A FeederWatch Find

In a recent post, Birding for Fun and Profit, I mentioned that volunteer birders across Canada and the U.S. are instrumental in assisting with research related to wild bird populations by submission of raw data observations of kinds and numbers of birds visiting yards and gardens. Aside from the pleasure of bird watching (and complementary teasing of friends and family which invariably accompanies the hobby), is the knowledge that bird watching advances true scientific efforts.  Project FeederWatch has tracked the advancement of certain avian diseases and requests its citizen scientists to report instances in their data logs. This past week, for only the second time (and first time during my “official”  Project FeederWatch period),  I’ve observed a bird with symptoms of red, swollen, and crusty eyes which is caused by the bacterium, Mycoplasma gallisepticum.

This little guy was at my feeder this past week, unfortunately  demonstrating a classic case of House Finch Eye disease, a kind of conjunctivitis caused by M. gallisepticum.

This male House Finch’s eye is almost completely closed due to inflammation.

First observed in the mid-1990s by Cornell feeder-watching volunteers, this disease has spread throughout the House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, population of North America.  The poultry respiratory disease made a species leap to wild House Finch populations and because the beginning of the epidemic can be traced to a specific point (Maryland) and time (February 1994), and because Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feederwatch was in full swing, volunteers reported sightings describing House Finches with symptoms of eye disease and scientists got to work.

Within a few years, reports of diseased House Finches were common throughout the U.S.  With raw data provided by Cornell’s “army” of bird watchers and the creative impulse of a Cornell Lab scientist, Belgian-born ornithologist, André Dhondt, an interdisciplinary research team has studied the evolution of this new disease from its inception and analyzed its impact on a given population–in this case, the hapless House Finch.  In the two decades since M. gallisepticum debuted in that small population of Maryland House Finches, the process of disease evolution–mutations coupled with population dynamics–is better understood, and scientists are now utilizing the gained knowledge towards a fuller understanding of disease spread in humans and development of immunities.    For a fascinating read, check out this article: House Finch Eye Disease: Outbreak, Then Understanding.

As for my little diseased finch, I haven’t seen him in a couple of days. I have noted his presence on my data for the week. Last year, I always indicated  “yes” and “zero” responses to the questions of if I looked for House Finch Disease and how many finches I saw.  This week,  it’s still a “yes” but now with a “one.”  I’ve only seen one other House Finch with crusty eyes and that was on a female House Finch in May 2016. With each passing day that I watched her, she became less able to function at the feeder. Both of her eyes were swollen and nearly closed; she would flutter until she happened to land on a branch, or the feeder, or the ground.  It was clear to me that she couldn’t see well enough to fly and perch.  For her, feeding became nearly impossible due to her poor eyesight. Eventually, she stopped visiting my back garden.

For what it’s worth, the other eye of the finch I’ve observed this week is healthy and unimpaired and he’s flying and feeding normally.   Additionally, most birds aren’t afflicted by this disease; continent-wide, American Goldfinches (which I only see in late winter) and a few others have been impacted.

What to do?  Well, there’s really nothing I can do to help individual birds.  They might recover on their own, but more likely, they’ll starve or become prey for someone else once they’re so blinded that they cannot feed and fend for themselves.  I am wiping the feeding stations on the feeder each evening with a diluted bleach/water solution, and that’s one easy way to keep the feeder clean.  Feeders should be washed once-per-month, though I have to admit that I don’t do that as regularly as I should; I should make that change.  Other tips for healthy bird feeding include regularly raking or sweeping the area underneath feeders and spreading feeders throughout the garden so that birds aren’t crowded.   Always, if you catch a sick bird, contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area–he/she will have the expertise to care for the sick bird.

While I certainly subscribe to the dictum of letting nature take its course, we gardeners and bird watchers can help our wild ecosystem partners thrive by simple changes in our gardening and bird-feeding practices. Let’s take care of our wild birds!

 

Bees, Birds, Butterflies: Wildlife Wednesday, November

Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate the critters who live in our gardens, adding beauty and life while sustaining pollination and seed distribution.  Birds, bees, and butterflies are always welcome visitors, but others contribute their threads to the wildlife fabric of the garden. October is typically a glorious month  in Austin, Texas and this past month was exemplary in things weather and garden related.

