysalis hangs below the blue bowl, just to the right of the vertical wood post. I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos.

The Orange-crown males have an orange crown (similar to the red crown of the Ruby-crowned), which appears as a little bird mohawk when a girl bird, or rival guy bird, needs impressing. I haven’t seen the orange crown so far this winter, but did on a regular basis last year with those who visited.

 

I was chasing the male Ruby-crowned Kinglet one afternoon for a photo, when a contentedly berry-munching Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos stopped me in my tracks.  Nestled in the branches of a native Possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua, the Mock gobbled berries within easy reach.  The Possumhaw is a small tree which produces beautiful (to gardeners) berries during winter and is a favorite of a variety of wildlife, including my friend, The Mock.

The Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas and known for its vocalization mimicry and beautiful songs.

This Mock was comfortable as I stood close, probably because I told him how pretty he is.

 

And hoping to catch and devour any, or all, of the above was this handsome Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii.

Another year-round resident in urban Austin, Texas, I see these and other raptors regularly in the neighborhood, flying from tree to tree, scaring the prey birds witless.

This gorgeous one perched in my back neighbor’s tall tree, remaining for several minutes, surveying its realm and allowing me to get some clear shots. The birds in my back garden remained very quiet for a time….

Wishing you a happy new year, full of wildlife in your gardens and peaceful interactions everywhere. Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for January 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!