True to Form: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2019

As summer muddles along here in Central Texas with fairly typical heat and humidity, this gardener slows down. Even so, I can’t resist the daily pull of the garden, even in mid-afternoon heat: too much action, life, and beauty greet my visits and I don’t want to miss it any of it.  Local wildlife isn’t bothered one bit by the long, sunny days–if water is available.  True to form, my mid-to-late summer garden provides good wildlife watching.

During spring and autumn bird migration, I’ll slice fruit and affix the pieces to a fence for the weary, hungry and thirsty birds.   While spring migratory season is over and fall migration has yet to begin, some extra oranges found their way to my kitchen and I wanted to share them with, ahem, the birds.

This rascal isn’t a bird, but I’ll bet you knew that already.

This Fan of the Orange is an Eastern Fox SquirrelSciurus niger.  Many types of birds and mammals enjoy fruit, and if you grow–or attempt to grow–fruit trees, this won’t be news to you.  While my orange offers were targeted for birds, I don’t mind (too much) that the squirrel devoured the juicy fruit.

Green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are active for most of the year, except for the deep of winter.  In summer, it’s rare that I’m in my garden that I don’t see at least one of these garden cuties.  I like the way this one drapes its claw over the leaf edge of the Twist-leaf yucca, Yucca rupicola. The lizard looks like it’s in total command of the situation.  I  expect the anole to don a pair of shades or a hip hat, and sip from an adult-lizard beverage of choice.

 

Nature’s life and death dramas play all the time in my garden.  Oregano blooms, favored by a variety of pollinators, make good perches for garden predators and Milkweed Assasin bugsZelus longipes, commonly hang out on the oregano and hunt.   This assasin had the poor honeybee firmly vised.

A closer look at the assassination.

Excepting a surfeit of predators (which I’ve never seen), I let pollinators and predators go about their business–no matter the outcome.   In nature, it’s all about balance.

This has been the Summer of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia.  Several generations hatched, morphed in caterpillar stages, and then flitted through the garden as adults.  I grow plenty of sunflower types and those plants have nurtured a boon of butterflies, which have been pops of moving color in both larval and adult stages.

To encourage butterflies in your garden, tolerance for munched leaves is a must.

Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on host plants.  Then larvae hatch and eat the foliage of those plants.  The foliage isn’t pristine during the caterpillar progressive meals, but once the eating frenzy is finished and the cats are sequestered in their cocoons, the foliage recovers. A common fallacy is that there is something wrong with foliage that has been eaten, and that the offending insects must be destroyed.  But insects and plants evolved together and share synchronistic relationships:  plants are required for healthy insect populations and insects utilizing their host plants for food eat only what they need for their next stage of development and generally won’t eat foliage to the detriment of plants–nature just doesn’t work that way.  Plants usually rebound to provide for the next generation of pollinators.   As for problematic, invasive insects (for example, aphids and red spider mites), a few blasts of water will usually take care of them.

 

Big, beautiful Southern Carpenter beesXylocopa micans, usually show up in mid-summer and this year a couple arrived on cue.  I like this bum-shot of the bodacious bee.

No, it doesn’t have a red tail issuing from its backside, but instead, the bee is perched over the flower, its proboscis (unseen) thrust into the base of the plant, slurping nectar.  This activity is known as nectar stealing or robbing and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to aid pollination.  The thief either eats a hole into the tissue of the flower, or exploits a hole already in existence, then–proboscis engaged–sips away, bypassing the more typical pollination process.

When pollinators land on flowers and drink from the center of the flower where the reproductive parts are located, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship:  the pollinator gets nectar, the plant is pollinated and reproduction happens.  So is nectar robbing actually theft and is pollination averted?  Maybe not, as the insect (or other pollinator), land on the bloom in such a way that its various body parts make contact with the reproductive parts of the flower.  After nectar robbing from one flower while lying all over that flower, the bee then flies to other flowers.  With pollen grains attached to the bee’s abdomen, legs, and parts unknown, grains are deposited on the following flowers and pollination is achieved.

These gorgeous bees are so large that when one buzzes by me, I feel a slight whoosh in the air!  I’ve seen them at different plants, but in my garden they prefer Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Addendum:  I thought this bee was probably a Southern Carpenter, but for good measure, before I published, I sent an identification request to BugGuide.net.  The first response I received was, I believe, incorrect as it suggested the bee was a species from California.  That would be hard as the bee and I reside in Texas.  However, I’ve since received a second identification (Friday August 9) suggesting that this bee is a Large Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa mexicanorum. 

 So…welcome to the wonderful world of insect identification!

So what’s in your garden as summer plods along?  Please post about your garden critters and leave a link  to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!

