Some Favorites: Wildlife Wednesday, February 2017

Today is the first Wednesday of February and time to appreciate wildlife in our gardens–happy Wildlife Wednesday to you all! In this fraught time, experiencing nature can be a balm for frayed nerves, as well as a respite for contemplating resistance to the specter of autocracy. To be a part of the natural world doesn’t require travel outside of your town or city if you make time to visit a municipal park or greenbelt, volunteer as a wildlife gardener at a school or religious institution garden, or set aside your own personal garden as a refuge for wildlife–and yourself.  None of these are difficult to achieve and the benefits are enormous: for you, your community, and the wildlife you share the world with.

Though the few blasts of winter’s chill has rendered my garden the muted beige and grey palette that is the Texas winter landscape, there are pops of color in the form of the resident native birds, like the Blue Jay,  Cyanocitta cristata,

…and  the Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis.

I’ve never successfully identified Blue Jays by gender–male and females look alike to me, though I assume they see differences among themselves. Cardinals however are easily distinguishable, the female Northern Cardinal softer in coloring than her stunning male counterpart.

Not quite as dazzling as her fella, she’s certainly pretty enough for this human to enjoy observing.

Typical of the drab girl-coloring common in the avian world, this female House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, doesn’t share the splash of red that her partner enjoys.

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Though not as flushed and blushed as her mate, Ms. HF is pretty cute.  House Finches are numerous in my garden and chatty to boot.  In late spring and early summer,  their song is almost non-stop.

Another vocalist in my garden–and a species where the males and females are indistinguishable to me–is the Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.

These little guys and gals are real charmers.  Males sing beautifully, often, LOUD, and with a variety of song. The adults scold with a tchtch, tchtch, tchtch  when nestlings are threatened or feeding is interrupted and that is a frequent backdrop of my garden’s bird song symphony.

The White-winged DoveZenaida asiatica, wins the award for birds a-plenty.  These are birds that I rarely photograph because  my familiarity with them breeds a certain level of…yawning boredom.  White-winged Doves are everywhere, every day, all the time.  According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this species was originally a bird of desert thickets, feeding on the seeds of grasses and berries in trees.  Year-round residents in Texas, White-winged Doves are one species that most non-gardeners and non-birders recognize because they’re generously represented in cities and suburbs. While I’m not a huge fan, I tolerate them, even when they land along the edge of the bird baths–backwards with tail in, or over, the water–and immediately poop in it.  Yuck!

Typical for doves though, they have a rather sweet  appearance, as this one demonstrates while resting on a bed of fallen leaves during a chilly day.

White-wing Doves are known for their “blue eye-shadow.”


Butter Butts are back!  Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata,  are winter Texans and very welcome in my garden.

They hop along the ground, looking for seeds, but they also enjoy the suet I’ve placed in a couple of spots.

I think this one is voicing opposition to my taking this photo.

I think the two that I’m seeing regularly are females, but last year there was a male in the mix. These seasonal warblers will hang around until March or early April. I hope that I can identify individuals by the time they leave for their summer breeding grounds much farther north in Canada and the northern states of the U.S.


My newest favorite bird species and one I think has visited my garden before, though I’ve only definitively identified it this year is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula.  A rapid-fire flyer, itty-bitty, and oh-so-darling, these song birds are fond of insects and suet. They flick their tails as they flit from branch to branch and are stationary only for very brief periods of time.  I’ve seen both a male and female in my garden and though they look similar, there is one striking difference.  Okay, probably more than one, but one that I can readily see.

This Ruby-crowned is diving into the suet.

The two in my garden take turns snitching suet from the feeder.

After feeding comes a bath in the bog area of the pond.

The male is identifiable because of the startling red feathers on top of his head that he fluffs up when he’s issuing a warning or flirting with a girl. In this photo, it’s a barely visible suggestion of a red stripe.

Along with flirting and blustering, bathing is included in the list of what elicits the ruby-crowned flash,

…and after-bath fluffing revs up the red feather action, too.

