Red, White, Blue and Other Stuff Too: Wildlife Wednesday, July

As it’s both Wildlife Wednesday and Independence Day, let’s cheer America’s 242 birthday and wish a hearty huzzah for wildlife in the garden.

Wildlife is active in my garden this summer, but I’ve been slow at catching that activity. Feathered and furred alike, it seems they scatter when they see me with the camera!  That woman is out with her weird, third eye!!  Plus, it’s been unusually windy here, so photos of teeny-tiny bees-n-such have been difficult to come by. Nevertheless, wildlife persists, augmenting the beauty of the early summer garden.

This brilliant male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, brightens the landscape with Red plumage whenever he visits my garden.

He and his lovely lady,

…never nest in my garden, but are regular visitors to the trees, feeders, and water features.   They raised two chicks this spring and early summer; both babies have fledged and are learning to garden-hop.  I haven’t managed good shots of the girl, but the boy is working on his red attire.

He’s a bit mottled in this shot, taken in mid-June.   I’ve noticed recently that his red feathers are becoming more dominant, lessening his awkward teen appearance.  Thank goodness!  Soon, he and his sister will move on to a different part of the neighborhood, both in search for mates for next year.

As for White, well, it’s less in the guise of wildlife and more in flower form, like this sweet Four O’clock bloomMirabilis jalapa.  The flowers open at sundown and close early in the morning.

I guess for wildlife White, I could include some white-wing, as in this White-winged DoveZenaida asiatica.

Like many birds who visit the pond, this one perches on a rock which is adjacent to the tumbling rush of cool water.

Blue has greater representation in my garden with a bevy of Blue jays,  Cyanocitta cristata, who call it home.

I dole out peanuts every morning and the Blue jays love them!    Each morning,  7 or 8 jays take turns plucking peanuts from a ceramic bowl affixed to the fence.  Additionally, a Blue jay pair nested in my Mountain Laurel tree in May and June, so I’ve enjoyed watching the parenting care in raising the brood and the antics of the fledglings.  The newbies have finally learned how to take their own peanuts for breakfast, rather than fluttering their wings in hopes that mom or dad will share peanuts.

This Blue made a brief visit one afternoon.

Austin hosts numerous communities of Monk parakeets, Myiopsitta monachus.  I see them flying over my neighborhood and hear their loud cawing, but only rarely do they land in my garden.  I assume this Blue parakeet is part of a Monk group, though he/she could also be an escaped or lost pet.  The bird was eyeing my pond, but was in the tree for just a few minutes.

Other Things in the garden include an uptick of damselflies and dragonflies–they thrive in summer and are constant pond companions as they flit through the garden while hunting for their meals and resting on foliage.  This Neon Skimmer,  Libellula croceipennis, posed beautifully one weekend afternoon as I lolled in the swing.

This male is a bright orange, his mate of a paler hue.  I’ve observed her laying eggs in the pond several times this summer–more skimmers in our future, unless the fish eat all the larvae.

I see Red-bellied WoodpeckersMelanerpes carolinus, during winter and early spring, but this summer, both a male and female have been regular guests at the feeder.

This guy snatched black-oil sunflower seeds from the feeder, afterwards zooming to the nearby oak tree to stuff the seeds in a hole.  I didn’t see a juvenile at any point, but wondered if this was parenting behavior teaching a young one.

Finally, this unknown moth surprised me late one evening.

Like most folks, I’m bedazzled by the beauty of butterflies; their bright colors and lovely patterns seduce the wildlife watcher during daylight hours.  But moths are certainly gorgeous, though subtle in color.  Their patterns are remarkably intricate, but we don’t see these nighttime lovelies enough to appreciate their good looks or their contribution to flowers and gardens.

Wildlife in the garden–it’s been a good month and I hope you’ve enjoyed your critters, no matter what their colors, stars, or stripes.   Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening!

Happy Birthday, America–it’s been a good run for our democratic institutions–may they remain.

A Cheer for Pollinators!

This week, June 18-24, marks National Pollinator Week, so proclaimed by the U. S. Senate in 2007.  The week’s educational activities focus on the importance of pollinators and on the pressing need to prevent further decline of this importance source of much of our food supply and their role in healthy ecosystems.  The devastating decline of pollinators is worldwide and bad– really bad–but today, I find it hard to post about pretty plants and home gardens while my own government is cruelly and nauseatingly separating families seeking a better life–which all of our own ancestors did–as they arrive at our southern border seeking asylum.

