It’s a Wrap: December Wildlife Wednesday

As we enter the last month of the year and I prepare for a Texas winter (such that it is), I welcome you to December Wildlife Wednesday, the final installment for 2017 of watching wonderful–sometime wacky–wildlife!  Wild critters in my garden are busy with their lives and are also providing entertainment and learning experiences for me.  I trust your garden has been graced with some wild happenings as well.

Winter Texans of the avian sort are settled in, having migrated from their breeding grounds in northern North America.  These various songbirds will spend the next 4-6 months of relatively mild weather eating their fill of available berries, seeds, insects, and suet in preparation for the arduous migration back to the places where they raise families.  These–and all birds–will be easier to spot once my deciduous plants shrug-off their foliage garb (leaving said foliage unceremoniously on the ground for me to pick up) and while that process has begun, it’s at least a month away before bare-n-naked trees will allow for better bird viewing.

This Ruby-crowned KingletRegulus calendula, is one of a pair visiting my back garden daily.

The ruby  streak on top of the head isn’t visible; this one could be a female.

I’ve only spotted the female at the suet feeder, but I’m sure the male pops on for a nosh, too–but, so far, not when I’m looking.  I eagerly await a glimpse of ruby-red in the garden which flashes when defending territory or charming Ruby-crowned Kinglet gals.

 

An Orange-crown warblerOreothlypis celata, frequently partakes of suet.

Easier to spot on the feeder, I prefer to watch them work through the garden, rapidly moving from limb to limb, and shrub to shrub, snipping insects as they go–but it’s challenging keep up with their speed-feeding movements.  Less colorful than some of the other songbirds, these little ones are elegant and with charm to spare.  I think there are two Orange-crowns in the garden, but haven’t definitively confirmed that.

For weeks, I observed one or two Eastern Phoebe flycatchersSayornis phoebe, but was either too slow with the camera, or didn’t have it at hand.  One morning on my way out, I saw this beauty through my bedroom window.

Catch me if you can!

I sprinted to where my camera awaited assignment, grabbed and prepared it for the shots as I hurried back to the window.  Success!

I’m waiting patiently for you to get your shots, lady! (claws tapping)

I didn’t dare step outside, as these birds have my blundering number and always take flight as soon as I make an appearance.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen the phoebes since these photos, so I hope my paparazzi-like behavior didn’t scare them off.   According to All About Birds, these flycatchers are year-round residents in some parts of Central Texas, though they are new to me.  Their wintering grounds span West, East and South Texas and southward through Mexico.

 

The local bird characters provide a show as they go about their daily business.  A bathing Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, always elicits a grin.

 

It’s a toss-up whether this Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis,

 

…or this Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, wins the cute bird-of-the-month prize.

Shall we have a vote?

This wren is certainly laser-focused on something  worth investigating.

 

A male Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, loves the suet I provide once the temperatures are reliably cool.

A female Red-belly also visits; I assume they’re mates, but don’t know where their nest is located.

 

Not in my back garden, but I spotted this gorgeous Great Blue HeronArdea herodias, resting in my neighbor’s tree late one afternoon.

I see Great Blues fly over my neighborhood throughout the year, as they keep a keen eye on the urban creeks which spiderweb through Austin.  In my own garden, they pop in mid-to-late spring after I’ve pruned the pond lilies, which frees-up access to available fish.   For a month or so, the poor little fish are vulnerable because they have fewer foliaged places to hide and the herons know that when lily pads are limited, they’re ‘shooting’ fish in a barrel!   I was pleased to see this handsome heron, though it loped off as I gawked in admiration.

 

The state bird of Texas is the Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos.  I’ve seen this one, perched silently and un-singing, on the back fence.

A contemplative bird.

 

On Thanksgiving morning I was sipping coffee and perusing the local newspaper at my kitchen table.  From where I sat, there is a clear view to the back garden and  I looked up just as a large, fast bird streaked across my line of vision.  Recognizing a hawk in hot pursuit, I snatched my camera and caught this just-landed Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaincensis, in a neighbor’s tree.

