The Anchor of Change: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2018

One thing that Central Texas gardeners can count on during September into October is the termination of the long hot of summer with a very welcomed re-introduction of our second spring.  Compensating for our brutal summers is the reliable flush of new growth, open, exuberant blooming, and gifts of rain–sometimes too much–to gardens and the critters who rely on those gardens.

Typically, we enjoy our first cool fronts at this time, and while the cool is fleeting, it certainly takes the hot edge off of our days and nights.  You’d think wildlife would be appreciative of any small portion of relief, but this past month hasn’t necessarily been packed with wildlife happenings, at least that’s so in my garden.  Nevertheless, here are some offerings for Wildlife Wednesday.

Blooming perennials, reawakened with softening temperatures and gulps of water from the sky, have given pollinators of all stripes, scales, and feathers plenty in their search for pollen and nectar.  This honeybee worked the flowerets of Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum.  The same bee worked the neighboring bloom of Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala.   As well, tiny native bees also partake of both kinds of blooms.

 

Typically, September sees the beginning of autumn migration from northern parts of North America to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Early in September, a pair of Yellow warblersSetophaga petechia, spent several days visiting my pond.  I couldn’t get a shot of them together, or a lone shot of the female, but the male sat still long enough for a couple of quick shots.

Each warbler hopped around the limestone rock which borders the pond, with nervous flutters into the oak trees.  I never actually saw any bathing in the bog, or splashing the the waterfall, but both birds were clearly interested in the water feature.

I see this species each spring as they head northward, but don’t recall ever witnessing an autumn visit before.  That said, I haven’t observed any other migratory birds through my garden this past month, which is odd. The autumn migration season spreads out over a longer period and isn’t as intense as the spring migration, but I’m surprised that I haven’t seen other passers-through at my pond or in the garden.  I hope the migrants are finding enough in rural areas to forgo urban gardens.

 

My pond toads, Gulf coast toadBufo valliceps, are croaking their way to the end of their breeding season.  I’ve seen itty bitty, baby toads in the garden, but this grown fella was willing to pose for me at sunup one morning.

 

The neighborhood squirrels are up to their usual antics, like the actions of this female Eastern Fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, who was bound and determined to have the birds’ seeds for lunch.

Balancing.

Vertical tight-rope manuevers.

The big stretch.

Success! Who knew that noshing on the ground is easier?

 

Finally, in a nod to the end-of-October scare, is this gorgeous spider who’s been hanging out at my back patio.  I’ve identified her as a Spotted orbweaverNeoscona crucifera.

I don’t find her scary and in fact, I think she’s quite beautiful.  She’s also large; her abdomen is about an inch in diameter–a big girl!  I’ve only seen her at night and she’s shy, so she scuttles up her web into the ceiling of the patio cover when she notices me.  I was fortunate to catch this shot of her.  I wonder if she was drowsy with digestion?

What’s winging or singing in your garden during this predictable season of change?  Please post about your wildlife happenings and remember to leave a link when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Some Like it Hot: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2018

With apologies to Billy Wilder and his silly romcom, Some Like It Hot,  I can’t think of a more appropriate title for this edition of Wildlife Wednesday.  Here in Austin, Texas we’ve sweltered through 15 consecutive days of over 100°F (37.7°C) temperatures, with 20 some-odd days over 100º in total for the summer.  On one of those days, the temperature reached 110ºF (43ºC).  Sadly, that’s not a record breaker, (it’s 112F in 2011) but it was oven-like nonetheless.  And, August is just beginning.

UGH!

These days in Austin, it’s not unusual to experience many days reaching over 100ºF and while that’s concerning, so far this summer the wild critters in my garden are weathering the blistering heat just fine–they thrive with available water sources, cover in the guise of trees and shrubs, foods in the form of seeds on perennials (and some in a bird feeder), and places to nest.

I lost my main passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) during some hard freezes this past winter, so I haven’t enjoyed viewing as many Gulf Fritillary butterfliesAgraulis vanillae,  as I usually see. Passion vines are the host plant for these orange beauties. Recently though, one or two Fritillaries have appeared and are laying eggs on a few sprigs of a second, and different, passion vine which volunteers in an open area of my back garden.  This Purple passion-flower, Passiflora incarnata, doesn’t bloom in my garden, but boasts enough foliage for the caterpillars to partake of on their way to adulthood.

This Gulf Fritillary rested on a plant near to where the passion vine grows. Had it just emerged from its chrysalis?

 

I’m fairly sure this plain little thing is a Dun skipperEuphyes vestris, but I’m not positive.

It worked the blooms of a salvia and stopped just long enough for me to snap a shot.

