Fragile, Enduring: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2019

Happy 2019–may it be a year of peace for all and good gardening for those who seek, and find, solace in the outdoors.  Today is Wildlife Wednesday, marked on this first Wednesday of the month, with the goal of chronicling the wild ones in our gardens and celebrating the connection with nature that a garden delivers.

One afternoon recently, I wandered my garden, reviewing the limited freezer-burn damage on certain perennials, and a lone butterfly caught my attention as it fluttered past me, wacky and zig-zaggy, but with purpose.  It alighted on a nearby ceramic sphere which has, from time-to-time, supplied landing for other winged creatures.

The butterfly was still for a time, then turned around, modeling its stylized wings, allowing photographic capture from different angles.  While it seemed that the butterfly invited viewing at varying perspectives–proud of its pulchritude, no doubt–I’m not sure that he/she appreciated the photography session.

It to dared me to get closer. I didn’t.

This autumnally hued butterfly is a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, and is common throughout the continental United States and other parts of the world, including Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia.

It’s a butterfly of the Earth.

Not endangered in any part of the world, this member of the Nymphalidae family primarily feeds on tree sap, bird poop, and fermenting fruit, more than imbibing from blooms.  I recall one nectaring at some flower in my garden, but I can’t remember which flower–I’ll need to pay more attention next time.  As far as I’m aware, I don’t grow any of its host plants (those plants that the adult lays eggs upon and that the caterpillars eat from), which consists of various types of nettles.  But there must be host plants in my area because Red Admirals are regular visitors in my garden throughout the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter.

The butterfly perched on the globe in daylight, near the sun’s reflection; the un-butterflied half of the sphere remained in darkness.

 

The blue globe, with its swirls of green in foliage reflection, evoked for me the beauty, and innocence, of the first view of our lovely Earth, taken 50 years ago on December 24, 1968, by astronaut Bill Anders, as he and his crewmates orbited the moon aboard Apollo 8.

Earthrise.

During the fourth orbit of the moon, Anders captured the historic and iconic view of our little blue and white planet, seemingly alone and vulnerable, but stunningly beautiful.

 

Anders snapped the iconic Earthrise photo during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to color film to capture the planet’s exquisite, fragile beauty.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” Anders said. “There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

Before the flight, no one had thought about photographing Earth, according to Anders. The astronauts were under orders to get pictures for potential lunar landing sites while orbiting 70 miles (112 kilometers) above the moon.

“We came to explore the moon and what we discovered was the Earth,” Anders is fond of saying.

 

Earthrise changed how we saw the Earth and is credited with emboldening the environmental movement.  The photo remains a symbol of Earth’s beauty and fragility, but also of our eternal relationship with, and sense of responsibility toward, our only home.

I remember bits about the Apollo missions, as viewed on my family’s black and white television set and as seen in color photos in LIfe and Time magazines.  Earthrise has been a part of my life since childhood.

In my own gardening experience on my little plot of the Earth, at a local botanical garden where I gardened for a time, and at others’ gardens that I’ve tended, I’ve been all-in for the flowers and foliage. My original interest in gardening focused on creating interesting spaces of color and texture which would require less maintenance than an expanse of lawn.  I was attracted by and interested in native Texas plants, but have always included hardy non-invasive non-natives that add structure and variety, augmenting the diversity of the gardens.

Over time, I’ve observed what other gardeners and naturalists have observed: wildlife– pollinators, birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles–appear when an environment is welcoming and conducive to their needs.  Gardens with limited (or no) chemical intervention, and which provide water, cover, and food, nurture and protect complex ecosystems.  I’ve come to understand the synchronistic thread which binds plants to their insects, birds, and other wildlife, and now appreciate how wildlife enriches–and is enriched by–gardening choices. Like Astronaut Anders, who came to discover the moon, but instead, found the Earth, I explored gardening and discovered wildlife.

