Sometimes They Land in Trees: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2018

Happy 2018 and welcome  to the first Wildlife Wednesday celebration of this new year.  Winter arrived in Austin in the last several days with an ice-numbing grip of below freezing temperatures.

I heard that snort and saw those eyes a’rolling!  I understand that compared to much of continental North America, my goose-bump inspired whining won’t win much sympathy, but darn it, it’s cold!  Truthfully, I’m just fine-n-dandy with the hard freeze, in great hopes that every mosquito in Texas is dead, dead, dead (not likely, though).  Also, with the frigid temps, my autumnally hued and interminably foliaged trees have finally let loose their leaves.

In the last couple of days, Red oak leaves blanketed the entirety of my back garden.

Maybe now I’ll be better able to observe the variety of birds who visit my garden, as the winter avian Texans (especially the tiny ones) prefer to flit among the bare limbs, in search of whatever they search for.  With the leaves as camouflage, that’s been hard to do.

This shot was taken on Sunday, just before the temperatures plummeted and the tree dumped most (but not all!) its leaves.

That said, for most of this past month, critter watching has mostly involved the birds at the feeders, with the random pitter-patting of maddening mammals and the skulking about of bothersome marsupials.

I’m tickled at the early appearance of two examples of the stunning American GoldfinchSpinus tristis.  American Goldfinches usually show up later in winter, so it’s a treat to see them now.

This handsome fella is wearing his non-breeding colors.

Do you need something?

Pretty boy!

In addition to that obvious and gorgeous adult male, is this female or juvenile male.

The coloring–both dark and light–are muted in this bird.

Wonderful wing bars!

Sweet face!

American Goldfinches belong to the same Family and Order as the House Finch, and House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which I wrote about here, also affects American Goldfinch populations.  Fortunately, the two Americans who noshed at my feeder appeared free of the disease, the good news of which I reported on Project FeederWatch.  I still see a female House Finch with one infected eye which is completely closed due to the infection.  She feeds by searching for seeds on the ground, but she struggles to land when she flies and is vulnerable to predators with only one good eye.  All other House Finches who are in my garden–and there are quite a few– appear healthy.   The House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, is a year-round resident, becoming more active as winter settles in.  Most bird feeders are designed with multiple perching stations, and birds share the stations with varying degrees of camaraderie.  Here, the House Finch clan dominates, with a red-accented male perching at the left and the more drab females completing the feeder trio.

Hey birds, over here!

Another duo feeding a the food bar is a second male House Finch sharing a meal with a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus.

I’m not sure if the Black-crested is a male or female, but I’m confident that the House Finch is a young male.

The House Finch  poses nicely, the Black-crested snarfs seeds.

A Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis,  couple nests each year in a neighbor’s shrubbery,  but make daily forays into my garden to feed and bathe.    No photo this month of the scarlet feathered male, but the female is a head-turner in her own right!

A common Texas wintering songbird is the Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and I’m fortunate to have at least one who is regularly visiting.

Song birds love suet and it’s a good thing to feed them in winter.  I can’t provide suet for 7 or 8 months because Austin’s warm climate causes the suet to turn rancid quickly.  It’s a perfect winter/early spring food though and provides fat, which birds need.

This little Orange-crowned also enjoys the occaisional bath in the pond bog.

About to take the plunge!

I provide a commercial suet for my avian friends, but there are many recipes for homemade suet.  Check out these recipes if you’re so inclined

Facing the camera!

The pair of  Carolina WrensThryothorus ludovicianus, also visit more than just the feeders.   A favorite perch is a metal sculpture where each of the pair takes turns surveying the landscape.

Check out my profile!

The 360 degree view requires a look-see at the backside!

This favorite perching place is just below a little house built for the wrens, which they’ve inspected, but haven’t yet used for chick rearing.  Fingers-crossed that this spring, they’ll decide the neighborhood is worthy of their chicks.

Wrens forage on the ground, scavenging for insects and small seeds; they also enjoy the suet.

Eyeing something in the fallen leaves!


Finally, a bird who lands in a tree!  

Giving me the stink-eye is this immature Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii. He/she had scattered the neighborhood doves, with no meal as a reward, and was resting in a neighbor’s tree, no doubt annoyed with missing lunch.  The beauty loped off just after this shot.  Cooper’s Hawks are year-round residents here, but easier to observe once winter’s  chill render some trees bare.

There are always plenty of squirrels (stealing birdseed and digging in plant containers) who become meals for neighborhood raptors, though perhaps not as often as some might wish.  This squirrel was safe on the ground and near the house, munching away at fallen sunflower seeds and generally behaving well.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

The Virginia OpossumDidelphis virginiana, is still around too, sometimes mosying through the garden during daylight, but not sleeping in the owl house–for now.

There are no Eastern Screech Owls in the owl house either, nor have I heard the adults’ signature trill at night.  I’m concerned that no couple is interested in the owl real estate in my garden and if there are no takers, that will be disappointing.  There’s still time for some owl action and owls are remarkably elusive; I won’t begin the no-owls-in-my-garden lamentation just yet.

So begins another year of garden wildlife drama.  Let’s celebrate lots of life in the garden during 2018. Please share your wildlife stories and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee, it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.

I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage.

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November 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 we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Good wildlife gardening to you!