I don’t see American Snout butterflies, Libytheana carinenta, very often, so it was a treat to see this one on the foliage of one of my Softleaf yuccas.

I kept my distance and never successfully captured the butterfly with wings spread because it flitted away warily from the weird woman stalking it through the garden.  Snouts’ host plant is the Common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, which is a tree that many modern Texans hate. Hackberry trees seed out everywhere and often in less-than-desirable spots, but they’re an important wildlife food source.  Along with the Snout, Hackberry trees also feed the Question Mark and Mourning Cloak butterflies, as well as providing fruit and shelter for birds.  Native Americans didn’t hate the Hackberry and used it for medicine and food.

This Funereal duskywingErynnis baptisiae, looks like it might have had a close-call  with a predator.

The bits of missing wing didn’t slow down its nectaring and pollinating mission.   It favored the sunflowers which are still in bloom.

I’ve had a difficult time identifying this petite pollinator, but I think it’s a Eufala skipper, Lerodea euflala.

Eufala skippers are considered “grass” skippers, as their host plants are grasses like Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, and sugarcane.  Both Johnson and Bermuda are common in Central Texas, but I don’t grow either in my garden.

Here’s yet another I dunno what this is, but firmly in the native bee category.  I thought she was one of my ubiquitous Horsefly-like carpenter bees, but she’s not quite that big.  She buzzed around the very pink Rock rose flowers, snuggling in to the reproductive parts of the flowers and covering herself with pollen,

…and showing me her backside.

I think she’s in the Melittidae family which collect pollen on the hairs of their bodies and nest in the ground.  She was fast flyer and a busy, busy bee.

This diminutive, metallic-green sweat bee sported loaded pollen baskets, full-to-bursting with creamy white pollen.  As I watched her, I think she was resting and not collecting pollen, on the end of the Mexican Orchid bloom stamen.

I’ve been privileged to observe a couple of big, beautiful Southern Carpenter bees, Sylocopa micans,  in the last couple of weeks.

Stunning black with a blue sheen on their wings and bodies, these bees have moved with intention through the Turk’s cap shrub, from red bloom to red bloom.  At least in my garden, the Turk’s is the clear favorite of these bees.  This bee species utilizes buzz pollination–a particularly efficient form of pollination–and as I observed the two visiting, I could see and hear that buzzing on the flower.

Hummingbirds are not bees (duh!), but they sure are buzzy as they zoom through the garden, and this summer, they’ve been in abundance.  This female, probably Black-chinned hummingbird, also worked Turk’s cap blooms.

Have I mentioned that Turk’s cap is a fabulous wildlife plant?

I don’t typically hang a sugar water feeder out for the hummers.  I have nothing against hummer feeders and they’re great for attracting and supplementing the tiny birds’ diet, but I’ve found that hummers prefer what I’ve planted in my gardens and don’t visit the feeders when I’ve placed them.  That said, the sugar water is important for hummingbirds, especially as they ramp up for their fall migration southward.

Volunteer sunflowers are still blooming, but the spent blooms are also setting seed.  A variety of birds feed on these seeds including ones like this female House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus,

…and this handsome male Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria.

I’ll leave the stalks up until all the blooms are done and the seeds eaten.  Then I’ll cut back the stalks to about 2-3 feet tall and leave some on the ground, so that insects (native bees, primarily) can utilize the hollow stems for nesting through fall, winter, and next year’s growing season.

A pair of Carolina wrensThryothorus ludovicianus, nested nearby and are teaching their 2(?) chicks how to manuever through the neighborhood.

I’m confident this cutey is junior, baring his belly in birdly pride as mom and dad wren perched close by, chchchhching at me, while I snapped this shot.

This Green anole lizardAnolis carolinensis, can’t decide whether to dress for the heat in green or brown.

I didn’t hang around long enough to observe, but I’ll bet it chose the green outfit to fit in with the surroundings.

No matter if your garden is deep in the dog days of summer or chilling in the depths of winter, 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–and happy wildlife gardening!

White mistflower, Shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis): A Seasonal Look

Is this fresh snow, newly laden upon branches?

While suggestive of frosty stuff, these white fluffs are instead the wonderful cotton-like flower clusters of White mistflowerAgeratina havanensis, glorious in autumn blooming.

White mistflower, also known as Shrubby boneset and Havana snakeroot, is a native Texas shrub, ranging from the Edwards Plateau region of Texas to northern Mexico.  It’s promoted as appropriate for growing zones 7-11.  In colder areas, the mistflower is deciduous, but retains some, or all, foliage further south.  My White mistflower hasn’t been deciduous for several years, though prolonged hard freezes have stripped the shrub of most, if not all, of its foliage in past years.  Best with more, rather than less, sun, this mistflower blooms fairly well in partial sun (some direct morning, with afternoon dappled), like what exists in my back garden.

