Yearning for Blue

Austin enjoys a sunny disposition, gloriously supplemented by blue-filled skies.  Spring sparkles with new green, stunning colors, and a crystalline overhead.   Summer shines, luscious foliage providing relief from the toasty Texas sun, while puffs of white float lazily across azure heavens.  Autumn–when it arrives–is subdued compared to its Northern brethren.  It unfolds in weeks of muted rusts, golds, reds, and browns, all in contrast to the hopeful sapphire above.  But reality bites and Austin, from time to time, must endure some rain and gloom.  Truthfully, I’m usually grateful for that change.  Rain is a good thing, though sometimes we have too much.  For now, it’s cloudy and dreary, and yesterday, heavy, steady rain fell.

Our weather is in an autumn-to-winter pattern and I’m missing my blue skies.

The rain has ended for now, flood warnings have all expired, but leaden skies dominate–as is appropriate this time of year.  I crave light during the dark, and recall a recent day infused with sunshine, where garden critters echoed the blue Texas sky.

This cheery Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, bathed with abandon.

The ‘Blue’ and ‘Cyan‘ parts of his name are descriptive of his good looks.  The joy he exhibits while bathing always brings a smile to this fan of the feathered.

That same bright afternoon, a Familiar BluetEnallagma civile,  posed on foliage which hadn’t turned.

It flitted here and there, wings shimmering, blue body glistening.

I feel better now and I’ll stop my whining about the rain and gloom.  When it’s dry, I’ll rake the soggy leaves which trees have relinquished, and await the return of the promised blue sky.

Serendipity: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2018

One day last week, having just arrived home and in the kitchen fetching a glass of water, the flutter of dove wings outside a nearby large window alerted me to the possible presence of a hawk in the back garden.  As I approached the window, a wet dove (probably from the nearby birdbath) was driven into the window in a panic. It fell, and tottered on the ground.  Its pursuer (a gorgeous Cooper’s Hawk) landed on top of the dove, mantled over the wet feathered victim, and took flight with the hapless prey (soon to be a meal) firmly clasped in its talons.  This drama took seconds to unfold.

Nature is predictable:  it employs the unfolding of flowers when expected, foliage relinquishing color on cue, and predator and prey relationships–bound in their eternal tension–playing out regularly.  Nature provides wonder at every step and turn, and gardens–nature’s intimate representatives–obliges with daily (and nightly) vignettes.

I pity the poor dove, but Cooper’s Hawks must eat and in urban landscapes, White- winged doves are plentiful, and some are destined to become food.  I have no photos of this dove hunt, but did spy a similar scenario while observing a pollination palooza on my White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis.  As I watched and photographed a variety of bees, butterflies, and flies, I saw a type of assassin bug, Zelus luridus, atop a leaf, clutching a native Ceratina bee.

After a few seconds of my hovering over the insect and its prey, the assassin was nervous at my presence (maybe I wanted in on the bee-for-dinner action?) and scuttled under the same leaf for cover.  I followed,

…and snapped a couple of shots (the best I could manage) and then left the predator in peace to partake of its meal.

After all, I prefer mac-n-cheese.

I lament that the wee bee is no longer alive to do its bee-thing, but so it goes in nature:  everything must eat and many will be eaten.  Nature is real and often harsh and not all stories told have happy endings for every character. That said, when I observe a garden visitor going about its business, I’m reminded of the remarkable events, positive or negative for those concerned, occurring under my nose or outside my window.

This Lyside SulphurKricogonia lyside, pollinated near the ground, below my direct line of vision one sparkly afternoon.

Camouflaged by color and quiet, this common butterfly only caught my attention with slight movement as it work about its floral dinner table.  Often more yellow and regularly in rapid flight, this one was gentle in motion as it nectared on the Prairie goldeneye bloom.

For anyone paying attention, the observation of pollinators on flowers, or birds in trees and shrubs, or reptiles, amphibians, and mammals on the ground, life and death is business as usual. Nature’s complexity, with multitudes of species performing in biological choreograph, is the heartbeat and blood flow of a garden.  Any notion that a pleasant surprise is a rare thing in a garden is absurd.  From a bird of prey hunting, to the nearly invisible nectaring of a well-concealed butterfly, the ordinary functioning of garden, and, in the bigger picture, of the natural world, is revealed, and remarkable.

Gardeners and those who observe wildlife, enjoy a vital role in promoting and protecting biodiversity.  Our love of the outdoors, coupled with the drive to create and cultivate, imparts a unique perspective on the importance of a healthy environment and connection with our fellow Earth critters.

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) nectaring on White mistflower.

Do you want a a garden that is alive and exciting?  Make a resolution to utilize native plants in your garden:  native plants are beautiful and tough, and you will see wildlife rebound and flourish in your midst.  You will be thrilled by many serendipitous encounters: all breathtaking, all humbling, and all life-affirming.

So ends Wildlife Wednesdays for 2018.   Please leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!

