Winter’s bare trees allow for good bird watching, especially when it comes to the local raptors.  It’s also the time of year when we prepare to host Eastern Screech Owls, Megascops asio, as they court, breed and fledge their young in the Red Oak tree in our back garden. We’ve been privileged to observe these shy beauties for the last 8 years and certainly hope that they once again choose our back garden for their home territory in these next few months.  I haven’t seen an owl yet this season and I’ve missed them this winter.   Once in early October and then once more in early November, I heard a Screech Owl whinny  announcing to others this is MY territory!, but I haven’t  heard the common owl trill as the owls are living their lives: hunting, flirting with a potential mate, and then working with that mate to raise a family.

Since late November, I’ve spotted a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus sitting in the owls’ oak tree at night,

Not a great shot, but you get the idea.

…as well as occasionally scuttling through my garden early in the morning.

I also suspect the same opossum as the thief who had stolen a small board at the entrance to one of my honeybee hives–I found it in a corner of my garden, weeks after it went missing, dropped nowhere near the hives.  Because I’d noticed bits of non-oak leaves and Mexican feathergrass shards caught in the branches just below the owl nest box, I thought the opossum might be squatting in the box, but I  never actually saw her enter or exit. Squirrels have moved in to the nest box in the past and I hoped that a rogue opossum would be too large.

I hoped, but I was wrong.

As Screech Owl breeding season is nigh, we’re placing a new camera in the owl house this year because we enjoyed watching Mama Owl in her box last year–until the camera pooped out just after she laid her 5th egg.

This past weekend, the ladder out and up and tools at the ready, The Hub was up in the owls’ tree.

Steady there!

I remained terra firma and sollicita because 2016 wasn’t a great year for his bones–all 20 that he broke due to a bike accident and related glitches. That’s all we need: for him to tumble off the ladder in the service of wildlife watching. Thankfully, he didn’t tumble, but he did find an owl box interloper in the guise of this fella:



Actually, I suspect she’s a young, possibly pregnant, female opossum. What to do with a malingering marsupial snuggled in an owl nest box?

I have no objection to opossums. I don’t mind them sipping at the pond and bird baths, eating from the compost bar, or even rummaging through my garden, but I do mind, very much, that this one has decided she needs the owls’ house for her own.

Once the top of the box was removed, the opossum didn’t comply readily with our wishes for her to vacate the premises, nor did she cooperate when The Hub attempted to scoop her out onto a branch with a long stick. She peeked over the top of the nest box once or twice,

Too high up to jump!

Is there an opossum-sized ladder I can use?

…but decided that staying put and hissing was her best bet. With The Hub remaining up in the tree, we contemplated our options:  leave the opossum in the house or scoot her out, forthwith? We decided that the best thing to do–for us, the opossum, and the nest box, would be to carefully lower the nest box to the ground,

Going down…

Almost there!

Thwarted–no more owl nest box squatting for you, missy!

…allowing her to safely waddle off,

…which she did, in a huff.

I admire her steadfastness at claiming the box and for the obvious efforts at collecting leaves and grass for her nest and I do feel badly that we evicted her from such prime real estate.  But we didn’t build the box for her and I’m sure she’ll soon find another cozy spot in which to nest.  Opossums are not the brightest of critters, but they are remarkably adaptable–they eat almost anything and can nest almost anywhere.

Opossums thrive in urban environments–like my back garden.

We’re leaving the nest box down for the week and plan to put it back up into the tree, camera affixed and ready to go, by next weekend.  Learning about and enjoying the life cycle of the Eastern Screech Owls has been a great pleasure for us.  I hope that we can continue with that this spring.

2016 Mama Owl

2016 Daddy Owl

As for Ms Opossum, I have no doubt that we’ll cross paths again.

Wildlife Wednesday, April 2015

It’s been an amazing month in my garden for wildlife–nothing rare or unusual, but lots of action from resident and visiting avian and arthropod critters.  As spring unfurls its blooms, days lengthen, and temperatures warm, everyone is more active–and ready to breed.  Ah, love is in the air.  Let’s get twitterpated!

Last month I wrote about a single lady of the Buteo kind, this gorgeous Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis.

IMGP5902_cropped_3198x2958..new IMGP5904.new

Those two photos were taken earlier in the month as she rested after scattering the birds with no meal to show for it. These two photos,IMGP6696_cropped_2972x3069..new


…I shot early Monday morning as I was alerted to her presence by the noisily squawking  Blue Jays and Grackles.  She doesn’t look all that impressed with their noise-making, but she flew off shortly afterward to a more distant tree.  I think she’s a juvenile and I hope she finds a mate in the next year.

