Some Like it Hot: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2018

With apologies to Billy Wilder and his silly romcom, Some Like It Hot,  I can’t think of a more appropriate title for this edition of Wildlife Wednesday.  Here in Austin, Texas we’ve sweltered through 15 consecutive days of over 100°F (37.7°C) temperatures, with 20 some-odd days over 100º in total for the summer.  On one of those days, the temperature reached 110ºF (43ºC).  Sadly, that’s not a record breaker, (it’s 112F in 2011) but it was oven-like nonetheless.  And, August is just beginning.

UGH!

These days in Austin, it’s not unusual to experience many days reaching over 100ºF and while that’s concerning, so far this summer the wild critters in my garden are weathering the blistering heat just fine–they thrive with available water sources, cover in the guise of trees and shrubs, foods in the form of seeds on perennials (and some in a bird feeder), and places to nest.

I lost my main passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) during some hard freezes this past winter, so I haven’t enjoyed viewing as many Gulf Fritillary butterfliesAgraulis vanillae,  as I usually see. Passion vines are the host plant for these orange beauties. Recently though, one or two Fritillaries have appeared and are laying eggs on a few sprigs of a second, and different, passion vine which volunteers in an open area of my back garden.  This Purple passion-flower, Passiflora incarnata, doesn’t bloom in my garden, but boasts enough foliage for the caterpillars to partake of on their way to adulthood.

This Gulf Fritillary rested on a plant near to where the passion vine grows. Had it just emerged from its chrysalis?

 

I’m fairly sure this plain little thing is a Dun skipperEuphyes vestris, but I’m not positive.

It worked the blooms of a salvia and stopped just long enough for me to snap a shot.

I don’t see American Snout butterflies, Libytheana carinenta, very often, so it was a treat to see this one on the foliage of one of my Softleaf yuccas.

I kept my distance and never successfully captured the butterfly with wings spread because it flitted away warily from the weird woman stalking it through the garden.  Snouts’ host plant is the Common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, which is a tree that many modern Texans hate. Hackberry trees seed out everywhere and often in less-than-desirable spots, but they’re an important wildlife food source.  Along with the Snout, Hackberry trees also feed the Question Mark and Mourning Cloak butterflies, as well as providing fruit and shelter for birds.  Native Americans didn’t hate the Hackberry and used it for medicine and food.

This Funereal duskywingErynnis baptisiae, looks like it might have had a close-call  with a predator.

The bits of missing wing didn’t slow down its nectaring and pollinating mission.   It favored the sunflowers which are still in bloom.

I’ve had a difficult time identifying this petite pollinator, but I think it’s a Eufala skipper, Lerodea euflala.

Eufala skippers are considered “grass” skippers, as their host plants are grasses like Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, and sugarcane.  Both Johnson and Bermuda are common in Central Texas, but I don’t grow either in my garden.

Here’s yet another I dunno what this is, but firmly in the native bee category.  I thought she was one of my ubiquitous Horsefly-like carpenter bees, but she’s not quite that big.  She buzzed around the very pink Rock rose flowers, snuggling in to the reproductive parts of the flowers and covering herself with pollen,

…and showing me her backside.

I think she’s in the Melittidae family which collect pollen on the hairs of their bodies and nest in the ground.  She was fast flyer and a busy, busy bee.

This diminutive, metallic-green sweat bee sported loaded pollen baskets, full-to-bursting with creamy white pollen.  As I watched her, I think she was resting and not collecting pollen, on the end of the Mexican Orchid bloom stamen.

I’ve been privileged to observe a couple of big, beautiful Southern Carpenter bees, Sylocopa micans,  in the last couple of weeks.

Stunning black with a blue sheen on their wings and bodies, these bees have moved with intention through the Turk’s cap shrub, from red bloom to red bloom.  At least in my garden, the Turk’s is the clear favorite of these bees.  This bee species utilizes buzz pollination–a particularly efficient form of pollination–and as I observed the two visiting, I could see and hear that buzzing on the flower.

Hummingbirds are not bees (duh!), but they sure are buzzy as they zoom through the garden, and this summer, they’ve been in abundance.  This female, probably Black-chinned hummingbird, also worked Turk’s cap blooms.

Have I mentioned that Turk’s cap is a fabulous wildlife plant?

