A Cheer for Pollinators!

This week, June 18-24, marks National Pollinator Week, so proclaimed by the U. S. Senate in 2007.  The week’s educational activities focus on the importance of pollinators and on the pressing need to prevent further decline of this importance source of much of our food supply and their role in healthy ecosystems.  The devastating decline of pollinators is worldwide and bad– really bad–but today, I find it hard to post about pretty plants and home gardens while my own government is cruelly and nauseatingly separating families seeking a better life–which all of our own ancestors did–as they arrive at our southern border seeking asylum.

America is supposed to be better than this.

Clearly, we are not.  Please, please, if you are sickened by this current policy, contact your Senators, your Congress Representatives and the White House to express your outrage and to demand an immediate halt to these abhorrent family separations and offensive incarcerations of children.


The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone….
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto. 
-Pavel Friedmann, June 4, 1942, Theresienstadt concentration camp


The policy of criminalizing these families and setting them aside as “others” is a dangerous and slippery slope to be traveling upon and Americans should join together to end this abomination.

We should see butterflies–and bees, bats, moths, hummingbirds and a host of other critters–freely in our midst and forever, as they contribute their pollinating gifts to the world.  They might seem small and insignificant, but they are vital to our survival and deserve a place to exist and do their work.  Like people who are attempting to find a new home and contribute to our community, pollinators are part of the fabric of a healthy society.

In my garden work-horse pollinators are common and an integral part the garden.

Small leaf-cutter bee flying from bloom to bloom.

Possibly the same species of native bee, maybe a Melittidae or Striped Abdomen (oil-collecting bee), this one works diligently on a Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.


A Small Carpenter Bee, Ceratina spp. Apidae, enjoying the bounty of a Shrubby skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii.


Resting from the hard work of pollinating is this unknown butterfly.  I think it’s some sort of checkerspot, but I can’t positively identify.  Regardless, its beauty and form enhance the garden; its pollination work restores the Earth.


A diminutive Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, likes the petite blooms of an oregano.

Another fan of oregano is this Bordered Plant bug. Not well-known as a pollinator, it pollinates as it moves from bloom to bloom and plant to plant.


Ah, now there’s a pollinator we all know, the busy, buzzy Honeybee.


It’s rare that I get a decent shot of a hummingbird, but this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, complied with my photographic wishes while sipping from a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.  She’s a regular visitor to this plant, sharing the flowers with another female hummer.  Sharing, that is, when they aren’t chasing one another away from the plant!

It’s not a great shot, but check out her beak as she zoomed away from the flowers.  Is that yellow pollen coating her nose?


Another leaf-cutting bee, Megachile, rests on a leaf.  She’s got a load of pollen on her pollen pantaloons (my term!), also known as corbiculae (scientific term!), but I couldn’t tell if she was nibbling on the leaf.  Megachile bees pack their nests with leaf material mixed with soil and pollen.


Another native bee (Megachile?), works oregano blooms.

Oregano is a huge attractor of pollinating insects. I share my oregano with many kinds of pollinating insects.  Or, maybe it’s the other way around?

An autumn visitor and Mexican migrant, a Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectars from the flowers of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  


Most of these insects require more than just pretty flowers to feed from.  This Black Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, feeds fennel foliage.  It will feed until it’s ready to morph into the adult butterfly.  Yes, caterpillars of moths and butterflies munch on plants, but rarely do they munch to the plants’ deaths.  The key is to practice gardening patience and understand that munched foliage is often a sign of a vibrant ecosystem.

Aside from allowing larval insects to feed on foliage, what are other practices which encourage healthy pollinator gardens?  Well, avoiding the use of pesticides is an excellent beginning.  Instead, to limit insect damage, spritz unwanted critters from your plants with water.  Or, if you’re inclined, pick off beetles and slower bugs and pop them into soapy water.  It doesn’t take long to limit damage to the garden if you’re aware of who’s there and take action immediately.

Leave some part of your property a little bit messy.  Let leaves lie;  have some bare ground available for ground nesting bees and leave some wood out for those who prefer to raise their families in wood.  Build insect hotels; there are many plans available on the Internet and in gardening books and they’re easy to build.  Use native plants whenever and wherever you can!

If you plant ‘them’ or build ‘them’ or leave ‘it’ be–pollinators will come!