The arched branches are obvious in this photo.

White mistflower is not a shrub that should be regularly pruned, nor pruned formally, as its many slender, arching limbs create a casual effect in the garden.  The prettiest mistflower shrubs I’ve seen have all been situated on slopes, in full sun, cascading in frothy waves over rocks.  My one shrub grows under the canopy of a deciduous oak tree, in moderately heavy clay soil and on a flat surface.  To counter the amorphous form of mistflower, I’ve planted some structural companions.

The Softleaf yucca provides a structural  contrast to the meandering ways of the White mistflower.

The tiny flowers are borne in terminal clusters and cover the shrub for 3-4 weeks in the fall.  I don’t always prune my shrub back after winter, so I can usually count on enjoying a few spring blooms.  The flower clusters flush pink just before they open in full and they are pollinator magnets.

Migrating Monarch butterflies adore these tiny flowers! I’ve counted as many as 20 on my shrub.

As do the honeybees!

This Tachinid fly also loves the White mistflower blooms, along with Frostweed blooms–both boast  white flowers in autumn.

There are many kinds of pollinators who visit the mistflower blooms:  bees (native and honey), a variety of butterflies and moths, flies, and hummingbirds.   The White mistflower is also the host plant for Rawson’s Metalmark butterfly. When blooming, the flower clusters blanket the back garden with a sweet/spicy fragrance.  The flowers and pollinators that White mistflower attracts are the primary reasons this shrub is a desired garden addition, but it’s also water-wise and somewhat deer resistant.

My biggest problem with White mistflower is that birds love to flit through the shrub, eating insects along the branches, and once it’s time for spring pruning, I don’t posses the heart to whack it back to the ground.  I like shrubs that provide cover for the birds, and since mine rarely looses all its leaves, I’m reluctant to completely cut the shrub back. The result is that over the past few years, my mistflower has grown quite large and unwieldy.

I remedied my aversion to mistflower pruning late this past spring:  I pruned the mistflower down to about 12 inches and moved it to a slightly different spot where it will receive a smidge more sun.  By pruning this growing season, I’ll have a tidier shrub in autumn.  I’ll pinky swear to be a better mistflower gardener in the future.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

There!  I’m sure that will do the trick for me!

The beauty of the blooms last well into December, as the seed heads are also attractive.

Still in flower, some seed heads are beginning to form.

The spent blooms-to-seed heads become a warm, toasty color, retaining their fun fuzz factor, and are decorative until a hard freeze and/or winter winds scatter them.  I usually spot a few seedlings in spring and summer and have shared many with other gardeners.

Post bloom period, the seed heads are attractive–less bright white, more muted.

The foliage thins as temperatures drop and sunlight diminishes.

Once a hard, lasting freeze happens, the shrub drops all remaining leaves and is dormant for until late February or early March.  (That’s here in Austin–further north, dormancy will last longer, south of Austin, foliage will flush out earlier, or may remain evergreen.)

 

October, November and even December are peak points of interest for the White mistflower, but it’s a lovely plant during other times of the growing season.  In spring, brilliant foliage adds to the greening of the garden.

When I prune my mistflower, the shrub bounces back quickly, limbs shooting upwards and arching gracefully as time march towards summer.  A few scattered blossom clusters appear in late spring/early summer, though it’s only a pale preview of the fall blossom show.

During summer, the shrub is tough–never wilting in heat, nor languishing in drought.

But it’s in the fall that the mistflower demands attention–and gets it!

I’m thrilled when buds begin developing!

The blooms never disappoint!

 

White mistflower is an easy plant to grow.  It requires minimal watering (after it’s established), is an excellent wildlife and pollinator plant, and provides mostly year-round  interest.  If you garden in Texas, it’s a must-have shrub for the native plant lover and wildlife provider.  It’s probably evergreen, or nearly so, in South Texas, deciduous in north Texas, something in-between in Central Texas.  It’s lovely everywhere!  If you garden elsewhere, check out your county extension agent’s office and local gardening community for information about this valuable shrub.

In spring and summer: White mistflower is full and lush and provides cover for wildlife:

This is an early spring (March?) shot after a hard pruning in February.

In autumn: snowy, fuzzy beauty abounds!

Here, the blooms are developing, but not quite open.

The flower clusters appear to weigh down the limbs.

In late fall and winter, seed heads are attractive.  The shrub may or may not be evergreen, it simply depends on where it’s planted.