America is supposed to be better than this.

Clearly, we are not.  Please, please, if you are sickened by this current policy, contact your Senators, your Congress Representatives and the White House to express your outrage and to demand an immediate halt to these abhorrent family separations and offensive incarcerations of children.


The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone….
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto. 
-Pavel Friedmann, June 4, 1942, Theresienstadt concentration camp


The policy of criminalizing these families and setting them aside as “others” is a dangerous and slippery slope to be traveling upon and Americans should join together to end this abomination.

We should see butterflies–and bees, bats, moths, hummingbirds and a host of other critters–freely in our midst and forever, as they contribute their pollinating gifts to the world.  They might seem small and insignificant, but they are vital to our survival and deserve a place to exist and do their work.  Like people who are attempting to find a new home and contribute to our community, pollinators are part of the fabric of a healthy society.

In my garden work-horse pollinators are common and an integral part the garden.

Small leaf-cutter bee flying from bloom to bloom.

Possibly the same species of native bee, maybe a Melittidae or Striped Abdomen (oil-collecting bee), this one works diligently on a Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.


A Small Carpenter Bee, Ceratina spp. Apidae, enjoying the bounty of a Shrubby skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii.


Resting from the hard work of pollinating is this unknown butterfly.  I think it’s some sort of checkerspot, but I can’t positively identify.  Regardless, its beauty and form enhance the garden; its pollination work restores the Earth.


A diminutive Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, likes the petite blooms of an oregano.

Another fan of oregano is this Bordered Plant bug. Not well-known as a pollinator, it pollinates as it moves from bloom to bloom and plant to plant.


Ah, now there’s a pollinator we all know, the busy, buzzy Honeybee.


It’s rare that I get a decent shot of a hummingbird, but this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, complied with my photographic wishes while sipping from a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.  She’s a regular visitor to this plant, sharing the flowers with another female hummer.  Sharing, that is, when they aren’t chasing one another away from the plant!

It’s not a great shot, but check out her beak as she zoomed away from the flowers.  Is that yellow pollen coating her nose?


Another leaf-cutting bee, Megachile, rests on a leaf.  She’s got a load of pollen on her pollen pantaloons (my term!), also known as corbiculae (scientific term!), but I couldn’t tell if she was nibbling on the leaf.  Megachile bees pack their nests with leaf material mixed with soil and pollen.


Another native bee (Megachile?), works oregano blooms.

Oregano is a huge attractor of pollinating insects. I share my oregano with many kinds of pollinating insects.  Or, maybe it’s the other way around?

An autumn visitor and Mexican migrant, a Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectars from the flowers of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  


Most of these insects require more than just pretty flowers to feed from.  This Black Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, feeds fennel foliage.  It will feed until it’s ready to morph into the adult butterfly.  Yes, caterpillars of moths and butterflies munch on plants, but rarely do they munch to the plants’ deaths.  The key is to practice gardening patience and understand that munched foliage is often a sign of a vibrant ecosystem.

Aside from allowing larval insects to feed on foliage, what are other practices which encourage healthy pollinator gardens?  Well, avoiding the use of pesticides is an excellent beginning.  Instead, to limit insect damage, spritz unwanted critters from your plants with water.  Or, if you’re inclined, pick off beetles and slower bugs and pop them into soapy water.  It doesn’t take long to limit damage to the garden if you’re aware of who’s there and take action immediately.

Leave some part of your property a little bit messy.  Let leaves lie;  have some bare ground available for ground nesting bees and leave some wood out for those who prefer to raise their families in wood.  Build insect hotels; there are many plans available on the Internet and in gardening books and they’re easy to build.  Use native plants whenever and wherever you can!

If you plant ‘them’ or build ‘them’ or leave ‘it’ be–pollinators will come!

We have a beautiful country.  Let’s take care of it in all its varying forms.  Let’s encourage and work toward diversity in our natural landscapes and kindness and humanity in our human communities

The Newest Buzz: Bee Mama Missives

At the beginning of 2018, I wrote about the de-bugging of Buzz, our Langstroth beehive who met its end late last summer.  Buzz lost its queen in spring of 2017 (who knows what happened?) and we were never able to successfully requeen the hive (we tried, we really tried!).  The hive declined because there was no mated queen replenishing the population of workers and once the hive reached a weak enough tipping point,  it was invaded by wax moths.


