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!

Wildlife Wednesday, September 2014

Welcome to the September 2014 edition and third time ’round for Wildlife Wednesday. This little blogging meme, hosted by yours truly, enjoys participants who appreciate the presence of those who “make” their gardens:  the feathery, flighty, creepy, and crawly among us.

In any garden worth its compost, the aesthetic appeal to humans is trumped by what that garden provides for wildlife.  If a garden isn’t sustaining a variety of wildlife, it’s not much of a garden. There are choices available for most  homeowners to assist the declining-in-alarming-numbers wildlife. In most situations, it’s as easy to choose a native or non-invasive berrying shrub that provides essential nutrients for migrating birds in the autumn or spring as it is to choose a shrub that doesn’t berry.  Native blooming perennials or annuals are attractive, hardy substitutes in place of flowering, but sterile, bedding plants which don’t provide sustenance for pollinators.   As habitat is damaged and destroyed due to human encroachment, I believe we have a moral obligation to provide respite in our gardens for bees, butterflies, birds, amphibians, reptiles and all other assorted creatures we share our natural space with.  As responsible land stewards, we surely don’t want to leave to our children and grandchildren a silent spring.  We should play a part in healing our world, one appropriate plant-choice at a time. Knowledgeable, passionate gardeners can encourage neighbors and friends, as well as nurseries and growers, to practice sustainable choices:  to plant, sell, and produce environmentally and regionally appropriate landscape plants which benefit wildlife.

Lecture over.

During this past hot, August, my garden has seen plenty of critter action.  For all of July and through August, the Lesser Goldfinch, Carduelis psaltria, have gorged on the the seeds of the non-native sunflowers that grow to ridiculous heights.

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This group of one male and a couple of females,

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…tolerated my presence.  They were too busy chattering and munching to be annoyed with my photo taking.

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These pretty little birds visit my gardens on and off through the seasons and have for years, but I always thought they were American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis.  They were yellow and black and teensy, so they must be American finches, right?   Not so!   I’ve learned something new this month–not American, but Lesser. How about that!

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I guess it’s here that I launch into my Steven Colbert voice and say:  Well, if they’re not American, they can only be Lesser.

Yuk.

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Other birds visited the sunflowers as well this past month, like the House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus , but the Lessers were the undisputed benefactors of the sunflower seed buffet.  I’ve since pruned most of those lanky sunflowers because the seeds are gone–all gobbled up, digested and distributed throughout the neighborhood.  (Thank you, finches!)  I still catch sight of the tiny Lessers feeding on my Zexmenia, Wedelia hispida, and in the next couple of months they’ll be all over the Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, as it hits its bloom time, with seed production to follow. It’s easy to attract finches–simply plant flowers from the Asteraceae (aster) family (which include any type of sunflower), Echinacea, or any “disk” flowers, in your gardens. Finches local to your region will show up at seed-time, twittering, chittering and devouring the seeds of those blooms.

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I wrote about viewing a cicada who exited his last molt early one morning.  I just loved the sight of this bejeweled creature, clinging to his old, wrinkly skin, but striking in his new, colorful wardrobe.

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I decided that this guy (gal?) was a Tibicen resh, though my identification could be off.  I assume he’s dead by now (they don’t live long in their adult, mating stage), but I’m sure he lived life to its fullest and there will be more cicadae to follow.

For the first time in a couple of years, there are lots of dragonflies and damselflies in my gardens.  Belonging to the Odonata order of insects, I’m learning that they are tricky to identify and that there are quite a variety in the Austin area.  My pond is the primary garden feature that attracts these beautiful and otherworldly looking creatures, but they cruise all over my property, dipping, diving, landing and lending their unique energy to the gardens.

I observed this bug-eyed beauty for a time one hot, sunny afternoon.

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A Blue-ringed DancerArgia sedula, I thought maybe he wanted to chat me up, as he darted from Pavonia seed pod,

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…to the edge of my cement bird bath, showing off his gorgeous coloration for me and his nimble flying skills with each little trip.

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Shortly afterwards, I spied another damselfly.  I think this is a Blue-striped Spreadwing, Lestes tenuatus.

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One of the excellent sites I use to identify the common-to-Austin garden insects is a local one, Valerie’s Austin Bug Collection. In the explanation about the Blue-striped Spreadwing, the information suggested that the females have slightly brown wings and that’s the feature used for identification.

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It was almost sundown when I saw her darting around the foliage of an ‘Adagio’ Miscanthus, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’.  When I downloaded the photos to my computer that I realized she was in the middle of dinner,

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…can you see it?  She’s chowing down on another damselfly!  At least, that’s what her meal of choice  looks like to me, but I’m not about to attempt a naming of that tiny morsel–it takes me long enough to identify the larger, more distinct  insects.  I  hope that Ms. Spreadwing enjoyed her repast.  Apparently, damselflies are carnivorous, subscribing to the philosophy of,  if you’re smaller than I am, you’re fair game for hunting.

Posing prettily is another of the Odonata, a male Blue-eyed DarnerAeshna multicolor.

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I think these are the most stunning of the dragons and damsels who regularly visit my gardens.

Lastly, it’s always good to throw a little sex into a story, just to spice things up a bit.

These two mating damsels, Dusky DancersArgia translata, weren’t coy about their pond procreation.

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Damselfly mating requires acrobatic ability meant only for the young–and insectivore. The male transfers his sperm to the tip of his abdomen (the long, skinny thing) where it is stored until needed.

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When canoodling commences, he clasps onto his partner, BEHIND HER EYES (yes, you read that right!).  His lady then curls her abdomen forward to receive the sperm, thus making a “wheel position” for mating.

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Wow!  They can fly like this!  They can land like this!  They can hang out on lily pads like this!

I’ll leave the rest  to your imagination.

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I don’t know if these two love-damsels were inexperienced or young, but they never quite got the “wheel” part of the equation–at least not while I was watching.

Maybe that was part of the problem.

Late summer was great for wildlife viewing and I look forward to the autumn months.  I enjoy lots of wildness in my gardens and I’m sure you do too. Please join in posting about the wild visitors to your gardens for September Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, leave a link to your post for Wildlife Wednesday so we can all enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!