The ruby crown looks like he’s sporting a little campfire on his head.

It’s remarkable just how RED that crown is when it’s up and flashing.  When it appears, it’s truly a ruby jewel in the garden;  when the sun spotlights the ruby crown, it positively glows.

Those aren’t great photos and I’m working for better during his winter stay. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are so fast that competent captures of these little birds has been a challenge.

Another winter warbler who visits daily is (at least) one Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata.  He/she/they (there might be more than two) are shy and are often chased around the garden by the larger Yellow-crowned Warblers.  I’m not sure why, but I observed that behavior of Yellow-rumps toward Orange-crowneds last winter too.

Birds are bullies sometimes, just like people are bullies sometimes.

Orange-crowned Warblers sing a sweet cheep cheep and that’s usually how I find them in the oak trees. They favor flitting through the shrubbery, snipping off insects and are more reticent at the feeders than either the Butter Butts or the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Such a sweet face!


Toward the end of the month, the Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum,  appeared in their usual flocks of many.   This beauty is an anomaly as he sits quietly and alone, proudly perched in the Red Oak.

There should be ample opportunity to see and hear these beautiful birds before they leave in late spring for their summer breeding grounds.

I hope your garden is full of wildlife and that you observe, learn, and appreciate their place in the world. Let your garden be a place of renewal and strength.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for February Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!


Winter’s bare trees allow for good bird watching, especially when it comes to the local raptors.  It’s also the time of year when we prepare to host Eastern Screech Owls, Megascops asio, as they court, breed and fledge their young in the Red Oak tree in our back garden. We’ve been privileged to observe these shy beauties for the last 8 years and certainly hope that they once again choose our back garden for their home territory in these next few months.  I haven’t seen an owl yet this season and I’ve missed them this winter.   Once in early October and then once more in early November, I heard a Screech Owl whinny  announcing to others this is MY territory!, but I haven’t  heard the common owl trill as the owls are living their lives: hunting, flirting with a potential mate, and then working with that mate to raise a family.

Since late November, I’ve spotted a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus sitting in the owls’ oak tree at night,

Not a great shot, but you get the idea.

…as well as occasionally scuttling through my garden early in the morning.

I also suspect the same opossum as the thief who had stolen a small board at the entrance to one of my honeybee hives–I found it in a corner of my garden, weeks after it went missing, dropped nowhere near the hives.  Because I’d noticed bits of non-oak leaves and Mexican feathergrass shards caught in the branches just below the owl nest box, I thought the opossum might be squatting in the box, but I  never actually saw her enter or exit. Squirrels have moved in to the nest box in the past and I hoped that a rogue opossum would be too large.

I hoped, but I was wrong.

As Screech Owl breeding season is nigh, we’re placing a new camera in the owl house this year because we enjoyed watching Mama Owl in her box last year–until the camera pooped out just after she laid her 5th egg.

This past weekend, the ladder out and up and tools at the ready, The Hub was up in the owls’ tree.

Steady there!

I remained terra firma and sollicita because 2016 wasn’t a great year for his bones–all 20 that he broke due to a bike accident and related glitches. That’s all we need: for him to tumble off the ladder in the service of wildlife watching. Thankfully, he didn’t tumble, but he did find an owl box interloper in the guise of this fella:



Actually, I suspect she’s a young, possibly pregnant, female opossum. What to do with a malingering marsupial snuggled in an owl nest box?

I have no objection to opossums. I don’t mind them sipping at the pond and bird baths, eating from the compost bar, or even rummaging through my garden, but I do mind, very much, that this one has decided she needs the owls’ house for her own.

Once the top of the box was removed, the opossum didn’t comply readily with our wishes for her to vacate the premises, nor did she cooperate when The Hub attempted to scoop her out onto a branch with a long stick. She peeked over the top of the nest box once or twice,

Too high up to jump!

Is there an opossum-sized ladder I can use?

