A Fab Fritillary

Standing tall and proud, this Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae, is a butterfly master and commander.  

At a different angle, this wings-up wanderer rested early one chilly morning, taking a rare break in its constant search for food and a mate.  Breezy north gusts rendered tricky, this capturing of the butterfly’s calm. 

Nevertheless, it posed, still and quiet, for the shot.

The bloom has-beens in the photos are those of Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, a member of the Aster, Asteraceae, family of plants, a favorite nectar source for adult Gulf Fritillaries.

I didn’t witness this particular butterfly nectaring that particular morning, but there are plenty of adult Gulf Fritillaries in my garden right now, resting on plants, and also flying and nectaring.   On warm afternoons this one and its kin are working the remaining blooms of Plateau goldeneye, Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, and occasionally, Forsythia sage, Salvia madrensis. 

This past season there was a dearth of these dearies.  Eventually, I figured out that the juvenile stage of the butterfly (caterpillars or larvae) were being parasitized by the local wasps, a common butterfly predator.  At some point, the cycle shifted: too few of the larvae, in turn, decreased the population of the wasps.  Without the interference of the wasps, the butterfly larvae completed their cycle: they morphed, mated, and once again, adults are in the garden.

I’m not complaining.   It’s lovely to see the orange beauties decorating the garden in January.

My Blue Passionflower vine, Passiflora caerulea, currently looks a mess because there are, or recently have been, larvae munching on the leaves.   The adults which have emerged will likely remain active until we get a hard freeze, if that happens. And even if that happens, it’s a guarantee that some, if not most, of the butterflies will weather the freeze in fine form, ready to rebound in spring.

Butterflies are, or should be, part of a garden’s vignette, so today, I’m joining with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.  Pop over to Flutter and Hum for other garden vignette and musings of various sorts.

Sleepy Bee

Recently, after a spate of warmer temperatures and before the onslaught of a dry cold front, I was out in my back garden playing catch-up with some of my garden’s needed tasks.  My main goal was to clean and refill the bird baths, which I had recently neglected.   Sheesh, they were nastier than I would have suspected, it being January and cool-ish.

As I started to scrub-a-dub-dub the one concrete bath in the garden (which is a bird favorite) I noticed a small, metallic sweat bee in the bowl, crawling just along the water line, upwards, in search of dry concrete.   I’m confident that the bee is a member of the Halictidae family of bees, but was surprised to see him in mid-January.  While my honeybees are active throughout winter on the warmer, sunnier days, the native bees are scarce, with the exception of the Blue orchard bees, which don’t emerge until February.  This little fella sported a shiny blue-green coat and was smaller than the Blue orchards, so I’m sure it was one of the gorgeous sweat bees common during the growing season.

I’m glad I chose that particular time to clean out the bird baths.

I let him crawl on my hand, eventually transferring the cold, wee, wet bee to a blowsy leaf of Drummond’s wild ruellia. 

He immediately crawled down into the center of the shrub, latched and snuggled onto empty sepals.

I watched the bee for a bit, thinking he would move somewhere else, but he didn’t; I moved on to my next chore. Several times as the afternoon proceeded, I popped by to check on the bee, but he never moved from his napping spot.   I think after his brush with drowning, he was exhausted.

Sleepy bee.

I remembered the bee in late morning of the following day and there he was, snoozing away.   By afternoon though, the bee was gone, presumably having moved along, by wings or legs, I don’t know.   I didn’t see him again.   

Sweat bees are ground nesters, so I wonder:  did this guy crawl under some decaying garden detritus until spring light and warmth awakes him to feeding and mating?  Or, was his life toward its end, rescue from the bird bath notwithstanding?

Either way, there will be more of his kind soon enough and the flowers in my garden will be ready.

Breakfast Buddies?

With rain in the forecast, yesterday morning was a good time to get down and dirty in the garden–both mine and my sister-in-law’s.  Living in a somewhat arid climate, I take advantage of the wet stuff from the sky to dig and plant.  For my garden, it was about clearing out some Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, which colonizes with verve, and for my sister-in-law’s garden, it was transplanting those rogue bits of shrub-with-root to a new home:  to grow, be beautiful, and provide cover and fruit for birds, and nectar and pollen for pollinators.

I was out early, not too long after sunup, mulling the day ahead, when I spotted our neighborhood Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, high up in a winter-bared tree.

The tree sits on a property belonging to the street adjacent to mine;  I don’t know whether it’s a front or back garden tree, but it’s at some distance from my front garden.  For this once, I wish my camera owned just a little more scope moxie.

Still, it’s not a bad shot.

As I aimed my lens at the hawk, a gaggle of Great-tailed Grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, fluttered onto another set of branches.  Grackles are chatty and gregarious; perhaps they wanted to keep the hawk company on this grey morning?  Or maybe they  wanted to share tips on the best places for breakfast?

My guess?  They wanted to watch her–like a hawk!

I soon got to work:  back and forth from my garden to my SIL’s, I excised the mini-shrubs, checking the roots’ viability, then chucking those which passed the test into the bin.  I dragged that bin to SIL’s garden, where I proceeded to dig and plant, allowing new starts to this valuable native plant.  As I moved from her garden to my own, I noticed that the hawk kept sentry in the tree, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.  She moved a couple of times, but mostly preened and observed, feathers ruffling in the morning breeze, intelligent eyes watchful.

Eventually, a Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, settled in, just below the hawk.  The hawk and the jay hung out.  What do two birds talk about?  Did you sleep okay last night? What did you have for breakfast?  Do you have any friends or relatives I can eat?

After about two hours of my work and the hawk’s perch, she was gone from the tree when I finished.

As far as I am aware, no bird ate breakfast and no bird was breakfast.

Please check out Anna’s at Flutter and Hum for garden–and other–musings.