It’s a Wrap: December Wildlife Wednesday

As we enter the last month of the year and I prepare for a Texas winter (such that it is), I welcome you to December Wildlife Wednesday, the final installment for 2017 of watching wonderful–sometime wacky–wildlife!  Wild critters in my garden are busy with their lives and are also providing entertainment and learning experiences for me.  I trust your garden has been graced with some wild happenings as well.

Winter Texans of the avian sort are settled in, having migrated from their breeding grounds in northern North America.  These various songbirds will spend the next 4-6 months of relatively mild weather eating their fill of available berries, seeds, insects, and suet in preparation for the arduous migration back to the places where they raise families.  These–and all birds–will be easier to spot once my deciduous plants shrug-off their foliage garb (leaving said foliage unceremoniously on the ground for me to pick up) and while that process has begun, it’s at least a month away before bare-n-naked trees will allow for better bird viewing.

This Ruby-crowned KingletRegulus calendula, is one of a pair visiting my back garden daily.

The ruby  streak on top of the head isn’t visible; this one could be a female.

I’ve only spotted the female at the suet feeder, but I’m sure the male pops on for a nosh, too–but, so far, not when I’m looking.  I eagerly await a glimpse of ruby-red in the garden which flashes when defending territory or charming Ruby-crowned Kinglet gals.

 

An Orange-crown warblerOreothlypis celata, frequently partakes of suet.

Easier to spot on the feeder, I prefer to watch them work through the garden, rapidly moving from limb to limb, and shrub to shrub, snipping insects as they go–but it’s challenging keep up with their speed-feeding movements.  Less colorful than some of the other songbirds, these little ones are elegant and with charm to spare.  I think there are two Orange-crowns in the garden, but haven’t definitively confirmed that.

For weeks, I observed one or two Eastern Phoebe flycatchersSayornis phoebe, but was either too slow with the camera, or didn’t have it at hand.  One morning on my way out, I saw this beauty through my bedroom window.

Catch me if you can!

I sprinted to where my camera awaited assignment, grabbed and prepared it for the shots as I hurried back to the window.  Success!

I’m waiting patiently for you to get your shots, lady! (claws tapping)

I didn’t dare step outside, as these birds have my blundering number and always take flight as soon as I make an appearance.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen the phoebes since these photos, so I hope my paparazzi-like behavior didn’t scare them off.   According to All About Birds, these flycatchers are year-round residents in some parts of Central Texas, though they are new to me.  Their wintering grounds span West, East and South Texas and southward through Mexico.

 

The local bird characters provide a show as they go about their daily business.  A bathing Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, always elicits a grin.

 

It’s a toss-up whether this Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis,

 

…or this Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, wins the cute bird-of-the-month prize.

Shall we have a vote?

This wren is certainly laser-focused on something  worth investigating.

 

A male Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, loves the suet I provide once the temperatures are reliably cool.

A female Red-belly also visits; I assume they’re mates, but don’t know where their nest is located.

 

Not in my back garden, but I spotted this gorgeous Great Blue HeronArdea herodias, resting in my neighbor’s tree late one afternoon.

I see Great Blues fly over my neighborhood throughout the year, as they keep a keen eye on the urban creeks which spiderweb through Austin.  In my own garden, they pop in mid-to-late spring after I’ve pruned the pond lilies, which frees-up access to available fish.   For a month or so, the poor little fish are vulnerable because they have fewer foliaged places to hide and the herons know that when lily pads are limited, they’re ‘shooting’ fish in a barrel!   I was pleased to see this handsome heron, though it loped off as I gawked in admiration.

 

The state bird of Texas is the Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos.  I’ve seen this one, perched silently and un-singing, on the back fence.

A contemplative bird.

 

On Thanksgiving morning I was sipping coffee and perusing the local newspaper at my kitchen table.  From where I sat, there is a clear view to the back garden and  I looked up just as a large, fast bird streaked across my line of vision.  Recognizing a hawk in hot pursuit, I snatched my camera and caught this just-landed Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaincensis, in a neighbor’s tree.

Wow!  This bird was huge, so I’m guessing she’s a female and probably disgruntled at the lack of her own Thanksgiving feast.  Dove with cranberry sauce, anyone??  As I snapped a few shots, a Blue Jay was harassing her, so she took wing, landing on another tree further away.

Ms. Red-tailed refused to turn around and acknowledge my presence.

She perched there for a long time, probably re-thinking her strategy for snagging a meal.  There are a variety of smaller raptors in my neighborhood:  this autumn I’ve seen a Cooper’s hawk and a Sharp-shinned hawk–but I think this is the first time that a Red-tailed has wooshed through the back garden.

 

The birds are active, but they’re not the only winged-things around.  There have been plenty of butterflies, moths, and honeybees, though the native bees have gone to sleep for the season.  The cheery, yellow Southern DogfaceZerene cesonia, is a common autumn butterfly here, but always so flighty that I rarely catch a good photo–until recently!

Woot!  Nectaring on the autumn crop of Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,  this one shares the bounty with an equally busy Southern Broken-DashWallengrenia otho.

The orange-brown on the wings is plenty attractive, but the Southern Broken-Dash also shows a beautiful, iridescent blue-green on the upper side of its thorax.

Nectaring at a Purple coneflower.

Sunning on the foliage of the Shrubby Blue sage.

 

That same afternoon, this Clouded SkipperLerema accius, also vied for attention.

I’ve been amazed and quite pleased at the numbers of small skippers and even larger butterflies in my garden this past month, though I’ve mostly appreciated their beauty  and not rushed to get photos.  Keep up the good work, pollinators!

