Wildlife Wednesday: Birds, Birds, Birds–And Some Other Stuff, Too

I wrote in the last installment of  Wildlife Wednesday that the bulk of migrating birds seemed to have skipped right over my garden.  Well, I was wrong–they’ve arrived for rest, water and insects throughout April and it’s been a parade of colorful feathers most days. Today is the first Wednesday of the month, the day wildlife gardeners celebrate those who require our gardens for their survival.

Gardening for wildlife is fun and an important step toward mitigating the damage to the natural environment caused by urbanization and industrialization. Attracting wildlife to the garden is a simple process, if a few basic principles are followed: providing water, cover (in the form of shrubs and trees), shelter for young, and practicing sustainable gardening methods, including utilizing native plants, limiting or eliminating chemicals, and pruning well after migration in spring and fall, leaving nutritious seeds for mammals and birds, and protection for young.  Check out the National Wildlife Federation for more information on the how-tos of wildlife gardening and start your own wildlife friendly garden–you won’t regret it.

Besides the migrants, there was plenty of other “stuff” in the garden, like this little spider, lying in wait to catch-n-munch a bee or fly that might have the misfortune of landing on this Zexmenia bloom, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.


That spider would have snatched a meal if it had instead been loitering on this Zexmenia bloom, complete with native bee ready for the eating.

There are plenty of other native bees, as well as honeybees and butterflies in the garden now, and lots in bloom for them to eat, but this syrphid fly was a pleasure to photograph as it rested after nectaring at a non-native poppy and some native Shrubby blue sage, Salvia ballotiflora.


Pollinators and the predators are great, but in my garden this past month, the migrating birds took center stage so, let’s talk birds, shall we? Aside from the year-round resident avians, Texas lies along a major north-south migration route.  During spring and autumn migration, birders flock (yuk-yuk!) to Texas to catch glimpses and glean photos of the many birds of the Americas as they make their way through Texas.  Though the Gulf of Mexico coastline outshines the birding here, Central Texas has some birding game to brag about.

At the beginning of April, I was still enjoying visits from the Yellow-Rumped warblersSetophaga coronata, 

…and the Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata.

I haven’t seen either for a while and I’ll bet those cuties have headed north and their daily visits to my garden are now ended.  I was glad to host these winter Texans from November into early April.

I’ve seen this handsome charmer on a number of occasions, but these were the best shots I managed:

I’m fairly sure he’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii.  Another visited about the same time last year and was camera shy.  These birds are winter Texans, not showy, but subtle and elegant in color and form. They hop along the ground, looking for seeds, in the cutest way imaginable.  I’m still seeing one or two, several times each week, but they’re headed to other parts of North America and will soon be gone from my garden.

Early one morning I squealed with delight when I walked by a window and spotted this “lifer” in the back garden, eyeing my pond:

The Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens,  winters primarily in Central America, migrating through the eastern half of the US, finally arriving in Canada to breed and raise young.  Canada is a nice place to grow up, I hear.

And yes, you might have noticed the term “lifer” that I slipped into above. That’s a term that real birders use when they’ve seen a bird species for the first time. I’m loathed to use that term because if I do, it means I’m a birder, and I’m trying desperately to avoid that label.

How am I doing so far??

Another new bird for me is this beautiful Blue-headed VireoVireo solitarius. 

Not the best of photos because it was taken at a distance and from inside my house (sometimes that method of photo-taking works, sometimes it doesn’t), this bird’s colors and markings are striking. He’s quick and skittish and has visited a number of times, or perhaps, it’s been visits from several. The vireo and the Black-throated Green share an almost identical wintering, migrating, and breeding geographic pattern.

The bee hunters are back and gobbling up my honeybees and probably, some native bees as well.  I first noticed this attractive female Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra, in the tree under which my honeybee hives, Buzz and Woody, reside.

I love to watch these birds hunt.

Like most predators, they’re smart: note her bright eyes as she searches for her next buzzy snack.

Tanagers catch bees (and wasps and other flying insects) on the wing, take their prey to a tree, bash (ooh!) the hapless critters on a branch, remove the stingers and gulp their meal. These beauties breed in Texas, as well as much of the southern part of the US, though I’ve only seen them in April and May, and coincidentally, since I started beekeeping.


I next caught a quick look-see and shot of a juvenile male, though he didn’t stick around long.