 

Aflutter: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2018

My heart’s aflutter as I relish the beautiful Central Texas autumn and my garden’s a flutter with late season pollinators. As is typical in autumn, there are multitudes of pollinators busily working.  Especially in the early morning hours and at sundown and afterward, there are scads of flutterings everywhere, with ghostly, diaphanous wings highlighted by whatever light is available.  Most of those active during the day are small skippers and bees, but also in the mix are a huge variety of flies, larger butterflies and moths, and other winged insects, all making the rounds of the bonanza of autumn blooms.   Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly blogging huzzah celebrating the winged, feathered, scaled, and furred which give gardens their buzz-n-hum.

I grow plants not only because of their looks, but for what they provide for wildlife. I’m not picky about color or form–I love’em all, but I focus on plants that nourish something at some point in the growing season.

Some plants in my gardens are dynamite pollinator providers and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, is one of them.  This Greater bee flyBombylius major, nectared with intent one cloudy afternoon throughout a patch of Frostweed.

Proboscis deep in the flowerets of Frostweed, these flies spend lots of time at the blooms.

I’ve observed a number of these fuzzy flies this fall.

The same is true for the Tachnid fly, nectaring on another pollinator powerhouse plant,  Prairie goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

Ive  primarily seen the Tachnids in the fall on goldeneye and Frostweed. I’ve nick-named them my ‘hairy-butted buddies’.

We give lots of credit to beautiful bees, butterflies, and moths, but all kinds of insects pollinate, including the lowly fly.  As well, there’s a great variety of flies, more than just those that annoy at picnics.

Syrphid flies are ubiquitous in my gardens during the late summer and autumn months.

This one is a Common Oblique SyrphidAllograpta obliqua, but I’ve observed other species too, which I hope to capture in photo form for next month. The blue blooming beauty is the Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea.  It’s another plant which has a long and popular blooming cycle.  Pollinators are nuts about it.

Like the Syrphids, Fiery Skippers, Hylephila phyleus, love the Henry blossoms, and their autumnal coloring complement the vibrant blue of the Henrys.

Wings spread!

Wings closed!

 

It’s a huge year for the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.  Because of good weather conditions in their northern breeding areas, their numbers are up from the last decade or so.  While I didn’t have many come through my garden as they migrated to their wintering grounds in Mexico, enough visited and fed hungrily that I’m glad that I grow plenty of nectar plants for them to choose from.

This female nectars on the excellent wildlife plant, Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii).

Cousin to the Monarch is the Queen butterflyDanaus gilippus.  It’s more common than the Monarch and a resident of Central Texas.

I like this shot of a family reunion:  Monarch and Queen enjoying a meal of Goldeneye together.

 

The prize for most common of the large swallowtails in my garden definitely goes to the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor. I grow a host plant, the White-veined Dutchman’s pipe and have enjoyed these gorgeous butterflies all growing season as they visited.  Their life-cycle for this year is closing, but my Dutchman’s pipe has seeded out and the mother plants will overwinter, so there should be plenty of the host plant for next year’s butterfly babies.  I’ve already promised to share seedlings with gardener buddies next spring.

 

Dressed in fall colors are a couple of year-round visitors, a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,

The Admiral is nectaring on a Plateau goldeneye. The purple daisies in the background are Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

 

…and a Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae.

The Fritillary is nectaring on a West Texas native, Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora).

 

In addition to eating, insects are mating to assure a next generation.  These two Clouded skippersLerema accius, pitched woo on the foliage of a Turk’s cap.

 

I had a difficult time identifying this lovely critter, but  I believe it’s a Four-spotted PalpitaPalpita quadristigmalis.

It doesn’t show the four spots, but that could be the limitations of my camera or that the wings are a bit tattered and the shape of the wings and body are similar to the targeted insect. I think this is one of the multitudes of early evening/nighttime pollinators, though it’s hard to tell.

Did you think I forgot about the bees?  Nope, of course I didn’t!  My honeybees are all over the place and even with our many rainy days,  if just a bit of sunshine streams through the clouds, the bees are out-and-about.

The Green Sweat bee, Halictidae, sports a gorgeous color which complements its food source.  These pretties have been active in the past month or two.  Some nest in wood, others in the ground.

 

This fast-flying, quick-nectaring bee was hard to catch, but I think it’s a Longhorned bee, Apidae.  The individuals I’ve seen have favored the Henry Duelberg blooms as shown here.

 

More common in my garden are the Eastern Carpenter bees.  This one is also a fan of the Henry Duelberg blooms.

That Henry Duelberg sage–it’s a pollinator winner!

 

Alongside the pollinators, some hangers-on appeared.  I typically see Obscure Bird GrasshoppersSchistocerca obscura, in the fall and this year didn’t disappoint.

Hanging on a window screen, he/she looked warily at me as I sneaked a shot.

There’s nothing obscure about this big beauty!

 

Common Green DarnersAnax junius,  dart here and there in the gardens, and when they alight, are camouflaged by foliage–hard to see, but lovely to behold once observed.  This one was easy to spot and cooperative with the photographer.

 

There is much happening in my fall garden!  What’s in your autumn–or spring–garden?  Share you wild happenings and don’t forget to leave a link when you comment.  Happy wildlife gardening!