We have a beautiful country.  Let’s take care of it in all its varying forms.  Let’s encourage and work toward diversity in our natural landscapes and kindness and humanity in our human communities

The Newest Buzz: Bee Mama Missives

At the beginning of 2018, I wrote about the de-bugging of Buzz, our Langstroth beehive who met its end late last summer.  Buzz lost its queen in spring of 2017 (who knows what happened?) and we were never able to successfully requeen the hive (we tried, we really tried!).  The hive declined because there was no mated queen replenishing the population of workers and once the hive reached a weak enough tipping point,  it was invaded by wax moths.


I cleaned Buzz in winter and in mid-April, two weeks before we left for a trip, we rehived our beloved Buzz.

A package of honeybees await release from their traveling cage. I wonder if they’re staring at their new home?

It’s a good idea to feed newly hived honeybees for the first month or so.  The feed is a 1:1 sugar/water mixture and helps the girls establish a solid beginning in their new home.  When we feed our bees (with a new hive, during a severe drought, or at the end of winter, before much is blooming) we use boardman feeders which are placed outside the hive, on the entrance board.

Buzz doesn’t need much sugar-water now, but I’m still supplementing a bit using a boardman feeder.  She has made such progress in comb-building, egg laying, and honey production, that we’ve recently added a second box. Go Buzz!

Our trip was couple of weeks long and we didn’t think that asking pet/house sitters to change the bees’ sugar water would be met with much enthusiasm.  It’s one thing to ask folks to care for cats and even an elderly dog, but honeybees?  The ones who sting when they’re annoyed? That’s a whole different ball of wax.

Instead, we opted to purchase an internal feeder which holds about two gallons of sugar-water.  We’ve liked the boardman feeders and they work fine when we’re around, but the internal feeder holds significantly more liquid and that’s perfect for when the beekeepers are out-of-town.

The feeder holds a deceptively large amount of fluid.  The openings are feeding tubes.

You can see the top of the sugar-water.

The feeder tubes are plastic, with tiny holes along the sides.  Bees hold on to the sides and drink, drink away.  Before we left home, our industrious bees imbibed two full rounds of sugar-water feed and I filled the box with two more gallons of the stuff the morning we left.

Honeybees love their sugar!

Once we decided that the internal feeder was the way to go while we were gone, we picked up our bees at a farm south of Austin and rehived our dear Buzz.  We had purchased new frames and hammered them together, so we slid them in the box.  Initially, we only placed four frames because we left space for the internal feeder,

…and for the box of eager, beaver honeybees.

BeeWeaver Apiaries sends their packages of honeybees (one mated queen with 10,000 workers) with a can of sugar water so that the bees can eat-n-drink as they’re transported from BeeWeaver’s farms to the pickup sites, and then to their new homes–like my back garden!  I popped out the can,

…and the bees were ready for their new digs.

I dare you to stick you hand in there!  Actually, I did. I needed to manuever the queen cage out of the hole, so an ungloved hand is the best tool for that job. The girls were very nice. They don’t become cranky until they have larvae and honey to protect.

The queen cage is affixed to the top of the bee box.  The queen is sequestered in the little cage, but her workers have access to her and her pheromones.

They adore their Dear Leader.

Queen honeybees have longer abdomens than worker bees. They have to store those eggs somewhere!

I hung the queen cage between two frames.  She must eat through the sugar fondant (the white end of the cage, above), in order to exit the cage, meet her subjects, and get going on her only job:  to lay eggs–and lots of ’em.

Settled in:  frames, honeybees, queen, and sugar water feeder.  All good!

After rehiving, we covered the box and high-fived one another on the newest Buzz!  A week later we checked Buzz; the queen was out, some comb was built and the bees were off to a good start.  At that point, we removed the traveling box and added the other frames.  


While doing our bee thing with Buzz, we opened Woody for a quick look-see and found that she had honeycomb, but also lots of cross-comb in her top box.

Because it’s messy and difficult to deal with, we scraped off the cross-comb.  Since then (mid-April) we’ve checked Woody and have noticed the same issue: comb placed inappropriately.  To clarify, it’s really an issue for the keeper; cross-comb is perfectly fine for the bees, they don’t care where or how they build honeycomb, they’re just driven to do so.  We’ve since figured out why they were building cross-comb, but more about that later. There’s always something new to learn–or be reminded about–with honeybees!


Their comb-building might be wonky, but the egg-laying is perfect!  Look at all these baby bees:  snuggled in their cells, just waiting to grow-up and be bees.