…but decided that staying put and hissing was her best bet. With The Hub remaining up in the tree, we contemplated our options:  leave the opossum in the house or scoot her out, forthwith? We decided that the best thing to do–for us, the opossum, and the nest box, would be to carefully lower the nest box to the ground,

Going down…

Almost there!

Thwarted–no more owl nest box squatting for you, missy!

…allowing her to safely waddle off,

…which she did, in a huff.

I admire her steadfastness at claiming the box and for the obvious efforts at collecting leaves and grass for her nest and I do feel badly that we evicted her from such prime real estate.  But we didn’t build the box for her and I’m sure she’ll soon find another cozy spot in which to nest.  Opossums are not the brightest of critters, but they are remarkably adaptable–they eat almost anything and can nest almost anywhere.

Opossums thrive in urban environments–like my back garden.

We’re leaving the nest box down for the week and plan to put it back up into the tree, camera affixed and ready to go, by next weekend.  Learning about and enjoying the life cycle of the Eastern Screech Owls has been a great pleasure for us.  I hope that we can continue with that this spring.

2016 Mama Owl

2016 Daddy Owl

As for Ms Opossum, I have no doubt that we’ll cross paths again.

Pollinator Pow-Wow: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2016

Truthfully, it’s been a pollinator Wow! for this past month.


Loads of butterflies and many kinds of bees enhanced the garden and though I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked,  I have a few favorites to share this month. It’s Wildlife Wednesday and time to appreciate the wild critters who make the garden what it is: a dynamic, living space providing refuge and sustenance for wild things.

Monarch butterfliesDanaus plexippus, visited daily as they travel to Mexico for the winter.


Monarch enjoying Frostweed.



Monarch at a Gregg’s mistflower.

Most days there have been four or five fluttering from bloom to bloom.

Two cool fronts pushed through recently, ushering in pleasant  fall temperatures and providing wind for the Monarchs’ wings as they head south.  I’ve seen some Monarchs since, but only one or two in my gardens.  I’m betting more will show up in the next few weeks and am glad that I grow some of their autumn favorites like Gregg’s mistflowerConoclinium greggii, Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, and FrostweedVerbesina virginica.

While this photo isn’t great,


…I felt compelled to include it because this lovely Monarch was a meal for my resident male Neon Skimmer  just seconds after the photo was taken.  I was attempting a better shot, when the Monarch flew into the path of the Skimmer. The two tumbled to the ground, out of my view and behind some plants, and neither arose into the air immediately.  After a few seconds, I walked to where I thought they’d landed.  The Skimmer suddenly zoomed upward, Monarch in hand, or rather, claws. An excellent predator, Mr. Skimmer had caught himself a substantial lunch!  As he flew around my garden, holding tightly to the hapless Monarch whose wings continued flapping, I yelled at him to drop that Monarch!!  My verbal gesticulation didn’t change his mind, nor reduce his grip on the Monarch, and the Skimmer eventually took his prey to a neighbor’s yard (probably because I was being obnoxious and noisy) and I didn’t see either one again that day.  Skimmers (and all dragons and damsels) are predators, usually eating mosquitoes–I certainly wish he’d  chosen a few of those biting beasts for his meal instead of the Monarch.

Though the demise of one Monarch is sad, it’s a hallmark of nature–eat, or be eaten. It is especially sorrowful because of survival pressures on Monarchs, including habitat destruction, pesticide and herbicide use in mid-western agricultural states (where wildflowers once dominated), and the changing climate, which impacts every region. These are problems caused by people, not dragonflies, and have contributed to the decimation of the remarkable Monarch butterfly.   Home gardeners and those who create school or public gardens can help mitigate Monarch decline by utilizing good wildlife management gardening practices such as refraining from chemical use and planting for pollinators with native perennials and annuals.

Relatives of the Monarchs, the Queen butterflies, Danaus gilippus, are also in full fall flight in my gardens and enjoy many of the same Monarch nectar sources.  Queens do not migrate and are common in Central Texas throughout the year.


