Sleepy Bee

Recently, after a spate of warmer temperatures and before the onslaught of a dry cold front, I was out in my back garden playing catch-up with some of my garden’s needed tasks.  My main goal was to clean and refill the bird baths, which I had recently neglected.   Sheesh, they were nastier than I would have suspected, it being January and cool-ish.

As I started to scrub-a-dub-dub the one concrete bath in the garden (which is a bird favorite) I noticed a small, metallic sweat bee in the bowl, crawling just along the water line, upwards, in search of dry concrete.   I’m confident that the bee is a member of the Halictidae family of bees, but was surprised to see him in mid-January.  While my honeybees are active throughout winter on the warmer, sunnier days, the native bees are scarce, with the exception of the Blue orchard bees, which don’t emerge until February.  This little fella sported a shiny blue-green coat and was smaller than the Blue orchards, so I’m sure it was one of the gorgeous sweat bees common during the growing season.

I’m glad I chose that particular time to clean out the bird baths.

I let him crawl on my hand, eventually transferring the cold, wee, wet bee to a blowsy leaf of Drummond’s wild ruellia. 

He immediately crawled down into the center of the shrub, latched and snuggled onto empty sepals.

I watched the bee for a bit, thinking he would move somewhere else, but he didn’t; I moved on to my next chore. Several times as the afternoon proceeded, I popped by to check on the bee, but he never moved from his napping spot.   I think after his brush with drowning, he was exhausted.

Sleepy bee.

I remembered the bee in late morning of the following day and there he was, snoozing away.   By afternoon though, the bee was gone, presumably having moved along, by wings or legs, I don’t know.   I didn’t see him again.   

Sweat bees are ground nesters, so I wonder:  did this guy crawl under some decaying garden detritus until spring light and warmth awakes him to feeding and mating?  Or, was his life toward its end, rescue from the bird bath notwithstanding?

Either way, there will be more of his kind soon enough and the flowers in my garden will be ready.

Breakfast Buddies?

With rain in the forecast, yesterday morning was a good time to get down and dirty in the garden–both mine and my sister-in-law’s.  Living in a somewhat arid climate, I take advantage of the wet stuff from the sky to dig and plant.  For my garden, it was about clearing out some Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, which colonizes with verve, and for my sister-in-law’s garden, it was transplanting those rogue bits of shrub-with-root to a new home:  to grow, be beautiful, and provide cover and fruit for birds, and nectar and pollen for pollinators.

I was out early, not too long after sunup, mulling the day ahead, when I spotted our neighborhood Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, high up in a winter-bared tree.

The tree sits on a property belonging to the street adjacent to mine;  I don’t know whether it’s a front or back garden tree, but it’s at some distance from my front garden.  For this once, I wish my camera owned just a little more scope moxie.

Still, it’s not a bad shot.

As I aimed my lens at the hawk, a gaggle of Great-tailed Grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, fluttered onto another set of branches.  Grackles are chatty and gregarious; perhaps they wanted to keep the hawk company on this grey morning?  Or maybe they  wanted to share tips on the best places for breakfast?

My guess?  They wanted to watch her–like a hawk!

I soon got to work:  back and forth from my garden to my SIL’s, I excised the mini-shrubs, checking the roots’ viability, then chucking those which passed the test into the bin.  I dragged that bin to SIL’s garden, where I proceeded to dig and plant, allowing new starts to this valuable native plant.  As I moved from her garden to my own, I noticed that the hawk kept sentry in the tree, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.  She moved a couple of times, but mostly preened and observed, feathers ruffling in the morning breeze, intelligent eyes watchful.

Eventually, a Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, settled in, just below the hawk.  The hawk and the jay hung out.  What do two birds talk about?  Did you sleep okay last night? What did you have for breakfast?  Do you have any friends or relatives I can eat?

After about two hours of my work and the hawk’s perch, she was gone from the tree when I finished.

As far as I am aware, no bird ate breakfast and no bird was breakfast.

