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!


Goldfish: Breakfast of Champions

So this is where the goldfish went:

Against the early morning sky, the heron is regal.

I knew there was a Great Blue Heron,  Ardea herodias, fishing at our pond as a neighbor alerted me weeks ago that she’d spotted it on the roof of my house early one morning.  Indeed, that same morning, one landed, practically on top of my head, though fortunately the patio cover was between my head and the heron.  I spooked him with my excitement and after that morning, over time, the four remaining goldfish disappeared from the pond, though no human in this house witnessed  a hunting heron.

Intent upon his goal: the pond and its fishy gifts.

There are gambusia, native mosquito fish, in the pond and they’re valuable assets for that ecosystem, but I like having a few goldfish in the pond because, well, they’re pretty.  But this guy or gal has other ideas.

This morning he landed when the cats and I were making our morning rounds in the garden.

I scooped up the cats, made my way indoors and waited for him to act.  He sat on the top of the chimney for about 15 minutes and then, slowly and cautiously, made his way to the pond.

No goldfish, buddy, but plenty of little gambusia.

Before he could complete his fishing expedition, he was frightened by a noise and loped off, spreading those wings wide.

The poor little fish are always vulnerable to heron hunting after I separate the pond lilies.  This year, I’ve waited weeks for one of the lilies to return and send up its pads, but that hasn’t happened.  I realized that the lily died (no clue why) and just this past weekend, purchased another.  Soon, the lily pads will cover most of the water surface, keeping the water temperature cool and acting as a cover for the fish.  But until then, the Great Blue will be back for more easy pickings from “his” pond.

Wildlife Wednesday, January 2016: All About Birds

Welcome to a new year, with new beginnings, and new wildlife to observe and learn about.

How exciting!

In my gardens, this past month’s wildlife happenings have been all about the birds.


Yes, I know that’s not a bird.  Nor are these.




But this handsome devil is most definitely a bird!


There are a number of native Blue Jay birdsCyanocitta cristata, who fly through my gardens, stopping on a regular basis to nosh,


…and preen.


Beautiful birds, Blue Jay males and females are difficult to tell apart.  Their feathers have the pigment melanin, which is brown, but the blue that we see and admire happens because of scattered light through specialized cells along the feathers.

Lots of folks don’t like Blue Jays because they are assertive and noisy, but I’m quite fond of them; their cheeky personalities and gorgeous good looks always cheer me.  I miss the flash of blue when I haven’t seen one swoop through the garden in a day or two, though their not being part of the landscape is rare.  Blue Jays are intelligent birds with complicated family structures and there’s still much that ornithologists don’t quite understand about their family habits and migration patterns.

Occupying a different spot of the color wheel is this lovely girl,


…and her male counterpart.


Northern Cardinal,  Cardinalis cardinalis, birds  are common throughout  North America and adapt well to the backyard wildlife habitat.  There are two nesting pairs in my part of the neighborhood. They nest nearby and visit my gardens and feeders daily.  During summer, I’m likely to see dad training up his youngins’ on the best places to eat in the neighborhood and how to avoid the neighborhood cats.

Last month, I attempted photos of the Black-crested Titmouse(s), Baeolophus atricristatus, who frequent my garden spaces. Their charming chirps allure, but their quick movements thwart photographic efforts–mine anyway.   Luckier this month, I captured some photos of some of these darling birds.  Resting between visits to a feeder,


…and simply resting and looking adorable.



This one refused to turn around, smile and say “seeds!”  for the camera.


The birds I’m most excited about recently observing in my gardens are a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata.  This one is a male.




Likely as not, I’ve seen this bird species before, because  it’s a common winter Texan.  As I’ve learned about birds, I’m becoming  aware that not all drab little birds are just more sparrows-of-some-sort.  I’m learning to discern their color patterns, size and beak differentiations, and vocalizations. The bird-learning curve is a steep one, to be sure.



One must observe closely and (ahem) read a bit about birds to decipher the often subtle dissimilarities between the many species of warblers, finches, and sparrows.


Most of the little “brown” birds sport colorful plumage here and there,


…including on their bums.   Can you see the yellow rump in the above photo?


I took a lots of photos before I finally got that yellow in action. There are at least two Yellow-rumps visiting my gardens regularly. This male I see most often,




…and a female,  “myrtle” form.


As it turns out, there are multiple sub-species related to this particular warbler and currently, I’m not nearly enough of a birder to adequately understand, much less explain, variations.  For the time being, I’m content to observe these shy little birds, all yellow rumped and sweet peeps, as they flit about my garden this winter.

While I secured a couple of decent butt shots of the female, I’m still working on a photo capture of the male’s cute yellow posterior. Heretofore, he’s been too busy showing  how pretty he is in other poses.




A Red-bellied Woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, is another daily visitor to my feeders and up and down the oak trees.


I love it when he is feeding at the suet and a Blue Jay flies toward and in no uncertain terms, the woodpecker lets the Blue Jay know that it’s NOT HIS TURN!

There’s plenty where that came from, so wait until Red-belly is finished, Mr. Jay.



At this feeder though, the Red-bellied Woodpecker doesn’t mind sharing the food bar with a House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.


House Finches, Haemorhous mexicanus,   sit in the trees, on the ground, and at the feeders.  I love these chatty birds and I especially appreciate that they sit still, munching away contentedly for long enough to get good captures.  Usually, couples feed together, but at this particular moment, these two took turns–first him,



…then her.


In November I signed up to participate in  Project FeederWatch, a yearly, months-long look at bird population trends organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Mostly I did this because I felt the draw to participate in research on the status of North American birds, including migration and population  trends.  Also, I like the idea of being a citizen scientist.


Despite that trumped-up term, the information gleaned by the 200,000 participating volunteers throughout North America, is vital for research on how bird populations are trending up or down and, over time, whether native birds are declining, which, unfortunately, the project has documented.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology is all about the science of birds and through education, the conservation of our beloved and beleaguered native birds.  Cornell encourages concerned citizens to participate in this necessary research.

There are some rules and the counting method is specific and precise, though not difficult to understand or implement, even for novice bird watchers. Project FeederWatch spans November through April, book-ending the autumn and spring migration seasons, as well as the stable wintering population of your particular site. Ideally, observance is weekly, though there’s no penalty for skipping your count from time-to-time.  Cornell ornithologists are happy to get what information they can, when they can, to better understand how North American birds are faring.  Volunteers choose the same two consecutive days each week to observe and record what and how many birds are in the chosen area and for what length of time the area is observed.  Whether for one hour or many–it’s up to the volunteer–weather conditions are noted, and Cornell asks that particular rules of counting be followed to ensure no multiple counts of birds.  The process is well-tuned and the fine folks at Cornell Lab have done their utmost to make the activity easy to use and  educational. Data is either mailed in  hard copy form or entered directly into a user-friendly site; that’s my preferred method. Cornell requests an $18 participation donation for the starter kit, but  I think it’s well-worth that small amount to be part of a long-term scientific study and, like most scientific and educational organizations,  Cornell Lab of Ornithology can use all the moolah they can get.

It’s not too late to participate for this season; check out Project FeederWatch for more information.

Any excuse to watch the backyard birdies!

Oh dear.  I’m becoming one of them. Yeah, that’s right, my binoculars are on the shelf by the back door, ready and waiting.  Ready and waiting for that little female Downy Woodpecker who’s too quick in the oak trees for me to get much of a look, much less a decent photograph.

Oh well, there’s always preparation and photographs for  next month’s Wildlife Wednesday!

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for January 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!