I cleaned Buzz in winter and in mid-April, two weeks before we left for a trip, we rehived our beloved Buzz.

A package of honeybees await release from their traveling cage. I wonder if they’re staring at their new home?

It’s a good idea to feed newly hived honeybees for the first month or so.  The feed is a 1:1 sugar/water mixture and helps the girls establish a solid beginning in their new home.  When we feed our bees (with a new hive, during a severe drought, or at the end of winter, before much is blooming) we use boardman feeders which are placed outside the hive, on the entrance board.

Buzz doesn’t need much sugar-water now, but I’m still supplementing a bit using a boardman feeder.  She has made such progress in comb-building, egg laying, and honey production, that we’ve recently added a second box. Go Buzz!

Our trip was couple of weeks long and we didn’t think that asking pet/house sitters to change the bees’ sugar water would be met with much enthusiasm.  It’s one thing to ask folks to care for cats and even an elderly dog, but honeybees?  The ones who sting when they’re annoyed? That’s a whole different ball of wax.

Instead, we opted to purchase an internal feeder which holds about two gallons of sugar-water.  We’ve liked the boardman feeders and they work fine when we’re around, but the internal feeder holds significantly more liquid and that’s perfect for when the beekeepers are out-of-town.

The feeder holds a deceptively large amount of fluid.  The openings are feeding tubes.

You can see the top of the sugar-water.

The feeder tubes are plastic, with tiny holes along the sides.  Bees hold on to the sides and drink, drink away.  Before we left home, our industrious bees imbibed two full rounds of sugar-water feed and I filled the box with two more gallons of the stuff the morning we left.

Honeybees love their sugar!

Once we decided that the internal feeder was the way to go while we were gone, we picked up our bees at a farm south of Austin and rehived our dear Buzz.  We had purchased new frames and hammered them together, so we slid them in the box.  Initially, we only placed four frames because we left space for the internal feeder,

…and for the box of eager, beaver honeybees.

BeeWeaver Apiaries sends their packages of honeybees (one mated queen with 10,000 workers) with a can of sugar water so that the bees can eat-n-drink as they’re transported from BeeWeaver’s farms to the pickup sites, and then to their new homes–like my back garden!  I popped out the can,

…and the bees were ready for their new digs.

I dare you to stick you hand in there!  Actually, I did. I needed to manuever the queen cage out of the hole, so an ungloved hand is the best tool for that job. The girls were very nice. They don’t become cranky until they have larvae and honey to protect.

The queen cage is affixed to the top of the bee box.  The queen is sequestered in the little cage, but her workers have access to her and her pheromones.

They adore their Dear Leader.

Queen honeybees have longer abdomens than worker bees. They have to store those eggs somewhere!

I hung the queen cage between two frames.  She must eat through the sugar fondant (the white end of the cage, above), in order to exit the cage, meet her subjects, and get going on her only job:  to lay eggs–and lots of ’em.

Settled in:  frames, honeybees, queen, and sugar water feeder.  All good!

After rehiving, we covered the box and high-fived one another on the newest Buzz!  A week later we checked Buzz; the queen was out, some comb was built and the bees were off to a good start.  At that point, we removed the traveling box and added the other frames.  


While doing our bee thing with Buzz, we opened Woody for a quick look-see and found that she had honeycomb, but also lots of cross-comb in her top box.

Because it’s messy and difficult to deal with, we scraped off the cross-comb.  Since then (mid-April) we’ve checked Woody and have noticed the same issue: comb placed inappropriately.  To clarify, it’s really an issue for the keeper; cross-comb is perfectly fine for the bees, they don’t care where or how they build honeycomb, they’re just driven to do so.  We’ve since figured out why they were building cross-comb, but more about that later. There’s always something new to learn–or be reminded about–with honeybees!


Their comb-building might be wonky, but the egg-laying is perfect!  Look at all these baby bees:  snuggled in their cells, just waiting to grow-up and be bees.

Grown-up honeybees who forage on lovely, nourishing flowers,

Honeybee nose-deep in a Gulf coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) bloom.

…and sip water from bird baths or ponds so that honeycomb is made and their homes are successful.