Please check out Anna’s at Flutter and Hum for garden–and other–musings.

To Watch a Feeder

I’m a backyard birder.  I like that my wildlife habitat, also known as the garden, attracts a multitude of native and migrating birds and that I am able to observe them from the comfort of my back patio or from inside my house.  I have little desire to wake up a 3am and drive somewhere to watch birds, though that would certainly allow me to see a wider variety of birds and there are clearly rewards collaborating with other bird enthusiasts to observe and learn about birds.   In reality though, seeing many different kinds of birds is not my goal, though I understand why it’s important to others.   At least at this point in my life, I’m not a birder in that sense–and that’s just fine.

I also appreciate that there are several kinds of citizen scientist activities that I can easily participate in which allow me to watch, to learn, and also contribute to on-going and vital research concerning how birds in North America are faring.  Climate change, urbanization, various kinds of pollution (chemical, light, noise) all have had serious deleterious impacts on North American birds.   The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are engaged in long-time research and are great resources for learning all about the birds of North America.  Both organizations support myriad volunteer and educational enterprises related to birds, bird watching, and installing bird-friendly habitats.

My primary and on-going participation in science-based bird watching involves volunteering for Project FeederWatch, sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The FeederWatch season occurs from mid-November to early April:  the ‘watch’ period is after the main autumn migration and before spring migration is fully underway.  I’m now about 8 weeks into my 2019-20 FeederWatch season and am thrilled to have listed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, though I admit both little songbirds showed up on only one of the watch days.  For most of my recorded FeederWatch days, I’ve only seen this tiny cutey, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

During the November to April FeederWatch time, I’m mostly counting and categorizing the native birds and those birds who are migratory, but have decided my part of Central Texas is a good place to stay for winter–like the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I’m especially excited about seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets this season, because it’s been about 3 years since any have over-wintered in or near my garden.  I’ve learned much as part of my FeederWatch participation.  Not only do I watch birds for a regular and close connection to nature, but I’m also assisting–in a small way–the research related to the health of birds, their numbers in various areas, and their changes and movements in population over periods of time.

Before I became involved in FeederWatch, I’d planted for birds (and other critters) and most warblers and other songbirds visit the garden and trees to glean insects and nosh on plants’ seeds.  But I’ve also widened both the type of feeders I place in the garden and feed that I provide for birds to better target those same songbirds and that’s thanks to my greater knowledge about birds–what they like and what’s good for them to eat.

Another typical overwintering bird species (and this season there are at least 2 and possibly 3 in my garden, it’s hard to tell for sure), are the Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata.  I think the Orange-crowns are my favorite of the warbler species: there’s a sweet cheekiness about them and they have darling faces.

The Orange-crowns favor the peanut feeder.

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Do you see the bit of green among the peanuts in the feeder? It’s a rogue bit of plastic–yuck! I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos. I dumped the peanuts out and disgarded the plastic.

But I don’t think they always favor the watcher.

 

Participating in Project FeederWatch is ridiculously easy.   Pick what days are most convenient with your schedule; watching and documenting isn’t time-consuming–watch as much or as little as you please–though you need to commit to two consecutive days.  As well, the process for entering your online data is a snap.  I’ve had the occasional question about my data and the Cornell folks are friendly and great about promptly responding.

Counting birds is usually not a problem, even with their flighty natures, but sometimes…

From a post last spring: Mob

…it can be a challenge.  Oh, those silly, pond-loving, gregarious Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum, they’re such charactersI haven’t seen any so far this year; no doubt they’ll be in my FeederWatch counts sometime in February.

It’s not too late to join in for this year, just click here and you’ll find easy-to-follow directions to help you jump on the birdie bandwagon.   Cornell Lab requests an $18 fee to get the initial information, but that’s all–unless you want to donate more to either Cornell Lab or Audubon–and they’re both worthy organizations.

Birds rock.  They’re beautiful, fascinating and you can help birds by helping the humans who study them so that your descendants will have birds in their lives, too.