Transitions: Wildlife Wednesday

Summer wanes, but heat persists.  The days grow shorter, nights are longer; all are cooler.   Rain falls, gently, but also in sheets and deluges. Here in Central Texas, September weather conditions tend to the transitional and this past month certainly bolstered that weather paradigm. Summer 2017 is now in the history books and autumn will write its own story.  But no matter the conditions, garden wildlife continue their activities:  eating, dying, growing, defending, migrating.  Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate those with whom we share space in the wilds of our gardens and neighborhoods.

I’ve been watching this beauty,

…a Green Lynx SpiderPeucetia viridans, for a couple of weeks.  She perched atop a White tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, successfully hunting various pollinators who happen her way while going about their own feeding business. She snagged a Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis, and while I angled for a photo, the startled spider dropped the bee onto a leaf below the spider’s lair. 

Not willing to lose out on a juicy bee, Ms. Spider makes her way along the stem to her repast.

Sniff–the X. tabaniformis bees are my favorite bee species and I hate to see one of them become someone’s meal.  But everyone must eat, including garden spiders, and that’s the way of wildlife–and wildlife gardening.

This little bee, perhaps a Sweat bee, Halictus tripartitus, and another common native bee in my garden, also fell victim to the spider’s appetite and hunting skills.

Another sniff by me.  Well, it can’t always be bad insects that are eaten.  I had words with Ms. Spider about expanding her food repertoire, but she remains on the Tropical sage, hunting and eating her fill.

On this Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, a Milkweed Assasin Bug,  Zelus longipes, demonstrates its hunting prowess. The snared snack is yet another Horsefly-like Carpenter bee.  There are lots of these bees in my garden, so it makes sense that some are going to become prey for hunters.

I wish I could warn the bees about the impending danger lurking amongst the flowers, but they’re on their own in the big, bad, dangerous garden-world.

FrostweedV. virginica is the best, THE BEST,  pollinator plant in my garden.   When it blooms each autumn, I’m always amazed at the variety of insects partaking of its bounty. Each blooming season I see and learn about new-to-me pollinators by watching what visits the Frostweed flowers.

I observed this handsome critter on some Frostweed blooms:

He/she is a Soldier flyOdontomyia cincta. No doubt my garden has benefitted from this insect before, but I’ve never seen one.  Turns out that the larval form of this insect is aquatic; the adults feed on nectar, the larvae feed on algae.  I have a pond, as do several neighbors, so it’s a wonder that I’ve never seen this gorgeous insect before.

I can’t decide if its coloring is akin to the loud clothing combos of a golfer or the eye-popping garb of a disco dancer, but I’m sure glad this one came by for a sip so that I could admire its kelly green-and-black striped costume and deep maroon eyes.

 

This Largus BugLargus succcinctus, may not be as beautiful as a butterfly or as industrious as a bee, but it dines on the Barbie-doll pink blossoms of the Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus, pollinating with the best of them 

Another stellar autumn pollinator plant, the Coral Vine is beloved by honeybees.  The vine is currently in motion with the buzzing activity of huge numbers of honeybees working these sweet blooms.

 

I haven’t posted recently about the resident Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis, lizards in my garden, but there are plenty of them around, eating anything smaller than themselves.

Hanging out on the front wall of the house, neither green nor brown is particularly effective camouflage.

This one was in brown-to-green transition as he looked warily at me, assuming some invasion of his territory. He has nothing to fear from me–I love these little ones and am happy they like my gardens.

This very little one is obviously a juvenile, at only about 2.5 inches in length, compared to the 6 or 7 inches for adults.  In late summer and early fall, it’s common to spot these teenage anoles.  They’re even cuter than the adults.

 

Bird migration was a big win in my garden during spring, but there has been little migratory movement through my garden this past month.  I spotted what I think was an Eastern Phoebe and another bird who was yellow with wing bars–that describes quite a few migratory birds, but that’s the extent of bird migration action. This juvenile (?) Wilson WarblerCardenllina pusilla, enjoyed the pond and also picked insects from the Yellow bells, Tacoma stans and the Autumn sage, Salvia greggii.

I hope the migrating song birds are simply finding more amenable conditions west or east of my garden.

Hummingbirds were a constant this summer and there are still a couple of them around, chasing one another and fueling up for migration to Mexico and Central America on their favorite nectar plants.

She can’t decide which Turk’s cap blooms (Malvaviscus arboreus) to feed from.

Female Black-chinned HummingbirdsArchilochus alexandri are the most common hummers that I see.   I’ll miss their zooming antics, territorial squabbles, and annoyed, bossy chirps when they finally decide it’s time head south–which will be any day now.

Transitioning from summer to autumn provides interesting viewing of common and uncommon critters, while enjoying more pleasant temperatures.  I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and ready for autumn color. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.  Good wildlife gardening to you!

What A Month!: Wildlife Wednesday

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly appreciation of wildlife in the garden, in the neighborhood, or in the wider world that you inhabit   For me, this was a busy and distracted month, but not necessarily an engaged month of chronicling wildlife goings-on.  I enjoyed observing the critters in my midst, but somehow, didn’t catch photos of wildlife doings. Some eclipse-viewing (it was truly awesome!), some time-spending with my traveling son (that was awesome, too!), and some helping said son prepare for settling half-way around the world, all took precedence  over any full-throated wildlife watching.

Oh yeah, there was also an unwelcome and destructive guest:  Harvey.

Mid-summer mornings were graced with a birdsong that I didn’t recognize.  Cheery, chirpy and with some variation, I rarely saw the bird–except when high in a tree or winging away from my sight in a flutter of feathers, I couldn’t quite match the bird with the daily serenade. Eventually though, I spotted this pretty visiting the pond.