And just this past weekend, an eye-popping adult male graced my garden.

So gorgeous! He swooped and then rested, then swooped again.

I hope a few Summer Tanagers will hang around for the duration of the season; I’d be willing to sacrifice a few of my honeybees for their company.

Last week, a (probably) weary migrating female Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris, bathed briefly in my water-pump infused birdbath.

So pretty, but I still hope to see a startlingly beautiful male before the Buntings head just a little north of here to raise their families.  Last year, a pair hung out in my garden for about a week, which you can see here, noshing on the seeds of the early spring blooming Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.  Using native plants in your garden is a good way to attract migrating songbirds, as well as to feed the native birds of your region.

This blast of sunshine, a Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia, flashed through my garden this past Sunday–I’m so glad I was home to see him!

As a bonus, he stopped and posed for me at the base of the pond.

Playing at being coy, I think!

He’s a gorgeous hunk of avian masculinity and I’m sure he’ll have no trouble finding a mate. Though I suppose all of the male Yellow Warblers are just as pretty, so maybe the competition is tough?  He and his partner(s)  will breed far north of here and if I’m lucky, maybe another will stop and chirp at me in October, as the Yellows make their way back to Central America.

Another lifer (ugh) for me is this female Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula, who also visited recently.  Baltimore Orioles are known for the stunning good looks of the male and the birds’ affection for orange slices in the garden. I am thrilled that this lone female spent time in the birdbath.

Though perhaps outclassed by her male counterpart in the looks department, I find her coloring and markings quite lovely.

Enough with the sipping, I’m gonna bathe!

Stay alert!

Where are those stinkin’ cats?!  No worries, Ms. B, they’re in the house–bathe safely!

Yet another bird common to the eastern part of North America, she’s on her way north, but made a quick stop to refresh and I’m pleased my garden was a respite for her.  After her drink and bath, what else would a Baltimore oriole do?  Steal some yummy blackberries, of course!


Migration is happening and the birds are moving through–I imagine in the next days, it’ll be the resident birds, and maybe their charming offspring, whose feathery presence will dominate.

For those following the goings-on of the goldfish-snarfing heron,

…I found two of the four goldfish hunkering under a ledge of the bog in the pond since posting about the sushi-loving bird. The lily pads are unfurling in rapid succession and I’ve witnessed the bigger of the two goldfish swimming around, no doubt feeling more confident that hiding under the leaves is a good bet for survival. I’m certain the fish are breathing a gilled sigh of relief.

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

Wildlife Wednesday, February 2016: Bee House Buzz

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and time to celebrate those wild things who live in, visit, and NEED your garden!  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday for February.   I’m still enjoying my backyard birds for Cornell Lab, but didn’t want to bore with the usual suspects from last month, though I have witnessed a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus, visit a couple of times, no doubt looking for a tasty bird meal.  I was too excited to grab the camera, so there are no pics of that gorgeous raptor staring hungrily at the White-winged Doves.

Because it’s deep, dark winter,


…or not, I thought I’d share a project that Bee Daddy and I undertook this past year.  It’s not related to our honeybees this time ’round, but to our beautiful native bee residents. I’ve long left well-aged wood in my gardens so that bees can make a home for their offspring.    It’s easy to do:  leave wood out in the garden for bees to find.


They drill into the wood,


…to lay their eggs and then tuck those eggs in with pollen, soil, and such, and voilà,


…more native bees are made.

I do so love my honeybees. But the fact is that honeys are lazy pollinators and if you want bees with pollinating pow-wow, you need to attract whatever bees are native to your area of our little planet.  Native bees are the best pollinators around.  They pollinate food sources (one in three or four bites of food, depending upon your reading source) and approximately 90% of native plants are pollinated by native bees.

Native bees are vital for the health of the world.

According to the US Geological Survey, there are roughly  20,000 native bee species in the world, about 4,000 of which live in the U.S.  They do not suffer the many maladies of honeybees, but we know that they are declining.  The decline comes primarily because of human encroachment on natural areas, the move away from using native plants in home and commercial landscapes, and pesticide use. Additionally, native bees nest  in wood and in open ground–all places and things that most folks rush to scrap in their home gardens. The sterile, pristine landscape paradigm is not kind to wildlife–of any sort–but it’s especially unkind to native bees.  Wild bees need wild space. There’s not much we can do about urbanization, but gardeners can easily make our home landscapes amenable and attractive for these incredibly valuable and fascinating insects.