Nectaring on a Gregg’s mistflower.

I didn’t take a photo of the Neon Skimmer this past month because I was pissed at him (I’m kidding.  Sort of…), but a Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis,  posed nicely on an almost-spent  bloom stalk of a Big red sage, Salvia penstemonoides;   I couldn’t resist her allure. 


I think this one is a female because of the brown abdomen coloring.  She  also sports big, beautiful, blue peepers common in dragonflies.

There was more murder and mayhem the garden with this lovely scene:


I was attempting a photo of one of the many fast flying tiny orange butterflies common this time of year (and was unsuccessful) when I spied this Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans,  who had one of my darling and pollen-sprinkled honeybees in pieces in the middle of a Rock rose flower.



I suppose that if the end is near, it might as well be in  the middle of a flower, doing work you love.  Again, this is another predator-prey situation and while it’s painful to witness, it’s the way nature works.  Spiders must eat, too.


The spider skittered out of the flower because of my photo interference, but the poor bee is…decapitated. Ugh.

It’s a bummer for the bee, though.

Additional sightings of the Lepidoptera sort  includes scads of Southern Broken-dashWallengrenia otho,


Nectaring on a Purple coneflower.




Nectaring on a Blue mistflower bloom.

…and oodles of Clouded skippers,  Lerema accius.


The Clouded Skipper rests besides a buddy–a Common Pillbug (Armadillidium vulgare).


Gray Hairstreak butterfliesStrymon melinus,  are more numerous this year than I’ve ever noticed before.


Working a Martha Gonzales rose bloom in the sunshine.


Resting on a spent rose bloom in the shade.


Some of the larger, more dramatic butterflies regularly gracing the garden include Giant SwallowtailsPapilio cresphontes,


Working the blooms of the Mexican orchid.

Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio glaucus,


Nectaring on a Purple coneflower.

…and Pipevine Swallowtails, Battus philenor.


Proboscis-deep in a Yellow Bells bloom.

Flowers are pretty enough, but much more beautiful when these decorative and vital-for plant-reproduction winged jewels are pollinating the blooms.

Southern pink mothsPyrausta inornatalis are sprinkling their pink selves on a variety of flowers this year, but I love this convocation of four on a Rock rose bloom.  The bloom is about an inch in diameter.


There were five moths all in a circle, but one flew off as I approached to snap the pic;  the others maintained their positions.


I wonder what they were talking about?  Or were they knitting?  Or, perhaps working on dance moves?

It wasn’t all butterflies and moths in the garden this past month, though.  Many individuals of my favorite native bee, the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis, are still active and stealing nectar.


Love those snazzy stripes,


…and dreamy blue eyes!

I’m thrilled that American Bumble BeesBombus pensylvanicus, are in the garden this fall. I couldn’t get a good shot, but at least one bumble is in the garden on a daily basis and working hard.


Yellow BellsTacoma stans, is a perennial shrub which has attracted multitudes of pollinators this month, including several native bee species, honeybees, a variety of smaller skippers and moths, all of the large swallowtail butterfly species, and hummingbirds.  It’s a pollinator plant for the win!!

Other charming critters honoring my garden are the ubiquitous Green Anole lizards, Anolis carolinensis.


This one had just caught and gobbled down something–I wasn’t quick enough to see what the prey was or to configure my camera into action, but I suspect the snack was a small bee or moth.  Mr. or Ms. Anole  was smacking its pleasure after the treat and looking smug.


Most of the Anoles I see in the garden now are juveniles and darn cute for teenagers. They’re dormant once our chilly weather arrives and I miss them during the winter months.

This Leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus, owns this space atop a Red Yucca seed pod (which they like to munch), and is serving as a mentor to some offspring.


Perhaps not as pretty as some insects, these have a certain panache and I don’t mind seeing them occasionally in the garden.  They can be destructive (they’re sucking insects and damage foliage), but they’ve never proved a problem for my plants.

Pretty–or not, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for October 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 readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.