Wow!  This bird was huge, so I’m guessing she’s a female and probably disgruntled at the lack of her own Thanksgiving feast.  Dove with cranberry sauce, anyone??  As I snapped a few shots, a Blue Jay was harassing her, so she took wing, landing on another tree further away.

Ms. Red-tailed refused to turn around and acknowledge my presence.

She perched there for a long time, probably re-thinking her strategy for snagging a meal.  There are a variety of smaller raptors in my neighborhood:  this autumn I’ve seen a Cooper’s hawk and a Sharp-shinned hawk–but I think this is the first time that a Red-tailed has wooshed through the back garden.

 

The birds are active, but they’re not the only winged-things around.  There have been plenty of butterflies, moths, and honeybees, though the native bees have gone to sleep for the season.  The cheery, yellow Southern DogfaceZerene cesonia, is a common autumn butterfly here, but always so flighty that I rarely catch a good photo–until recently!

Woot!  Nectaring on the autumn crop of Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,  this one shares the bounty with an equally busy Southern Broken-DashWallengrenia otho.

The orange-brown on the wings is plenty attractive, but the Southern Broken-Dash also shows a beautiful, iridescent blue-green on the upper side of its thorax.

Nectaring at a Purple coneflower.

Sunning on the foliage of the Shrubby Blue sage.

 

That same afternoon, this Clouded SkipperLerema accius, also vied for attention.

I’ve been amazed and quite pleased at the numbers of small skippers and even larger butterflies in my garden this past month, though I’ve mostly appreciated their beauty  and not rushed to get photos.  Keep up the good work, pollinators!

 

It’s not all about desirables in the garden though.  I thought I’d attempt attracting Eastern Blue Birds–or something equally fascinating–by leaving dried mealworms (yuk to me, but some birds totally dig them), but all I’ve managed to attract is this critter.

A drooling Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

Grrrr.  As well, I suspect her in the crime of squatting in the Eastern Screech Owl house.  Everytime we open up the house to make it available for house-hunting owls, the camera shows a snoozing, or sometimes bathing, opossum.

We wait until nightfall, let her vacate her comfy digs (opossums are mostly active after dark) then trundle up the ladder to (again!) close the door on the hole of the house for another week or so in hopes of discouraging her.  Once we reopen the door for owls looking for a home, invariably, within a day or so, Ms. Opossum snuggles back in.

It’s a drag being outsmarted by an opossum!

She enjoyed the mealworms, but I’ve removed them from the bird buffet menu.  She’ll just have to get her worms like the other opossums–by digging in my garden!

I don’t mind opossums (I keep telling myself), but this one is persistent and just won’t vacate the premises.

Check out her climbing claws. She may not be fast, but she’s adept.

Soon, the neighborhood owls will be courting-n-sparking and they’ll want that cozy box for their babies–you know, the one that we built for THEM!

Celebrating lots of life in the garden for Wildlife Wednesday, I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and reaping autumn bounty. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

 

Pollinator Review and Early Summer Scenes: Wildlife Wednesday, July

Summer is in sweaty swing and the garden accompanies that dance with a blooming boogie-woogie.  Wildlife rely on the warm season’s bounty of summer flowers and resulting seeds and fruits.  In addition to contributing to plant procreation and augmenting biological diversity, these wild critters–winged, feathered, furred, and scaled–add beauty, complexity, and life to the garden.  Welcome to my garden and to Wildlife Wednesday for July!

Due to some travel and other distractions, I missed posting during the annual celebration of pollinators (Pollinator Week, June 19-25), but my garden certainly enjoyed its share of pollination pow-wow this past month.

This is the best photo I’ve snagged of nectaring hummers. I see at least one daily, but rarely have the camera at hand for a shot.  This little beauty slurps sweetness from salmon blooms of a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.

I’m fairly sure that this female is a Black-chinned HummingbirdArchilochus alexandri. There are at least two females currently visiting and I’ve also spied a male Black-chinned.

Butterflies ramped-up their presence in May and June, though recently I’ve only seen the smaller butterflies in my garden.  In the following photos, do you detect a theme?

