Wildlife Wednesday: Migrants

The antics of North American neotropical birds (as they migrate from Central and South America to various parts of North America), continued in my garden during May and nearly into June.  Bird migration is the remarkable natural phenomenon transforming the skies into invisible (to us) highways for those seeking longer days in which to raise young, and to locate and dine on new and different food sources from what wintering grounds provide. Today is the first Wednesday of June, so let’s revisit the wild happenings in our gardens from this past month. In my case, it’s all about the birds.

I’ve been privileged to host a variety of migratory birds as they stop to rest, bathe, and eat in my back garden. This spring, plenty of species that I’d seen before popped in, some lingering for days and others, for oh-so-brief stints.  Yellow Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and more, comprise the regular sightings that I look forward to during spring migration. I appreciate these revisiting migrants (and their relatives), but this spring, the number and assortment of birds eclipsed any spring or autumn migratory period I’ve yet witnessed in my own garden space.

April’s Wildlife Wednesday saw the visitation of a lone female Baltimore OrioleIcterus galbula, but during May, a small band of two males and another female stopped for a couple of days to nosh on delicious tangerine slices that I had placed on several fences in the hopes that these colorful birds would take a load off and pay a call–and it worked!

This male made short shrift of the juicy treat one evening.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit of all sorts.  During migration, orange or tangerine slices placed in gardens provide a high-calorie snack for the bird and an opportunity to please the bird watchers.

I hastily nailed, and then impaled, tangerine slices when I read that Baltimore Orioles were winging their way through Central Texas.

I think that before next autumn’s migration, I’m going to rig some sticks for the birds’ perching pleasure.  This guy looks uncomfortable squatting on top of the flat surface while he slurps the sweet stuff.

I can report that the tangerines were fabulous!

During several mornings I spotted one, or more,  Swainson’s Thrush birds, Catharus ustulatus.

These pretty birds hung around the pond, bathing or fluffing from bathing, but each individual also traipsed through the garden, presumably picking up yummy bugs for post-bath snacks.  They have a funny way of running, reminiscent of how some water birds walk.

Swainson’s Thrushes enjoy a wide migration pattern, utilizing the entire width of the U.S. for migration and  then breeding throughout  a broad swath of Canada.

“Are you getting my good side?”

I’m looking over the shoulder, just so.”

 

Another bird that I’ve never seen before this spring, and who made several appearances, were Canada WarblersCardellina canadensis.  These beautiful, tiny birds were tough to photograph.  They flit constantly and would not pose!

Despite this study in blur, his beauty is obvious, with coordinated, yet contrasting gray and yellow coloring, adorned by a black necklace.

These birds are shy and constantly on the go.  They’re named for our fabulous northern neighbor, but are the last to migrate from South America and the first to leave Canada for their tropical winter home.  They like it hot, I guess.

I think this is a female Canada warbler.

This was the best photo I managed.  Her markings don’t quite fit the color patterns of other species with the gray and yellow scheme, but she also doesn’t show the faded black necklace that female and juveniles demonstrate.  That could be my limited abilities to capture and not her lack of identity markers.

 

A gorgeous gray bird is this Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis, who displays a you caught me!  goofy look on his face.

 

Ah, this shot is better–you can see just how handsome this relative of the mockingbird is.

I’ve enjoyed previous visits from these birds, though usually they spend time in the blackberry vine, enjoying juicy fruits.  This year my crop was a bust, but the Catbird visited nonetheless.

 

Black-and-white WarblersMniotilta varia, made appearances throughout April and May, but these are the best photos shots they allowed me:

I think the Black-and-white Warbler is a most elegant bird in both color and form.

Opposite from the Canada Warbler, the Black-and-whites are some of the first of the migrants to leave their tropical wintering homes and travel northward for breeding.

A Wilson WarblerCardellina pusilla,

The black cap is a sweet marking.

…and his mate,

…spent a couple of days with me.  They liked the pond–and the bugs!  Both male and female worked up,  down, and around various perennial plants, grabbing insects and hiding from the camera.

A Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, stopped briefly,

…and charmed.

A Great Crested FlycatcherMyiarchus crinitus, also showed up–and departed before the camera clicked.

Last spring (2016) several male and female American Redstart WarblersSetophaga ruticilla, favored my garden and introduced themselves to me.  This spring, only ladies visited.

This species hops and dances, flashing decorative, butter-yellow patterned tails.

 

A single male Chestnut-sided WarblerSetophaga pensylvanica, briefly brightened the garden.

So much color on one little bird: white, black, bright yellow, and rusty-red

This multicolored cutey was a fleeting guest–I hope his kind returns one day.

 

The last warblers who vacated my garden was a pair of Common Yellowthroat WarblersGeothlypis trichas.   Cornell Lab of Ornithology (see previous link) describes their insect-hunting vocalizations as  “witchety-witchety-witchety” and that’s exactly how I found them as the female worked the garden for some protein, witchety-whichetying all the while.

 

Here, she contemplates a dip in the pond.

 

The male, jaunty mask in place, enjoyed the pond, but I’m sure snatched his share of insects, too.

It’s been just over a week since I last spied these two;  I hope they’re flying north to do their duty and raise a family.  Moreover, I hope that they–with their offspring– pop back for a visit in September or October.

No male Painted BuntingPasserina ciris, ever landed with his signature splash of color, but several females enjoyed my pond.

They’re always  welcome in my garden–as are most wild critters.  Come back soon, feathered friends!

Migrating or otherwise, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for June 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!

 

Some Favorites: Wildlife Wednesday, February 2017

Today is the first Wednesday of February and time 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!

Evicted!

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:

20170122_164932copy

20170122_164940copy

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.