Grown-up honeybees who forage on lovely, nourishing flowers,

Honeybee nose-deep in a Gulf coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) bloom.

…and sip water from bird baths or ponds so that honeycomb is made and their homes are successful.

Bird Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2018

The month of May sees the peak of spring neotropical bird migration as they wing through Texas from Mexico, Central and South America, and head northward to various parts of North America.  Their destinations are the summer breeding grounds of far North America, and as they travel the long distances, they rest and feed in trees and rejuvenate in water features, both.   I was fortunate to observe some of the avian visitors in my back garden before I left Austin for a chunk of May, and once I returned, witnessed the tail-feather end of the songbird parade, replete with color and decorations, as they bathed briefly at the pond and flitted high in the trees.

Celebrating Wildlife Wednesday, here are the migratory birds of the past month, no longer in my garden, but hopefully safely raising families in their northern, summer homes.  I’m not going to pretend that this month’s WW is anything but birds.  The migratory birds are gone, but not forgotten!

A female juvenile male American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla,  eyes the pond, ready for a cooling dip.

I suspect that there were more Redstarts when I was gone, as they’ve been solid visitors, even into late May.


A male Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia, hops along the rocks which border the pond,

…then chills his toesies on the the wet rocks.


Several juvenile White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, hung out near (you guessed it!), the pond.

Each would splash and flutter, then flit to nearby branches for drying.

Eventually, an adult White-crowned visited my backyard bird resort, though he/she preferred pecking at seeds on the back patio. I haven’t seen this bird in my garden before (that I’m aware of), I’ve only seen photos, but recognized it immediately.


A sunny afternoon highlights the coloring of this Russet-backed Swainson’s ThrushCatharus ustulatus.


On another day and at the pond,  a different bird, an Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrush contemplates a splash.

The frontal coloring is more aligned with its Russet relative.  I think these birds have the sweetest faces.


There’s nothing common to me about the Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas,  like this cute male.

The flash of yellow darting through the garden alerts me to visits from this little warbler.  Usually, I’ve the females in past migration seasons and they’re a little blander, but still darling.  Like the Redstarts, I’ll bet there were more of the Yellowthroats in my garden while I was gone.  I’m sorry I missed them this spring, but I’ll have another chance in the fall.


Another new bird for me was a parade of Nashville WarblersOreothlypis ruficapilla. This isn’t a great shot (taken from indoors), but you can make out the reddish-brown cap, sported by males.  There were quite a few of these tiny birds who found their way to my back garden.

Check out the polite line-up of Nashvilles as they troop to the public bath!


With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.

So begins the description of (perhaps) the most beautiful of North American birds. I was fortunate to enjoy quite a few sightings of male Painted BuntingsPasserina ciris.

I also saw a female Painted Bunting, along with her seed-pecking buddy, a female Indigo Bunting, but they were just outside a window, through a screen and I didn’t have the camera handy.  Their nibbling from my native plants (they were eating seeds of the Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala), affirms my garden choices.  As well, I observed male Painted Bunting picking the tiny seeds from a Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuisima.  I’ve always loved this plant,

The blue, metal bird doesn’t eat the seeds of the Mexican feathergrass.

… but have never witnessed a bird eating its seeds.  Beauty, plus value for wildlife–that’s a garden win!  

Unlike most of the birds profiled in this post who breed far north of Texas, the Painted Buntings and the Summer Tanagers, breed relatively close to Central Texas.  Both visit my gardens, but only for brief periods.  This female Summer TanagerPiranga rubra, is an insect hunter and each late April and early May, I see them, perched above my honeybee hives, snatching bees on the wing (both the birds and the bees)!

This striking, but mottled fella is a juvenile male Summer Tanager.  I didn’t see the scarlet male this year.  Too bad, but I was thrilled to host mom and her son–except for the bee-eating thing!


The “black-throated” part of the name is visible, but you can’t see the green sheen on the back of this Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens.

It’s a bird I first saw last year and enjoyed only a brief glimpse of this spring.  It migrates and breeds in eastern North America and Canada.


My winter-visiting Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, left some time ago, but another passed through, probably having spent the winter somewhere further south of Austin.

The Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the flashiest of warblers, but I’m charmed by their chirps and welcome their company during the winter.  I was surprised at observing this one so late in the season.

And those are the birds of  migratory May.

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.  Happy wildlife gardening!