Late Winter Birds

The late winter garden is a palette of muted colors marked with skeletal trees and shrubs. The evergreens, big and small, contribute welcomed dots of green, plus there are others who offer various reds to the garden environment. The tidiness of a pruned, simplified landscape has a certain appeal, but it’s also easier to bird watch in this season of leafless trees and mostly dormant plant life.

Here in Central Texas, bird colors span the rainbow: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-winged Black birds, Gold finches and other color-tagged critters. Along with the showy birds, there are birds whose understated plumage blends well with the winter environment, like this winter visitor, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata. Her dabs of sunny yellow are surely highlights in her feathers, but most of her colors and markings are warm and subtle, making her sometimes hard to spot in a tree. But at the suet feeder–which she loves–she is more easily observed and admired.

A beakful of suet is a yummy thing!

As she digs into the suet cake, she doesn’t realize that the sticky stuff…sticks—and stays!

A year-round native resident, this Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, echoes winter browns and tans in his patterned plumage. He may not wear loud colors, but he sings with volume and gloriously for his territory and family; wrens are tiny birds with mighty voices. Wren song is the first birdsong I hear each morning throughout the year.

He posed with a strand of freezer-burned tendril of Star Jasmine vine, appearing as a weird appendage attached to the wren.

As he sung at the end of a day, he hopped along the fence, eventually creating distance from the plant part.

Wrens bop right and left in time with their chirps, tails flicked, eyes watchful.

A significantly less pretty bird and certainly a much larger bird than the two above, this Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, perched for a while in my SIL’s backyard tree. Turkey Vultures are common in the southern U.S. and throughout Central and South America. They soar majestically with the breeze and low to the ground looking for carrion. Though I see them all the time in the air, I’ve never seen one perched in nearby trees. It sat for a time and I wondered if there was something dead in my SIL’s back garden.

Dead squirrel? Opossum? Rat? Who knows what lunch was for this huge bird.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers and important links in a healthy ecosystem as they clean up the dead. Gentle creatures, they’re only interested in a nice meal of carcass; they are not predators. I was tickled to observe this one so close, but it eventually took flight, spreading impressive wings wide, circling over my garden as it gained altitude, moving along to find its next meal.

I appreciate the quiet of winter. I look forward to pruning last year’s growth and its revelation of the “bones” of the garden. I am witness to both successes and failures in the garden and of plants that I’ve chosen to create it. As with a muted landscape, even in a plainly colored bird, there is still much beauty in a darling face or in the pattern of the plumage, when hues are neutral and soft. That said, after many freezes this year and as March approaches, I’m eager for spring and daily observe signs of its arrival.

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee,

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..as it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

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Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

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The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

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…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

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Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

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…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

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This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

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…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

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A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

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…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.  

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I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

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…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

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He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

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But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

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The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

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More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

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He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage. IMGP1652_cropped_2695x3304..new

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

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They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

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I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

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This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November 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 we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

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Good wildlife gardening to you!