Spring Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2018

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung and we’re savoring the warming, blooming results.  For those in the southern part of our little Earth, the growing season is winding down.  But for all who pay attention, wildlife is around:  living, breeding, hatching, or, fledging and becoming independent, and preparing for winter.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrated on the first Wednesday of each month.  We gardeners love our blooms-n-foliage, but it’s the critters who need and rely on the blooms-n-foliage that  bring life to the garden. Viva wildlife!

At the end of February, I spotted the first of the Blue orchard beesOsmia lignaria, who’d burst out from their bee nurseries after pupating for a full year.  These deep blue, metallic bees were raring to go: ready to pollinate, mate and create new incubators for their bee babies.

Empty pupa shell. It housed the Blue Orchard bee for a full year.

Love among the blue bees!

As I write, the few adults left are adding their final touches on the eggs’ nests.  Their incubating progeny is tucked-in and safe for the coming year.

Caught in the act! One of the last adult Blue Orchards packing her nest.

There were so many bees looking for nurseries this year, that I scavenged more blocks of drilled wood and some extra cut bamboo to fill the housing needs.

No vacancy!

There are empty holes in this hotel, but we need to make more bee nurseries for the later season, different  bees.

I’ve placed an order with Bee Daddy for more holey wood and cut bamboo for next years’ bee babies.  So long Blue orchard bees–and thanks for your work in my garden.

 

Winter avian residents are eating, drinking, bathing, and squabbling in the garden.  That said, spring migration is imminent and I’ll soon say a bittersweet farewell to the feathered winter Texans that who share my garden.  The Ruby-crowned kingletRegulus calendula, was a shyer fella than either of last years’ pair, but I managed glimpses of his cuteness.

I saw more American goldfinchesSpinus tristis, than I usually do in winter, though only captured a few shots of these yellow, black, and white beauties.

A handsome male in his not-quite-breeding plumage.

I usually see greater numbers of Lesser goldfinchesSpinus psaltria, throughout the year, but this winter, they’ve been scarce.  Still, there were a few.

It’s a date!

Interestingly, my sister-in-law, who lives in west Austin (we’re in central Austin), experienced just the opposite:  plenty of Lessers, few Americans.  Wildlife have their preferred hangouts–much like people–critters appear in greater or fewer numbers, depending upon what’s available in food sources and cover–and whatever unknown quality they’re looking for at a particular time.

 

A favorite bird showed up this past month!  Cedar waxwingBombycilla cedrorum,  flock together on the wing and in the trees.  These gregarious birds typically perch too high (and invariably, it’s too windy) to capture good shots, but I lucked out a few times.

You can see the red “wax” on the tip of the wing of the upper bird. It’s not clear what this bit of bright red is for, but may be related to attracting a mate.

Rakish mask, bright yellow flare at the tip of the tale, and a splash of red–who wouldn’t find these birds attractive?

It’s rare to find them alone; they enjoy one another’s company and sometimes, the company of others.

Cedar waxwing chatting up a female House Finch.  I love the look on the finch’s face.  Whahh???

I’m still hearing them as the flock from tree top to tree top.  They’ll be around for a while, but they breed far north of here and they’ll migrate soon enough.

She’s gorgeous–and knows it!

 

This is the third year that at least one Lincoln’s  Sparrow,  Melospiza lincolnii,  has visited in late winter/early spring.

The coloring is subtle, but lovely.

A view from behind; it’s a beautiful pattern in those feathers.

An elegant looking little bird, Lincoln’s Sparrows hop jauntily through the garden in search of seeds and flutter and flap in the bog of the pond.  There have been at least three of them at various times, though I certainly can’t tell one from another.

Named for a traveling companion of John James Audubon (yes, THAT Audubon), Mr. Thomas Lincoln, these charmers are in my garden briefly before they migrate.   I sure enjoy watching them hippity-hop for seeds and preen-n-shake after baths.

 

Another winter Texan whose appearance I anticipate is that of the Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata.  Butter-butts (as Yellow-rumps are affectionately known) have been no-shows in my garden until recently; only in the last couple of weeks did one (actually, three) appear.  I’m happy to welcome them–better late than never!

Not a great photo, but you can see his yellow rump and isn’t that what it’s all about??

Look how cute I am!!

 

I’ve put the commercial suet away, as it’s too warm now, but the one Orange-crowned warbler, Oreothlypis celata, who enjoys the suet, still shows up to bathe.

The streaking on the breast is pretty. I wish I could capture the orange crown. Maybe next year…

He’ll be leaving soon too. Sniff.

As for the year-rounders, they’re always welcome.   A rare set of photos of the female Red-bellied woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, shows her beauty.

The male’s head is completely red;  it has no gap in the color,  like this female.

Red-bellies are shy birds;  I see the male daily; the female is a rarer visitor, but both love  suet.  Since removing the suet, they partake of the black-oiled sunflower seeds.  I don’ t know where they nest, but hope to see their offspring later in the year.

 

Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata, are always photogenic–and chatty.

Are you talking about me?

‘Nuff said!

This winter was different from the last few winters: fewer Starlings (yay!), but also, fewer Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers (boo!).   There were more American goldfinches and fewer of the Lessers.  Hawks wouldn’t stay out of the garden, but the Eastern Screech owls, who’ve been nightly companions for years, have vacated the neighborhood.  Things are changing and as migration season kicks in, I hope to observe unusual birds as the come to rest, feed, and bathe on the path to their breeding grounds.

 

Finally, a non-bird.

Yup, these cuties are back and rumbling around!  The unofficial mascot of Wildlife Wednesday–Green AnoleAnolis carolinensis, hasn’t lost his wariness of this gardener.  He has nothing to fear from me, I adore these charmers.

As an aside, I was asked by the nice folks at Gardening Know How to write as a guest blogger and wrote about our beekeeping adventures.  You can find a link to the articl here.    Thank to Gardening Know How for the opportunity to spread the word about bees–some of my favorite critters!

Whether you’re gearing up for growing, or settling down for resting, what critters kept you company this past month?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening–and viva wildlife!

 

Dog Days: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2016

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday for August–and a toasty one it is.  July definitely felt like the dog days of summer had arrived: it was hot and dry, with the relentless, searing Texas sun beating down mercilessly.  Weirdly, that didn’t keep me out of the garden–I’ve been tweaking and transplanting in the garden all summer. Truthfully, it’s not as hot as recent summers, though it’s been humid owing to the generous spring–and some late July– rain.

Because of the pond and bird bath water available, wildlife in my garden has been active and varied, though only (it seems) when I don’t have my camera at the ready. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed observing Dad Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, feeding his fledged chicks, but never nabbed a shot of the charming familial activities.  The Little Boy Cardinal, all scraggly and awkward, is cute:

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But I don’t have any photos of Little Girl Cardinal, though often see both siblings pecking seeds alongside one another on the ground.

I see the odd Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis, snitching seeds from the feeder, but more often, I hear one announcing his territory.  It’s always fun to observe and hear them–big songs out of tiny birds.

The Chickadees’ pals, Black-crested TitmiceBaeolophus atricristatus, dash in for their share of seeds, taking turns with the Chickadees as they feed while dodging the gluttonous White-winged doves.

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The bird baths and pond have hosted a steady stream of visitors sipping and cooling off, like this joyful bathing Blue Jay, Cyanotta cristata       .

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Announcing her intention of bathing, she’s making it clear that there will be no sharing of the bath.

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Pretty at this angle…

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Pretty at this angle.

I don’t think there’s a bird species anywhere that relishes a splash-in-the-bath more than these beautiful guys-n-gals.

Earlier in the month, I fretted about the lack of Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, nibbling at the sunflower seeds.  I’m fairly sure I rankle a neighbor (or two…) when I don’t immediately prune done-with-flowering plants according to human sensibilities of beauty. But I’m glad I don’t prune because this past week, a little crew of Lessers arrived to partake of the sunflower seed buffet!

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Chatty and determined to eat their fill, I love watching them bop around the plants as they munch away. Lesser Goldfinches, as well as other bird species, enjoy seeds from a variety of perennials in my gardens.   In the fall, I’ll see another round of these cuties dining on the Plains Goldeneye seeds–it’s something to look forward to.  Enjoy your beautiful blooms, but once the blooming is done, leave the spent blooms to develop nutritious seeds for birds: they’ll visit your garden and you’ll enjoy the show.  After all, that’s what seeds are for–to feed wildlife.  Plants may look messy for a short time, but the pleasure of watching a variety of birds feed is well worth the short-lived untidiness of the plants, plus you’ll be adding to the health of your endemic wild critters.

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Honeybees have had plenty to nectar on and pollen-gather from this summer.

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Native bees are busy at their work.  This tiny bee (Perdita ignota?) and her friends have been all over the also tiny florets of an oregano,

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…while these two mating Horsefly-like carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis,

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Ole Blue Eyes is very determined.

…bring a new meaning to the term multi-tasking, as they flew “entangled” while nectaring on Mexican Honeysuckle blooms.

No bee here, but instead, evidence of a busy mama leafcutter bee sawing off bits of leaves to pack into her nest for her little bee-ones.

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I wish I could have watched her work.

Moths and butterflies are occupied, too.  Pretty-in-pink is this Southern Pink Moth, Pyrausta inornatalis, resting on a Henry Duelberg Sage.

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I was lucky late one afternoon to spy a Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia.

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Buckeyes are common–except in my garden, though I grow several species of Ruellia plants which is one of this species host plants. I guess I need to keep a keen eye out for eggs and/or caterpillars on the Ruellia.  Stunning in color and patterns, the males will perch on plants scanning for females–maybe this one was looking for a mate?

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At any rate, he posed nicely and I hope he met a nice girl.

It isn’t July–or summer, for that matter–without the dragonflies.  This jewel-like Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, demonstrated patience with my photo taking .

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I saw him land, went inside the house to get my camera and promptly was distracted by something shiny. Later (at least 10 minutes later), I remembered why  I came into the house (please tell me that happens to you!).  I grabbed the camera, headed back out and Mr. Gorgeous was graciously waiting for me.  I guess he REALLY wanted to appear in this month’s Wildlife Wednesday.  

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There are plenty of other dragons and damsels in the garden, mostly because there are several ponds in the neighborhood. They’re excellent predators for mosquitoes and who can complain about that?  Go get’em, dragons-n-damsels!

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Speaking of predators, the assassins are active, as well as being some of the coolest looking bugs around.  The Wheel BugArius cristatus, is looks like he just exited  from a space ship.

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Both males and females have the toothy-wheel protuberance on their thorax, though the exact purpose of this crest is not known.  Probably it’s to freak out everyone.

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Actually, these beneficial insects are quite shy and don’t seek conflict.  Of course, that’s true of most insects–and other wildlife.  Wheel Bugs and their kin feed on aphids, caterpillars and other assorted insects and thwart predators with their stinky essence.

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A related assassin bug is this Zelus luridus.

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I observed him (her?) lurking about on the developing seed heads of a fennel plant.

Another was perched on top of the plant,

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…but later in the day, during mid-afternoon when it was very hot, this smart one decided to use the seed umbel as an umbrella and crawled underneath for some shade.

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In vertical stance along the stem, the bug is shaded.

I’m fairly sure that I spied this one was holding an iddy-biddy umbrella drink in its claws.

A good idea, if you ask me.

A day or two before, I’d seen another assassin (or maybe the same?) with a hapless and stunned little native bee in its grips.  As I leaned in for a closer look, the predator winged to the ground, with prey “in hand.”  Assassins prey on all soft-bodied insects, including some of the good ones.

Late July saw the dog days disrupted briefly with a gift of gorgeous, soaking rain.  Woo-hoo!!  The reprieve from summer’s heat didn’t last for long though and August is always tough here in Texas.  Alas, autumn is just around the corner.

Until next month…

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

Happy wildlife gardening!