Awakenings: Wildlife Wednesday, March

Wild things are throwing off the covers of winter and so are their garden partners!  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrating all things wild in our gardens. Here in Austin, Texas, it’s not meteorolgically  spring, but it’s also definitely no longer winter.  Sure, it’s likely there will more cold days, but spring is busting out everywhere and wildlife are gearing up with life-affirming activity.

Birds–residents and winter visitors–have taken front stage in wildlife action for the last couple of months and they still are the leading characters of the garden.  There are other garden-dwellers who are angling to slough-off their winter wears and gear-up for a new life and the promise of a mate (or mates!) and family.

Bees are back!  The honeybees have been around all winter, though on the coldest days, they remained well-tucked in their cozy hives to keep warm.  But the season is nigh for the emergence of the native bees and first in line are the Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria.   The highlighted link takes you to my March 2017 Wildlife Wednesday post, where I wrote about these stunning bees as they emerged at exactly the same time last year.

Two adult bees emerging after a year of development in the holes of an insect hotel.

The Blue Orchid adult bees live for about a month and during that time, they mate, and then gather pollen, leaf material, and mud for their offsprings’ incubation chambers.

I found this Blue Orchard bee chewing away at the leaf of my Old Gay Hill rose. It’s the leaf material that they gather which gives the packed holes a green tint.

Females lay their eggs in the holes of wood,

This female is regurgitating her gathered material, so she’s head-first in the baby-bee incubation chamber. Check out the packed green tinged hole; is that green from my rose-leaf??

…or masonry,

…and then pack the holes to protect the developing bees for the next year.

A just-emerged adult Blue Orchard bee. You can see the holes that the adults emerge from in the packed nesting material created last February/March.

It takes a full year for these blue beauties to “cook till done” but it’s time well-spent.  Currently, every time I walk by either of my two insect hotels, there is a flurry of shiny blue activity as the buzzers have mated and are bringing in material to secure their babies’ future.

With as long a screw that I could find in our garage, I cleaned out those drilled holes where it was obvious that a bee had emerged, so that it’s available for the next generation. I couldn’t quite reach the end of the drilled holes in some nesting spaces, but cleared many spots.  I also added a few more cut bamboo pieces and drilled wood blocks to the boxes.

I like blue bees in the garden and will happily welcome more next year!

 

Squirrels are ever-active and always cute.  And annoying.

Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)

 

Winter and spring are the best times to see woodpeckers in my garden and this year, they haven’t disappointed.  I hear and see Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Melanerpes carolinus,  nearly daily.  A male and female are regular visitors (mates?), enjoying the commercial suet I provide in the cool seasons.

A handsome male.

This male sat for quite a time in my Red oak tree, enjoying the rest.  Maybe his tummy was full.

At another time, he (or a buddy) worked the bark of a neighbor’s tree.  Check out the holes to his left!

I don’t see the female as often, but snatched a quick shot of her one day as she nibbled at the suet.

Suet is a bit gross (all that fat!), but birds need fat during winter and so I oblige. Personally, I’d choose cheesecake.  Or ice cream.  Ahem.

I only provide suet in winter and spring; once it’s hot, the suet spoils quickly.  During the warm months, I’ve tried a recipe of non-animal fat suet (peanut butter with seeds and cornmeal), but there were no takers.

 

A few mornings each week, I take a handful of peanuts out for the Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata.  They love their peanut treats!

Sometimes they line up along the fence line like planes on a runway, awaiting departure.  Each bird waits its turn for a peanut-grab and take-off.

 

A pretty-boy House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus.

Perched at a bird bath.

The males are in full-mating color form, accompanied by lots of singing!

 

White-winged Doves are common here in Austin, but in my garden I rarely see Inca Doves or specimens of like this pretty Mourning DoveZenaida macroura.

The bird’s blue eyeliner echos the blue of the bowl it waddled past.

Its been hanging around for a week or so, nibbling seeds and resting in the sun, and walking that weird walk that doves are known for.

 

Another common bird, replete in his stunning spring plumage, is the Great-tailed GrackleQuiscalus mexicanus.

This photo doesn’t catch the luminous colors that his feathers display when the sun shines.  Instead, on this cloudy morning, the feathers showcase the velvety black that complements his striking eyes.

 

Not my favorite bird and an invasive pest,  I rather admire the plumage and coloring of the European StarlingSturnus vulgaris.

Starlings show up in late February and are bullies at the suet feeder.  I  usually stash away the suet when I see them congregating and chasing off the local songbirds, because a group of Starlings can finish a suet block in an hour, if allowed the opportunity.  I have noticed that they only appear in the mornings, so I hang out the suet in the afternoons once they’re gone.  This year, there haven’t been as many Starlings, for which I’m grateful.  They are joyous bathers and make great use of my birdbaths and the bog area of the pond.

The seasons are changing:  winter to spring and summer to autumn.

Who’s visiting your garden in this time of change?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening!