The Anchor of Change: Wildlife Wednesday, October 2018

One thing that Central Texas gardeners can count on during September into October is the termination of the long hot of summer with a very welcomed re-introduction of our second spring.  Compensating for our brutal summers is the reliable flush of new growth, open, exuberant blooming, and gifts of rain–sometimes too much–to gardens and the critters who rely on those gardens.

Typically, we enjoy our first cool fronts at this time, and while the cool is fleeting, it certainly takes the hot edge off of our days and nights.  You’d think wildlife would be appreciative of any small portion of relief, but this past month hasn’t necessarily been packed with wildlife happenings, at least that’s so in my garden.  Nevertheless, here are some offerings for Wildlife Wednesday.

Blooming perennials, reawakened with softening temperatures and gulps of water from the sky, have given pollinators of all stripes, scales, and feathers plenty in their search for pollen and nectar.  This honeybee worked the flowerets of Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum.  The same bee worked the neighboring bloom of Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala.   As well, tiny native bees also partake of both kinds of blooms.

 

Typically, September sees the beginning of autumn migration from northern parts of North America to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Early in September, a pair of Yellow warblersSetophaga petechia, spent several days visiting my pond.  I couldn’t get a shot of them together, or a lone shot of the female, but the male sat still long enough for a couple of quick shots.

Each warbler hopped around the limestone rock which borders the pond, with nervous flutters into the oak trees.  I never actually saw any bathing in the bog, or splashing the the waterfall, but both birds were clearly interested in the water feature.

I see this species each spring as they head northward, but don’t recall ever witnessing an autumn visit before.  That said, I haven’t observed any other migratory birds through my garden this past month, which is odd. The autumn migration season spreads out over a longer period and isn’t as intense as the spring migration, but I’m surprised that I haven’t seen other passers-through at my pond or in the garden.  I hope the migrants are finding enough in rural areas to forgo urban gardens.

 

My pond toads, Gulf coast toadBufo valliceps, are croaking their way to the end of their breeding season.  I’ve seen itty bitty, baby toads in the garden, but this grown fella was willing to pose for me at sunup one morning.

 

The neighborhood squirrels are up to their usual antics, like the actions of this female Eastern Fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, who was bound and determined to have the birds’ seeds for lunch.

Balancing.

Vertical tight-rope manuevers.

The big stretch.

Success! Who knew that noshing on the ground is easier?

 

Finally, in a nod to the end-of-October scare, is this gorgeous spider who’s been hanging out at my back patio.  I’ve identified her as a Spotted orbweaverNeoscona crucifera.

I don’t find her scary and in fact, I think she’s quite beautiful.  She’s also large; her abdomen is about an inch in diameter–a big girl!  I’ve only seen her at night and she’s shy, so she scuttles up her web into the ceiling of the patio cover when she notices me.  I was fortunate to catch this shot of her.  I wonder if she was drowsy with digestion?

What’s winging or singing in your garden during this predictable season of change?  Please post about your wildlife happenings and remember to leave a link when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Spring Forward: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2017

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked each first Wednesday of the month with the purpose of learning about and celebrating the diverse fauna with whom we share our world and gardens.  Fanciful or plain feathered birds, pollinators and their insect brethren of all stripes and dots, fluffy mammals, and scaly reptiles and amphibians bring our gardens to life.   Wildlife is intrinsic to the healthy operation of our environment, in both the macro of the wider world and the micro of our own garden plots.

All winter long and on a variety of plants, I’ve seen representatives of this handsome bug:

Sipping the bloom juices of Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Succinctly, this guy or gal is a Largus Bug, Largus succcinctus, and he is a true bug belonging to the Suborder Heteroptera and Family Largidae, also known as Bordered Plant Bugs.  I haven’t fretted at their mating on the entry board of the bee hives (well, if the bees don’t mind, who am I to judge??) or muddling about on stems and leaves:  I’m a live and let live sort of gardener–to a point.  Considering that these buggy sorts have been a constant presence this winter, I wonder if I should have administered, or will need to consider administering, a method of control.  If it proves necessary, I’ll probably opt for the soapy water bottle technique which entails picking off bugs and dropping them into a frothy concoction. I’ve heard of gardeners who hand vacuum for undesirable critters, cruising their garden spaces and vacuuming where necessary.  But my neighbors already think I’m a gardening oddity, so I’m likely stick to patrolling with a bug-death bath in hand.

Swim little bugs, swim!  (in basso) Bwahahahaha!

Last autumn, I’d observed and photographed some small black beetles on Frostweed and Turk’s cap which I couldn’t  identify; I wrote about them in my November Wildlife Wednesday post.  I now know that those beetles are an instar (phases of insect molt) of the Bordered Plant bugs.  These bugs have been in my garden for months and at some point, I might need to make a decision about their future endeavors as they crawl along plants and give the bees a peep show.  In a University of California ‘Green Blog’ article about these bugs, the author suggests that they don’t cause much damage and I haven’t observed any real problems like munched, crunched, or otherwise damaged flowers or foliage, but I’ll keep a keen eye on them, just in case.

This lovely bird resting on a utility cable behind my back garden is a Monk parakeet, and a member of one of several introduced colonies here in Austin.

I often see 2 or 3 fly over my house in spring–flashes of bright green against the blue Texas sky–screeching their screeches, but rarely do they land in or around my garden. Though not native to this area, they apparently haven’t displaced native fauna and aren’t considered a problem.  In spring they choose mates and build their nests high on utility poles and tree tops.

Green (Carolina) anolesAnolis carolinensis, are back!

I know, he’s not green and in fact, he never left.  Sightings of these tree-dwelling lizards are scarce during winter, but since spring sprung a few weeks early in February, I’ve spotted several. This guy isn’t green because he’s lounging on a wooden fence; he’s also giving me quite the stink-eye.   He skedaddled shortly after I took his photo; I’m sure we’ll see one another again.

Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria,  were the first native bees I observed this spring.

They’re mating:

Coupling,

RICOH IMAGING

…conscious uncoupling.

…and building their nests for their blue bee babies.

Blue orchard bees are important pollinators for commercial fruit growers, but are easy to attract to the home garden: they like to build their nest in holes.  Providing wood with drilled holes or bamboo pieces with ready-made holes is an easy way to  encourage these beauties to nest in and pollinate your garden.

My Blue Orchard bees also build their nests in the mortar of the outside of my house.

Like most Osmia bees, Blue Orchards are solitary in that they don’t build a hive or live communally.  However, they are comfortable building their nests alongside one another in a kind of condo/apartment living arrangement, if you will. The females mix plant pollen and nectar with their own saliva and then deposit the mixture for the larval food source in the brood chamber, where one egg per chamber is laid.  The mom bee then seals each one-egg brood chamber with mud, which is a combination of plant material and soil. Each female will lay 5-8 eggs, prepare and then seal the nest, and then, sadly, she dies.  The offspring created this year will emerge next year, ready to start the mating, pollinating, nesting cycle again.

Go Blue Orchard bees–see you again next spring!

No fruit trees in my garden, but the Blue Orchard bees thoroughly worked the blooms of Mountain laurel.

 

Another early bee who’s out-and-about-and-pollinating is this green metallic sweat bee working the blooms of a Dewberry bloom.

Identifying native bees is tricky (for me, that is).  My best guess is that this is an Augochloropsis metallica which is found in Central Texas.  I’ll see more of these, as well as many other native bees, during our long growing season.

 

Furry friends are also active as the weather warms.  This Eastern fox squirrelSciurus niger, played hide-n-seek with me one weekend afternoon.

Now you see me!

Now you don’t!

Scamper!

After his flirtation (no doubt attempting to distract me with charming antics), he landed where he intended: under the sunflower filled-n-spilled bird feeder for his share of seedy nosh.

In search of seeds.

 

Male Great-tailed GracklesQuiscalus mexicanus,  are in machismo, mating mode now. I wrote about a rather scraggly fellow last fall who had lost his tail in the annual molting rite common to many birds.  It’s entirely possible that this gorgeous avian hunk is the same bird as the seasonally sad specimen formerly profiled:

He is oh, so pretty as he bathes,

He’s downright sparkly.

…and preens in the tree.

What a poser!

Courting and posturing is underway and grackle exhibition will provide chuckles for this gardener and chicks for grackle moms to rear.

I continue to enjoy the visits from winter Texans, like this Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I  presume that they’re also enjoying their visits to my garden.

He positioned himself for a splash in the pond bog.  Various song birds rely on the winter-damaged limbs for  perching and because of that, I haven’t removed all of the limbs yet.

I will need to prune this Yellow bells, Tacoma stans, soon, but I can hold off a bit longer allowing the birds some cover and a safe place to observe their world.

Spring.  It’s here and preparing for the season’s work.  Birds-n-bees are active, pollinators are pollinating, and gardens are awakening to new possibilities and promise.

Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Whether your garden remains in winter’s deep, or is experiencing spring flush, or perhaps if you’re Down Under, ready for autumn, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March 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!