I still love a pretty plant, but I strive to garden for wildlife.  My gardening choices favor the feeding and protecting of wild creatures endemic or migratory, who live in or visit my garden. More than when I embarked on this avocation, I recognize the value of the whole system–plants, wildlife, environment–rather than following garden fads, or planting, willy-nilly, with little regard to the whole picture.

I hope your gardening experiences involve wild critters and if not, that you’ll spend some of 2019 studying your region to learn how to best provide for wildlife, and thus bringing life to your garden.

For more about Apollo 8 and the Earthrise photo, check out this Washington Post article (be sure to watch the embedded video which re-creates the situation which made the photos possible!) and also, this mini-documentary from PBS, Earthrise, .as told from the perspectives of the three astronauts.

Please leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post when you comment here.Happy New Year and good wildlife gardening for 2019!

 

Wildlife Wednesday, August 2014

Another month, another slew of wildlife happenings in my gardens. Thanks to for-the-most-part regular rains this year, there are more butterflies, moths and birds in my gardens. Central Texas is still in drought, but it’s eased a tiny bit within Austin’s city limits.

Around my pond there is almost always a dragonfly or two–weaving, diving, hovering, then resting on the tips of nearby foliage after their flying frenzy. I often see this handsome fellow, a Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis)  and his relatives.

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This particular species is the most common of the order Odonata around these parts.

Another common dude cruising, landing and generally being gorgeous is the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

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He posed nicely for me one hot, sunny afternoon while I was in the pond, feeding my lilies and having my toes nibbled by the fish.  For the last two summers, I didn’t see as many dragon and damselflies in my gardens owing to the ongoing drought.  I’m happy to say that this summer they’re back in full force; I’ve enjoyed the show.

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Just what the world needs, more “stink” bugs.

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These two love-bugs are commonly called Leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus phyllopus).

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They are happily ensconced in my gardens, I’m somewhat sorry to say, though I admire their resourcefulness. Leaf-footed bugs are in the general category of “sucking” insects–meaning that they suck juices from plants.  They puncture their plant victims with their mouths and suck the juices out, leaving the fruits or berries hard and discolored.  They menace commercial and home crops, like tomatoes (my tomatoes, to be specific).  I didn’t bother these two (I am after all, a romantic), but I’ve been known to squish’m.  Yeah.

On to something prettier and more welcome in my gardens, this Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) was sunning herself poolside.  She’s easily identified by the top part of her wings as she held them open.

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The undersides of her hind-wings and fore-wings are also colorful.

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Her wings are held in a vertical position, like a soldier at attention, though she’s actually at rest.

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I’m fairly sure this is the adult version of the caterpillar that I profiled last month, the  Yellow-striped Armyworm Moth, Spodoptera ornithogalli.

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When  I was identifying that caterpillar, I noticed in photographs of the adult moth that the pattern on the wing varies, though all share the muted, mottled gray/brown coloration.

 

I spied this lovely orb-weaver in her netting between Iris straps a few weeks ago.

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I couldn’t identify her and I hoped to observe her for a few days.   Alas, she disappeared the next day.  I’ll just call her a garden spider.

This female hummingbird was sipping her breakfast when I rudely approached to take some photos of her plant choice of nectar.

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I don’t know what species of hummer she is

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…I can only confirm she’s a she and not a he.

We surprised each other.  About the same time I realized there was a tiny bird in my camera lens, she realized there was a person photographing her dining experience.  I was enthralled and she was annoyed.  She promptly flew off–maybe to shoot some hoops?

While gabbing on the phone to a friend one Sunday afternoon, I found this enchanting butterfly working the blooms on delicious oregano.

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This Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) crawled from branches to blooms and back again.

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Such a pretty little thing.

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He never opened his wings, so I couldn’t see the top side of the hind and fore wings, but you can see those here and read further about this member of the Lycaenidae sub-family of butterflies. The Lycaenidae are members of the Superfamily Papilionoidea, apparently considered  “true butterflies”.

I enjoy lots of wildness in my gardens and I bet you do too.  Please join in posting about the wild visitors to your gardens for August 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.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!