I don’t typically hang a sugar water feeder out for the hummers.  I have nothing against hummer feeders and they’re great for attracting and supplementing the tiny birds’ diet, but I’ve found that hummers prefer what I’ve planted in my gardens and don’t visit the feeders when I’ve placed them.  That said, the sugar water is important for hummingbirds, especially as they ramp up for their fall migration southward.

Volunteer sunflowers are still blooming, but the spent blooms are also setting seed.  A variety of birds feed on these seeds including ones like this female House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus,

…and this handsome male Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria.

I’ll leave the stalks up until all the blooms are done and the seeds eaten.  Then I’ll cut back the stalks to about 2-3 feet tall and leave some on the ground, so that insects (native bees, primarily) can utilize the hollow stems for nesting through fall, winter, and next year’s growing season.

A pair of Carolina wrensThryothorus ludovicianus, nested nearby and are teaching their 2(?) chicks how to manuever through the neighborhood.

I’m confident this cutey is junior, baring his belly in birdly pride as mom and dad wren perched close by, chchchhching at me, while I snapped this shot.

This Green anole lizardAnolis carolinensis, can’t decide whether to dress for the heat in green or brown.

I didn’t hang around long enough to observe, but I’ll bet it chose the green outfit to fit in with the surroundings.

No matter if your garden is deep in the dog days of summer or chilling in the depths of winter, what wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening!

Native Texans

In this post you won’t find any cowboy boots or hats, nor plates of barbecue and bowls of salsa, and certainly no funny, twangy accents, but you will see plenty of beauty and Texan toughness.  What is this you’ve stumbled across?  It’s an homage to Texas native plants and to the celebration thereof:  Texas Native Plant Week marked annually during the week of October 16-22.

Nectaring Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).  Twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) serves as a backdrop

Established to educate and encourage Texans to recognize and utilize our lovely, valuable native plants in personal and public gardens, many communities in Texas sponsor events promoting the use of native plants during this week of native plant love.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

 

Native plants are valuable for many reasons:  they’re easy to grow and maintain, and require less irrigation; they feed and protect native fauna; they’re key to biological diversity, and vital for a healthy environment.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora)

 

Plants can be native to a wide geographical area–like the whole of North America–or specific to a small, confined eco-system–like the area in which you live.

Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis)

 

Natives belong where you live, whether you’re in Texas or some other fabulous place.

Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

 

Do we need to practice purity in our gardening aesthetics and utilize only natives in our gardens? Well, it would be nice if we planted all natives, all the time, but for many gardeners, that’s simply not possible because native plants aren’t always as commercially available as non-native plants.  And it’s true that there are many non-native, well-adapted plants which enrich our gardens and beautify our world; it’s perfectly fine to garden with both natives and non-natives.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) paired with non-native, potted Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’

But when you plant natives in your garden, you help define the place you live. What grows for me here in urban Austin, Texas doesn’t work–or may not fit–for gardeners in Chicago, Illinois,  Eugene, Oregon, or Bangor, Maine.  What grows here, doesn’t necessarily grow there; plant diversity makes the world go ’round.  All regions enjoy unique botanical flavor and that should be appreciated–and practiced–by those who’re driven to create gardens.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

 

Plant natives in your garden for ease and practicality.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

 

Plant natives to protect and nurture wildlife.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Turkscap

 

Plant natives for seasonal interest and to elicit a sense of place.

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

 

Especially in urban areas, the use of native plants helps restore wildlife habitat and regional character.

Migrating Monarch on Plateau goldeneye

 

Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman–it just makes you look better to have a little color.  Lady Bird Johnson

Plateau goldeneye

 

For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, check out these links:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native Plants of Texas

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

 

Today I’m also linking with Carol of May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Check out flowers from all over the world, honoring all things blooming–native or otherwise.

Wild blue aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

A Reason Not to Prune

I discovered a good reason to postpone pruning.  This Caroline Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, perched contentedly on the spent bloom stalk of a Soft Leaf yucca, Yucca recurvifolia.

These little songbirds are rarely still.  They flit constantly in the underbrush, looking for insects, flicking their tail feathers, and hopping from limb to branch to ground. This one, quiet and tranquil for a time, rested safely on the unpruned stalk, a testament to the gardener’s commitment to an unkempt, wildlife friendly garden and  a certain level of laziness.