Masses of fall blooming perennials have spurred pollinator activity.  Native bees, active most of the growing season, have been all over obliging blooms. This Green Sweat BeeHalictidae, and its metallic buddies have reveled in the Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, flowers.

Looks like someone munched the petals before Ms. Bee arrived, but ragged, clearly nibbled-on petals don’t slam the brakes on pollen and nectar gathering.

Caught in flight!

Proboscis deep in bloom.

 

Small Striped Sweat BeesHalictidae, also favor the goldeneye blooms.

No photos as evidence, but I’m observing these yellow and brown ladies busily filling nest holes in a bee hotel affixed on my back patio.

 

Horsefly-like Carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis, always abundant in my garden, are slowing down as the light is changing and temperatures are cooling, but they’re still  buzzing the blooms and drilling wood for nests.

This bee rocks a pollen-filled coribula.  One wonders how they fly, so loaded with pollen.

 

Honeybees never miss pollinating action and are in full honeyflow mode.  The back garden is awash with the fragrance of honey.

This girl is enjoying the bounty of Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora).

 

Birds are always a thing in the garden and recently I’ve glimpsed an Eastern Screech Owl and heard its territorial trills; the owls are year-round residents in the neighborhood, though elusive during summer months.  Also, the local hawks are more active, swooping through the trees and scattering birds at will.  In addition to the year-round residents,  winter avian Texans–“snowbirds”–are arriving to shake things up a bit.  This past weekend I spotted a pair of Ruby Crowned Kinglets and  an Orange Crowned Warbler.  Last year, those two kinds of birds, as well as others, spent late autumn, winter, and early spring in my garden.

One of the regulars, this Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, wrangled with an oak acorn for several minutes.  I thought he might consume the whole thing while perched on the fence, but he eventually placed the pecked remains of the acorn in his beak and took off for a more private place to finish his meal.

 

The Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, wears a striking red-head, but it’s the blush on the belly for which this cheeky bird is named.  That bit of blush is just barely visible in this shot.  I usually hear, rather than see these birds, but they are common where I live and they will visit the garden, especially once the suet is out for the taking.  In my neighborhood, there are several nesting pairs.

For the record, there is a Red-headed Woodpecker, also a year-round resident, who has a very red-head, which you can see here.  I’ve never seen this species in my garden.

As goldeneye blooms fade, seeds develop and the finches move in for the munching.  This male Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria,  snacks on seeds amid the blooms, spent blooms, and foliage.  His mate was there as well, but harder to see and photograph.  These little birds are around year-round visitors, but only appear depending upon on what seeds are available in the garden.  Lesser Goldfinches and American Goldfinches prefer the seeds of native plants.

Carolina wrensThryothorus ludovicianus, serenade the neighborhood regularly; this one stationed himself on a neighbor’s rooftop early one morning.

 

Butterflies and moths also decorate the October garden.   Most seasons there are plenty of  Giant Swallowtail butterflies, Papilio cresphontes, but this year they haven’t been as numerous.  I watched this one nectaring at Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii.  The top-most bloom is visible behind the head of the butterfly; proboscis is unseen, no doubt engaged. 

 

I’ve often seen this little winged-thing, especially in late summer/early autumn, but finally identified it as  a Spotted Beet Webworm MothHymenia perspectalis.  The other flower it prefers is the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum. 

 

This petite Reakirt’s Blue (Hemiargus isola), is another pollinator savoring the nectar of the Plateau goldeneye.

The underwings are neutral in color–females darker, so I think this is a male. The upperwing is where the blue is visible. Alas, this one wouldn’t open long enough for me to catch its lovely shading.

Sharing a bloom with a honeybee!

 

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies,  Battus philenor, are daily visitors.  I don’t grow the host plant, pipevine, but I know that several neighbors have the plant in their gardens.  Thanks neighbors!

Nectaring from a Frostweed (Verbesina virginica).

 

Like the Reakirt’s Blue, this Long-Tailed SkipperUrbanus proteus, showcases a beautiful blue coloring on its upper wings.  This one wouldn’t model that for me though, preferring to feed–wings up–on the Shrubby blue sage blooms.  A common, large skipper living in a wide geographic range, I usually observe them only in the autumn months.