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on a Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

Sharing the bloom with a Leafhopper Assasin Bug, (Zelus renardii)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on a Purple coneflower

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on a Purple coneflower

Purple coneflowers are boss pollinator plants.  No pollinator garden should be without a few of these North American native flowers.  If you plant them, they will come.

 

Evidence of a butterfly life cycle is apparent on the foliage of Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.  Nourishing larvae of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia, Zexmenia–like most native plants–provides a food cart whammy: the leaves are sustenance for the host-specific butterfly caterpillars; the flowers provide nectar and pollen for a variety of pollinators.  Additionally, Zexmenia also feeds finches, warblers, and sparrows once the flowers go to seed.  Zexmenia is a powerhouse wildlife plant.

The cheery daisies of Zexmenia are nice for adult pollinators, but caterpillars adore the leaves. Check out the caterpillar poop sprinkled on the leaves just below the clump of cats. Everybody poops!

Butterflies are important pollinators and beautiful to behold.   To attract butterflies and moths to your garden, you must provide host plants, which attract specific butterfly species, so that the larvae, or caterpillars, can eat, grow and morph to their adult winged stage that we all desire for our gardens. Tolerance for munched leaves is a must when seeking to promote a healthy and diverse garden environment. Caterpillars generally do little serious damage to foliage.  Rather than engaging in chemical warfare at the first sign of foliage problems or gooey caterpillars wiggling on leaves, it’s best to observe who’s eating what in the garden, as most insects are beneficial and not harmful to landscape plants. If you (or your neighbors) spray insecticides (even those labeled organic or natural), beneficial insects will be collateral damage. Insecticides don’t discriminate: they kill all insects, not just  those targeted.  A live-and-let-live attitude is useful for a wildlife gardener and the minimal damage from desired insects is usually short-lived: the compromised leaves slough off and new foliage grows in place, ready for a new cycle of life.

 

I’ve seen this bee on occasion and it’s usually on Purple coneflowers; I assumed it was some sort of carpenter bee.

I use several local native bee resources for identification when I spot an unrecognized bee, but have never figured out just what kind of bee this industrious worker is–until recently.  I uploaded this photo to BugGuide.net and a nice, insect-loving bug guide pegged this yellow-legged critter as a Two-spotted Lorn-horned BeeMelissodes bimaculatus. 

So now I know!  The Two-spotted belongs in the grouping of bees (like bumbles and miners) which are ground nesters, but I don’t know if that holds for this one. I’m glad to see him–the BugGuide person said the bee was a him–I didn’t peek. Regardless of gender identification, this dude and his girlfriends are welcome to my coneflowers anytime.

 

My favorite native bee is the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis, and there are plenty of them in my garden this summer.

Working a bloom on the Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora),

…and another at an Autumn sage (Salvia greggii).  Strictly speaking, this bee is nectar stealing and not contacting the reproductive organs of the flower, therefore, no pollination.  But, I won’t quibble too much, I’m certain this bee pollinates, even if he/she is cheating at this particular moment.

I provide wood for these cuties throughout my gardens for their drilling and nesting pleasure and am rewarded with pollination action galore, as well as delighting in the charm of their dreamy blue eyes and groovy racing stripes.

 

I missed most of the short bloom time of my orange passalong daylilies because of travel, but was fortunate to catch some of its loveliness, along with the gorgeous metallic native bees who also appreciate these flowers’ orange goodness.

There is one digging in and one winging away

Look at the pollen gathered on this little bee.

This shiny pretty is probably a Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica.  These  bees are common in my garden; I’ve noticed that they prefer flowers in the red-to-orange color range.  While the daylilies were blooming, and if I was out before their petals unfurled for the day, I’d see these bees buzzing around the blooms, seemingly impatient for their breakfast spots to open for business!

 

Another native bee species active this past month are these tiny critters, probably one of the carpenter bees, Ceratina sp

These two work the pollen of a Martha Gonzales rose.  The one to the right holds quite a load of pollen.

These itty bitty pollinators enjoy a variety of blooms, native and non-native alike.