A new bird to my garden, once I identified it, I also identified its song.  This is a Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis.   I’ve seen these birds in other parts of Austin, notably at the parking lot trees of the HEB grocery store where I usually shop, but don’t recall ever having one visit my garden or neighborhood.  It seems that a pair nested in the neighbor’s tree for the summer and that they popped over to my garden to enjoy the water sources.

I’d typically hear their song in the mornings.  After identifying the bird, I learned that song I heard most often was the Kingbird’s morning song.  I also realized that I didn’t hear that song later in the day, even when the birds were around.   I witnessed their acrobatic flight, swooping through the tree tops, as they dined on insects in the late day summer sun. Western Kingbirds are large flycatchers who breed here in Central Texas and throughout much of western North America and winter in Mexico.

I don’t know if it was only the male, or female, or both, who visited–they share similar coloring and markings. The Western Kingbird is a darned cute bird!

By mid-August, the birds had apparently left the area, migrating to Mexico and the Pacific Coast side of Central America for their winter digs. I enjoyed their visits and have missed their morning calls; I hope they return next summer.

Hummingbirds have been active all summer.  In fact, I think I’ve seen more hummers in my garden this year than in the past decade or so.  That said, this is the only decent shot that I’ve managed:

I believe this is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, and she represents a common hummingbird species in this area.  I think it’s a Black-chinned because the beak is fairly long and straight and this one is a little larger than the other common hummer, the Ruby-throated.  I’ve had no luck this summer with hummingbird action photos, though they are very much a part of the garden landscape, especially now as they prepare to migrate south.  I’m glad that I grow many plants that they like (Turk’s cap, Flame acanthus, Tropical sage, Autumn sage, Yellow bells, naming just a few) because much of their habitat along the coast of Texas–a major part of their migration route–was severely damaged during hurricane Harvey.  Rockport-Fulton, Texas has hosted the wildly popular Hummingbird Celebration each September for decades, but is devastated due to Harvey. Because Rockport-Fulton is decimated, the Hummingbird Celebration has been cancelled for this year, which is bad for both the people and the birds. Rockport-Fulton relies on the influx of tourist money generated from the annual celebration of these winged wonders, and the tiny birds fuel up for their long migration to Mexico, Central and South America by feeding from the abundance of hummingbird-friendly plants in that area and the multitudes of sugar-water feeders that residents and festival supporters place for the diminutive pollinators.  I fear that many hummers won’t survive migration this year as their needed nectar sources were stripped during the floods and high winds, and the good folks who hang sugar-water feeders for the hummers to feed from can’t do that now. There are few trees to hang the feeders from and most people along the coast are assessing damage, desperately cleaning up their properties, and attempting to return to some sense of normalcy.  It may seem trifling to fret about birds in the wake of a human and property disaster, but hummingbirds are important pollinators of trees, native plants, and commercial crops.

When their population plummets, the environmental impact is broad, and grave.

Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) of Kerrville, Texas is taking donations of water and sugar, as well as providing feeder poles so that hummingbirds have some food available as they migrate through Rockport. Here’s an excerpt from their Facebook page about the plans:

Our Donation Plan;
I wanted to let everyone in on what your donations are doing, and how we will be moving forward.
1) For now we will NOT be accepting any more donations other than sugar and water and monetary . We have secured over 200 brand new feeders and poles from our great vendors that are heading to Rockport as we speak. And we have another volunteer from King Ranch bringing over another 100 feeders this week.
2) We will continue to use all of the donated money for hummingbird supplies as we make multiple trips to Rockport in the upcoming weeks.
3) If you would like to donate sugar and water please look for multi packs of 5 lb sugar or gallon jugs of water from the baby section in HEB packed in 3 count boxes. We can get so much more of this stacked in trucks. These can be dropped off at the store.
4) We are not taking any more plants down right now. Many of you helped educate me as to the soil conditions and the lack of fresh water for plants not to mention the lack of residents to care for them if we put them in pots. We have many folks wanting to donate native plants and we will be doing this when the human conditions improve before the hummingbirds return in the spring. I will keep you posted on this project.
We are setting up a free feeder adoption plan on our next trip for Rockport residents that would like to help and we will continue to bring them nectar supplies when we travel down. This way we will get all of these much-needed supplies spread around that area and not overload a small number of residents who are trying to pick up the pieces of their own lives.

Last but not least-THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! WBU customers and bird people are the very best, we are so fortunate to have you in our lives.

And further from WBU’s FB page:

Donations can be made to: Wild Birds Unlimited at 855 Junction Highway Kerrville Texas 78028. All of the funds collected will be used over the next few weeks to bring in sugar, water and any unforeseen items that will help the birds. If you are not comfortable doing that we are recommending donating via paypal to any of the wonderful pet organizations that are feeding and housing displaced and injured animals, they are really doing a fantastic job in Rockport.

There are many in need after the catastrophic winds and floods generated by Harvey. Monetary donations are the most practical way to assist people, pets, and wildlife who are negatively impacted by this storm.  Check out these links for more information:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/28/546745827/looking-to-help-those-affected-by-harvey-here-s-a-list

https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/08/30/234047/update-list-of-charities-and-steps-to-donate-as-harvey-relief-grows/

Hummingbird Celebration

So, there it is.  An odd month, a busy month.  A month of joy, wonder, and fear.  That’s life and we’ll roll with it, because we don’t have much choice.  Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.  Good wildlife gardening to you!