 

Monarchs!  The magnificent, migrating Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus,  graced my garden as they made their way to Mexico for winter.

A female on a Turkscap.

It’s apparently been a good year for these beleaguered insects–thank goodness!  I’ve read that because of unusually warm temperatures in Canada and the north central parts of the U.S during early to mid October, that a bonus hatching of adults occurred–an “extra” generation of Monarchs.  That’s an odd thing and while Monarch enthusiasts are happy about those “extras,” it remains doubtful that they can migrate south quickly enough to escape the cold temperatures which have finally arrived, and make it safely to Mexico before the mountain wintering site becomes too cold.  Additionally, those concerned with the abnormally warm northern temperatures recognize the long-term negative affects of climate change and how it is impacting this species of butterfly.

I’m still seeing a few Monarchs, but I think the mass of them are already south of Central Texas.

Another female on a Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii).

 

The charming Gray HairstreakStrymon melinus, flutters through my garden all summer.  Usually, I see this,

Resting on the leaf of Shrubby blue sage after much sipping and flitting.

…wings up (well, down in the above photo!), with only the undersides visible.  While that’s certainly fun and I never complain at seeing a butterfly in action, it’s nice when they spread their wings out–just long enough for a shot:

This one relishes the flowers of Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).

 

Rarely has a day passed when a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, hasn’t been in attendance.  Preferring flowers in the Asteraceae family, I can only guess that this one is in its happy place while nectaring on a Frostweed.

 

The Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, isn’t quite the butterfly magnet that its cousins, Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii or White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis, are, but this Horace DuskywingErynnis horatius, isn’t complaining about  what the lovely blue blooms offer.

 

It wasn’t just the three B’s (bees, birds, butterflies) in my garden that were interesting; there were plenty of other contributing critters to appreciate.  A Carolina MantisStagmomantis carolina,  hung out on the screen of a bedroom windows one weekend afternoon.  Fascinating predators, they hunt and eat a variety of insects and have been known to catch hummingbirds!

That afternoon, this mantis missed some easy hunting, as she was on the window not facing the honeybee hives we checked, causing the bees to stir up a bit. Had she been on the other window, our lost bees would be her gained meal.  No matter, as the size of this mantis suggests she’s had plenty to eat–honeybees, and all sorts of other insects.

 

Green anole lizardAnolis carolinensis, gives me the stink-eye while deciding whether he wants to be green or brown.  I’ve seen lots of babies recently, but this one was larger than a baby, though not fully grown.

 

Ready for Halloween, this Milkweed assassin bugZelus longipes, dresses the part!

An insect predator of aphids, houseflies and others smaller than itself, the assassin bug also enjoys a drink of nectar from Frostweed.

 

Yet another seasonal icon, I observed this large spider hanging outside my kitchen window over the course of a couple of days.  I never got a good look at her–she skittered away whenever I approached, but I saw she bundled a few honeybees in her snare.

I’ll just call her Biggus spiderus–and leave it at that!

 

I’ve seen several examples of this insect from time-to-time.

It may be a Broad-headed Bug, but this nymph looks like it should be called a Broad-butted Bug!

I always assumed it was some sort of ant, but couldn’t find anything in my go-to resources that matched.  I finally uploaded this photo and description of the mystery insect to the fine folks at BugGude.net.  A nice bug person responded with an identification of a nymph Broad-headed Bug, Family Alydidae, the adults of which I’ve seen aplenty in my garden.  When I looked at the photos, the Broad-headed bugs looked like types of Leaf-footed bugs, Family Coreidae, which, as it happens, they were once classified with.   Broad-headed bugs are now classified in their own group.

 

One last mystery comes in the form of this handsome fella that I watched working Frostweed blooms.  It looks like a fly, but my search for an identification proved fruitless.  I uploaded this photo to BugGuide, but I haven’t received an identification yet, so this one is unknown and unnamed for now.  Any ideas out there?

This insect crawled from bloom to bloom.  It certainly possesses a fine set of wings, though.

Celebrating lots of life in the garden for Wildlife Wednesday, I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and reaping autumn bounty. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

 

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.

Ahem.

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!