 

I don’t pay nearly enough attention to moths.  I’m intimidated by the sheer numbers of species and the ever-so-slight variations which differentiate those many species.  Plus, I usually don’t see them that much–they hang out at night, I’m a day varmint.  But in summer, I sometimes notice a few as they rest along the outside walls of the house, near a door I use, or along the framework of my back patio.  I spotted this one resting one afternoon:

I searched several databases (local to Texas) and concluded that this was likely a kind of ‘underwing’ moth, but as I perused photos, I couldn’t find an exact match.  I uploaded this photo to Butterflies and Moths of North America, and received a confirmation ID of a Agrippina UnderwingCatocala agrippina.  The moth’s obvious beauty aside,  my photo is one of five verified sightings of this moth.  Woot!   

Another gorgeous moth who chose a window shutter as his resting spot was this Black Witch mothAscalapha odorata.   The moth’s wing-span is about four inches and you can see that a bit of one fore-wing looks like it was nipped.  This handsome moth is a male, as the females have pink bands along the fore and hind-wings, which this fella lacks.

Pollinators rule the summer garden, but you know I’m going to profile a few birds for Wildlife Wednesday, right?

Surveying his realm atop the street sign, this Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,  often serenades me when I’m in the front garden.

 

As the sunflowers, Plateau goldeneye, Zexmenia, and Purple coneflowers go to seed, Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria, show up for the seed buffet.

Acrobatic little birds, they often dine, upended.

She’s wary as I move closer.

The Lesser male has more black than the American Goldfinch. He’s munching from the Plateau goldeneye

Showing his white patches on his back

 

Mama Eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger,  regularly thieves commercial sunflower seeds that I set out for birds, though I suppose I set the seeds out for her too, since I don’t prevent her from eating. She’s quite an adept high-wire artist, balancing along the wire that the bird feeder hangs from and skittering, unerringly, to the roof of the house whenever I step outside.

 

If you don’t have wildlife in your garden, it’s easy to plant for them and provide a welcoming home: they’re entertaining, beautiful, and necessary for a well-rounded garden. If you do have wildlife, please post for July Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife; 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!

Game On, Spring

As February races toward its conclusion, this Austin garden is ready for spring.  I started pruning in late December, after the first of the freezes lay waste to the herbaceous  perennials in my gardens.  I’ve been pruning since.  Seven garbage cans full of garden detritus every week, for almost two months.

Plants like Turk’s Cap (Malavaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) are whacked.

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The luscious, sunny-blooming Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)? Nary but sticks protruding from the ground.

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The Martha Gonzales Roses are reduced to a fifth of their full size.

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Some Variegated Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica),

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fared better than others in my gardens.

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All I pruned from the Flax Lily were the freeze damaged straps.  It’s the one plant (I have four groups of them) that I dutifully covered with each freeze forecast into the 20s.

And the  Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) and other evergreen native shrubby plants are pruned into tidy balls,

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or spindly bits of green perched on woody stems, waiting for the just right  light and breath of warm spring air to burst into new growth.

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I still have more to prune, but I’m almost finished for the year.

I didn’t lose any established plants this winter and that gratifies me and validates my garden choices.  I choose natives or hardy non-natives, with the occasional splurge for the newest, cheap thrill plant that everyone (okay, just gardeners) is talking about.

I always think of the winter landscape as barren, but it isn’t, even in this winter which was colder than any of the past 19 years.   With most of the flowering perennials in my front garden temporarily gone, I’m reminded how nice my ignored-most-of-the-year evergreens are during their winter concert on this sunny February day.

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And in my back garden, I like the clearly defined garden and pathways.  The iris and yucca straps dominate,

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while the Heartleaf Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata) insinuates its soft green carpet anywhere allowed.

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I have a clean pond, which will make pond maintenance easier for the rest of the year and appeals to my aesthetic sense.  I don’t think the fish care whether I clean the pond or not.

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Spring is almost here.  The Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is pruned to the ground

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but life begins anew.

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The Columbines (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana) are lush,

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their first buds emerging.

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Bring it on, Spring.