 

It’s not all about desirables in the garden though.  I thought I’d attempt attracting Eastern Blue Birds–or something equally fascinating–by leaving dried mealworms (yuk to me, but some birds totally dig them), but all I’ve managed to attract is this critter.

A drooling Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

Grrrr.  As well, I suspect her in the crime of squatting in the Eastern Screech Owl house.  Everytime we open up the house to make it available for house-hunting owls, the camera shows a snoozing, or sometimes bathing, opossum.

We wait until nightfall, let her vacate her comfy digs (opossums are mostly active after dark) then trundle up the ladder to (again!) close the door on the hole of the house for another week or so in hopes of discouraging her.  Once we reopen the door for owls looking for a home, invariably, within a day or so, Ms. Opossum snuggles back in.

It’s a drag being outsmarted by an opossum!

She enjoyed the mealworms, but I’ve removed them from the bird buffet menu.  She’ll just have to get her worms like the other opossums–by digging in my garden!

I don’t mind opossums (I keep telling myself), but this one is persistent and just won’t vacate the premises.

Check out her climbing claws. She may not be fast, but she’s adept.

Soon, the neighborhood owls will be courting-n-sparking and they’ll want that cozy box for their babies–you know, the one that we built for THEM!

Celebrating lots of life in the garden for Wildlife Wednesday, I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and reaping autumn bounty. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

 

Native Texans

In this post you won’t find any cowboy boots or hats, nor plates of barbecue and bowls of salsa, and certainly no funny, twangy accents, but you will see plenty of beauty and Texan toughness.  What is this you’ve stumbled across?  It’s an homage to Texas native plants and to the celebration thereof:  Texas Native Plant Week marked annually during the week of October 16-22.

Nectaring Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).  Twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) serves as a backdrop

Established to educate and encourage Texans to recognize and utilize our lovely, valuable native plants in personal and public gardens, many communities in Texas sponsor events promoting the use of native plants during this week of native plant love.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

 

Native plants are valuable for many reasons:  they’re easy to grow and maintain, and require less irrigation; they feed and protect native fauna; they’re key to biological diversity, and vital for a healthy environment.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora)

 

Plants can be native to a wide geographical area–like the whole of North America–or specific to a small, confined eco-system–like the area in which you live.

Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis)

 

Natives belong where you live, whether you’re in Texas or some other fabulous place.

Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

 

Do we need to practice purity in our gardening aesthetics and utilize only natives in our gardens? Well, it would be nice if we planted all natives, all the time, but for many gardeners, that’s simply not possible because native plants aren’t always as commercially available as non-native plants.  And it’s true that there are many non-native, well-adapted plants which enrich our gardens and beautify our world; it’s perfectly fine to garden with both natives and non-natives.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) paired with non-native, potted Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’

But when you plant natives in your garden, you help define the place you live. What grows for me here in urban Austin, Texas doesn’t work–or may not fit–for gardeners in Chicago, Illinois,  Eugene, Oregon, or Bangor, Maine.  What grows here, doesn’t necessarily grow there; plant diversity makes the world go ’round.  All regions enjoy unique botanical flavor and that should be appreciated–and practiced–by those who’re driven to create gardens.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

 

Plant natives in your garden for ease and practicality.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

 

Plant natives to protect and nurture wildlife.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Turkscap

 

Plant natives for seasonal interest and to elicit a sense of place.

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

 

Especially in urban areas, the use of native plants helps restore wildlife habitat and regional character.

Migrating Monarch on Plateau goldeneye

 

Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman–it just makes you look better to have a little color.  Lady Bird Johnson

Plateau goldeneye

 

For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, check out these links:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native Plants of Texas

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

 

Today I’m also linking with Carol of May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Check out flowers from all over the world, honoring all things blooming–native or otherwise.

Wild blue aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Fatal Attraction

Sultry and steamy are the norm for July summer mornings in Austin, but the open blooms of Jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, deliver a dose of cooling bloom to the garden.

Large and glowing, Jimsonweed flowers open at night and close by mid-day.

These two petulantly refused to greet me as I trundled along the path for closer look and a breath of their intoxicating fragrance.

What is this?

A Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans rested on the creamy expanse, clutching what looked like a breakfast tidbit.  As I leaned in for a look, Ms Lynx skittered to the underside of the petal, prey in hand.   We briefly played photographer/spider hide-n-seek, but I succeeded in snagging a couple of photos of her–and her intended meal.

The wings of the victim are visible and I suspect the spider’s snack is some sort of small fly.

I didn’t figure out what she captured; it was probably a small bee, gnat, or fly, but she certainly wasn’t going to share with me, nor did she want to dine while I was loitering around her choice of dining establishment.

The spider proved lethal for its winged prey, but Jimsonweed (also known as Sacred Thorn Apple, Thorn Apple, Angel Trumpet, and Sacred Datura) has always been recognized for its toxic properties–all parts of this tough native are poisonous. Southwestern Native Americans utilized the narcotic qualities of Jimsonweed for religious ceremonies, but if prepared improperly (I don’t know what improperly means in this context), the dosage is fatal.

Reveling in the heat of arid summer, my one shrub blooms from July until September, typically with 5-10 flowers each week.  If Jimsonweed grows in full, blasting sun, the plant flowers more, and for a longer period of time.

I’ll need to pop out at night during the next set of blooms and perhaps I’ll observe a pollinating moth.  Until then, I’ll stick with coffee and some fruit for my breakfast and leave the spiders to their own meals.