Last spring, Bee Daddy and I designed templates for wood cuts of varying circles sizes and patterns on the computer,



…that we (okay, Bee Daddy, not I) then drilled into cut, untreated wood.



The wood doesn’t need to be expensive (Bee Daddy used inexpensive fence pickets and 2×4 boards), but it shouldn’t be treated with any chemicals. Remember, we’re trying to make nice homes for bees, not homes laden with icky, insect unfriendly chemicals. You want to drill a variety of circumference sizes as well as varying depths for the holes in order to attract different species of bees.

Additionally, we (okay, Bee Daddy, not I), cut various sizes of bamboo (harvested from a friend’s home who was glad to share) to insert between the holey wood.


Ta da!!  A bee/insect hotel!  Or townhouse!  Or apartment!  Or condominium! Or nesting box!



What this bee house really does is create something cute for gardeners to look at and safe for bees to nest in and nurture their offspring.  Native bees rest-n-nest in  a variety of situations like the ground and natural cavities of wood or even rock. People-made insect hotels have become popular garden-art additions for those wild gardeners wanting to attract even wilder bees, as well as other  important garden residents.


I stacked the two insect hotels for “my” native bees, one on top of the other, with both popped atop an unused and upturned terracotta pot.  Many insect hotels are free-standing and some are made to hang on fences or posts.The insect hotels can be as elaborate or as simple as your time and interests allow for.  My bee condo is situated in a shady spot and both stories have a little overhang so that the entrances to the holes are somewhat protected from weather conditions.  The different sized holes  assure that bees of all kinds can find refuge for their young.  Additionally, lizards and other insects will probably use this as a shelter and also to hunt critters who happen by.

Such is nature.

Don’t have a handy honey-do, carpenter-happy Bee Daddy to do the drill-baby-drill part of this project?  That’s perfectly okay. Aged firewood, or smaller, broken or trimmed tree limbs make great homes for native bees–and all you have to do is place these soon-to-be-bee homes in your garden and the bees will come.




Can you see this little gal, squirreled away in her hidey-hole?


Available wood makes life easier for bees like this female Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis.            .



This mother-to-be drilled all afternoon one day last spring, only to abandon her nesting site. I hope she found softer wood here  in which to lay her eggs.


On my back patio, there are holes in the limestone rock that were drilled for shelves that we removed some years ago.  Instead of filling those holes with mortar, I’ve left them open and I’ve seen several species of bees use these holes as nurseries for their off-spring.



Nice!  I’m looking forward to viewing whomever emerges from that hole and who will be a pollinating fool all spring, summer, and fall.

Along with setting out wood or building insect hotels, if there are fallen leaves from autumn, on the ground waiting for “someone” to pick them up–don’t!  Or, at least, leave some leaves on the ground.  Better yet, place that fallen foliage in your gardens.  Many insects, including bees, take refuge in the cover that crinkly leaves and small tree limbs provide.  Plus, the leaves don’t end up in the landfill and  it’s less work for the gardener if the leaves aren’t bagged.

“Less work” for the gardener is always a good thing.

Lastly, don’t be shy about allowing some open dirt space in your habitat.  There’s no garden rule that says every square inch of your property must be mulched, gardened, turfed, or hardscaped.  About half of native bees are ground nesters and some of the most threatened native bees are those that need bare ground, either to over-winter in or to nest in.  You’ll do everyone a favor if there’s a little naked dirt on your property, here and there.

As of now there are no residents in our native bee houses.  Because life gets in the way, it took us a while to complete this project: we made the templates last May, but we (okay, Bee Daddy, not I) finished the frames, bamboo cuts, and holes in November.  I imagine there will be some residents in place by late spring this year.

For more information about building your own native bee/insect house, check out this link from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.  There are many Internet sites with information about native bees and how to make insect hotels.  If you have children, this is an especially fun project in which to include them and teach the importance of nurturing wildlife and providing habitat.

Don’t forget to plant gorgeous native plants for your bee buddies to nectar on.



Lovely non-native bloomers also fit the bill and provide for pollinators.



The world will be a better place for their survival because of your efforts.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for February 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.

Happy wildlife gardening!