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 Goldfinch, Spinus 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?
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!
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 Finch, Haemorhous 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 Titmouse, Baeolophus 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 Cardinal, Cardinalis 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 Warbler, Oreothlypis 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 Wrens, Thryothorus 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 Hawk, Accipiter 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.
The Virginia Opossum, Didelphis 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!