Moss Rocks: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2019


We recently realized that our pond was leaking–not too much, just enough.  The pond leak isn’t a first, it’s happened before.  The most likely place for a pond to spring a leak is at, near, or around the waterfall, so unplugging the pump and dismantling the rocks which make up the waterfall are steps one and two for diagnosing a disappearing water act.

A slight slippage of pond liner, coupled with inappropriate rock placement, allowed for some (well, more than some) water diversion into the bordering soil and away from the pond.  We repaired the liner, re-stacked the rocks, and the pond is back in action and holding a constant level of water.  The fish are happy and swimming, the pond flowers are lovely and blooming, and the pond is no longer wasting water.

After we turned off the pump and removed the rock around the waterfall to watch for  water level change, I observed this Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, hopping around the disassembled rocks, pulling up bits of moss from those that had been in water.

That the jay was interested in the moss is a curiosity.  Blue Jays are omnivores and eat a variety of things:  seeds, nuts, grains, insects are all on their favorite foods list, but they sometimes steal nestling birds and dine on small animals (mammals and invertebrates).  As well, they’re known to occasionally scavenge dead birds and animals.  I don’t know that Blue Jays like salads, but this jay wasn’t eating the moss, nor can I find information that Blue Jays partake of this particular green in their diets.

Blue Jays do use grass for nesting, though;  might they also use moss?  Males are typically the gatherers of nesting material, while females are the builders of the nests.  Could the jay be in the process of gathering nesting material?  Yes, that’s certainly a possibility, though it seems a bit late in the season for family planning and house building.  Blue Jays only produce one brood per year and when I’ve observed Blue Jays and their nests, the babies fledge in May, or early June at the latest.  That said, Jays will abandon nests if a predator attacks or if some other calamity befalls the eggs or nestlings.  This spring has seen some spectacular thunderstorms with high winds and driving rains, perfect for dislodging nests–and nestlings–from trees.  Additionally, owls and hawks live and hunt in our neighborhood, so it’s reasonable to think that this bird’s first brood didn’t fledge successfully and he and his partner are in the family way again.

Mr. Jay was choosy about his moss.   He plucked moss from a rock, then dropped some of it. He bounded around to other moss rocks, snagging more in his beak, dropping that, then gathering other bits.  He acted as if he was looking for just the right sort of moss.

After a time and done with the moss-work, he flew away.

My best guess is that he was helping his mate build a nest–maybe their first, probably their second. There are no occupied Blue Jay homes in my trees, so I’ll never know for certain if the plucked moss is destined to feather a nest.  Maybe in a month or two I’ll see a fledgling Blue Jay, nearly as big as her parents, ruffling her feathers, squawking impatiently, and begging for food.

How is your wildlife?  Are they foraging in your foliage or feasting at your feeders?  Are the wild things in your garden chasing competitors, wooing mates, or raising families?  Please share your wildlife garden stories and remember to leave a link when you comment here–happy wildlife gardening!

Red, White, Blue and Other Stuff Too: Wildlife Wednesday, July

As it’s both Wildlife Wednesday and Independence Day, let’s cheer America’s 242 birthday and wish a hearty huzzah for wildlife in the garden.

Wildlife is active in my garden this summer, but I’ve been slow at catching that activity. Feathered and furred alike, it seems they scatter when they see me with the camera!  That woman is out with her weird, third eye!!  Plus, it’s been unusually windy here, so photos of teeny-tiny bees-n-such have been difficult to come by. Nevertheless, wildlife persists, augmenting the beauty of the early summer garden.

This brilliant male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, brightens the landscape with Red plumage whenever he visits my garden.

He and his lovely lady,

…never nest in my garden, but are regular visitors to the trees, feeders, and water features.   They raised two chicks this spring and early summer; both babies have fledged and are learning to garden-hop.  I haven’t managed good shots of the girl, but the boy is working on his red attire.

He’s a bit mottled in this shot, taken in mid-June.   I’ve noticed recently that his red feathers are becoming more dominant, lessening his awkward teen appearance.  Thank goodness!  Soon, he and his sister will move on to a different part of the neighborhood, both in search for mates for next year.

As for White, well, it’s less in the guise of wildlife and more in flower form, like this sweet Four O’clock bloomMirabilis jalapa.  The flowers open at sundown and close early in the morning.

I guess for wildlife White, I could include some white-wing, as in this White-winged DoveZenaida asiatica.

Like many birds who visit the pond, this one perches on a rock which is adjacent to the tumbling rush of cool water.

Blue has greater representation in my garden with a bevy of Blue jays,  Cyanocitta cristata, who call it home.

I dole out peanuts every morning and the Blue jays love them!    Each morning,  7 or 8 jays take turns plucking peanuts from a ceramic bowl affixed to the fence.  Additionally, a Blue jay pair nested in my Mountain Laurel tree in May and June, so I’ve enjoyed watching the parenting care in raising the brood and the antics of the fledglings.  The newbies have finally learned how to take their own peanuts for breakfast, rather than fluttering their wings in hopes that mom or dad will share peanuts.

This Blue made a brief visit one afternoon.

Austin hosts numerous communities of Monk parakeets, Myiopsitta monachus.  I see them flying over my neighborhood and hear their loud cawing, but only rarely do they land in my garden.  I assume this Blue parakeet is part of a Monk group, though he/she could also be an escaped or lost pet.  The bird was eyeing my pond, but was in the tree for just a few minutes.

Other Things in the garden include an uptick of damselflies and dragonflies–they thrive in summer and are constant pond companions as they flit through the garden while hunting for their meals and resting on foliage.  This Neon Skimmer,  Libellula croceipennis, posed beautifully one weekend afternoon as I lolled in the swing.

This male is a bright orange, his mate of a paler hue.  I’ve observed her laying eggs in the pond several times this summer–more skimmers in our future, unless the fish eat all the larvae.

I see Red-bellied WoodpeckersMelanerpes carolinus, during winter and early spring, but this summer, both a male and female have been regular guests at the feeder.

This guy snatched black-oil sunflower seeds from the feeder, afterwards zooming to the nearby oak tree to stuff the seeds in a hole.  I didn’t see a juvenile at any point, but wondered if this was parenting behavior teaching a young one.

Finally, this unknown moth surprised me late one evening.

Like most folks, I’m bedazzled by the beauty of butterflies; their bright colors and lovely patterns seduce the wildlife watcher during daylight hours.  But moths are certainly gorgeous, though subtle in color.  Their patterns are remarkably intricate, but we don’t see these nighttime lovelies enough to appreciate their good looks or their contribution to flowers and gardens.

Wildlife in the garden–it’s been a good month and I hope you’ve enjoyed your critters, no matter what their colors, stars, or stripes.   Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening!

Happy Birthday, America–it’s been a good run for our democratic institutions–may they remain.

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!