The Blue JayCyanocitta cristata,  (of course it’s ‘Cyan’ in the scientific name) are common birds in Texas and I see them every day, but rarely take photos of them.  This one with a twig in the beak, is probably a female preparing for her nest.

IMGP6244.new Blue Jays are loud, dramatic birds, but so gorgeous–and I think they know it.


I enjoy their antics–and beauty.

This Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos, sang beautifully one morning.

IMGP6021.new I love the songs of the Mockingbird–melodic, versatile, and constant. I’d like to think he was serenading me, but I imagine he was trying to impress a lady more fitting to his taste. His coloring looks buttery, not the grays than Mockingbirds really are.  Obviously, the early morning light highlighted him in an unusual, though compelling, way.


Or I was off-kilter with the camera.

This Mockingbird shows truer colors,

IMGP6183.new …as he rests in my Retama tree and surveys his territory.

I used to enjoy the sight of many Red-winged BlackbirdAgelaius phoeniceus, species migrating through my gardens in spring, but this year, there is only one shy male.

M0026120.new He visits the feeder from time-to-time, hesitant to land, but once he perches, he remains  quite a long time enjoying sunflower seeds.


I’ve written about my resident Eastern Screech OwlMegascops asio, couple in the past month and what a charming pair they are. These two are real love-match.  I’ve observed Mamma,

IMGP6318.new IMGP6326.new

…sitting in the tree, waiting patiently for her partner to bring her a treat at night or to pick her up from the house at sundown for a rat and a movie.  Well, maybe not a movie.

Every time I see these two lovebirds meet each other, they touch beaks.  At first I thought they were exchanging some morsel of food and it might be happening, but I don’t see any “stuff” pass between them.  I think they’re beak-kissing.

Kissing is so much nicer than exchanging lizard gizzard.

Early some mornings, just before sunrise, I’ve spotted Dad,

IMGP6337.new IMGP6339.new

…hanging around the brood house.  Mamma is nestled inside by then; sometimes she pokes her head out, sometimes not.  He’ll trill a couple of times, then silently swoops off to the neighbor’s shrubs for his daily rest.  What a treat and privilege it is watching these two court.

Take a look his talons.

IMGP6336.new I wouldn’t want to be at the snatching end of those.

A Great Blue HeronArdea herodias, visited my pond several times early in the month, relieving it of a couple of fish.  I like my fish and I’m very sorry for their end, but everyone has to eat.I never got a good photo of the heron because with any slight movement the heron spread his huge wings and loped off.   I did get this one rather lame photo after  he took flight from my back garden and banked around and upwards from the house.IMGP6179_cropped_2967x2755..new

He’s probably headed off to a nearby creek.  I haven’t seen him since, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still visit the fishies.

Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora, is blooming magnificently this spring. Beautiful trees year round, the Laurels are dripping with purple clustered blooms, to the delight of this gardener, as well as this White Crab SpiderMecaphesa. 


Hopefully, the spider isn’t hunting the honeybee as she harvests pollen and nectar.IMGP6467.new

Similarly, this native bee, Horsefly-like Carpenter BeeXylocopa tabaniformis, enjoys the Mountain Laurel blooms.

IMGP6459_cropped_3318x3105..new Just below the bee is another insect, but I only see it in profile.  Any ideas about what it is?

I have a hard time photographing this bee species because they’re always on the move, except when entranced by blossoms full of pollen and nectar, like those of the Mountain Laurel.

IMGP6657_cropped_3014x2724..new IMGP6658_cropped_2893x3428..new


As beautiful as the Texas Mountain Laurel is, my wildlife plant-of-the-month award goes to the  Possumhaw Holly, Ilex decidua.  

IMGP6558.new This tree leafed out in late February, still holding its winter berries (why haven’t the Cedar Waxwings gobbled up the berries??), while blooming the tiny, sweet spring flowers.


The tree was and is alive with bird and insect activity.  Most of the activity I’ve observed is so tiny and/or moves so rapidly that I opted to simply put down the camera to watch and marvel.  I’ve observed a number of fly species, various native bees and honeybees, and a butterfly that I’ve never seen before, visiting those teensy flowersIMGP6546_cropped_3617x2986..new

The Possumhaw flowers are quite the favorites of very small pollinators–and small is the operative word.

One insect moved slowly enough that I was able to capture some shots.  Picture-winged Flies,  Delphinia picta, are common in my gardens–I’ve rescued them from the shallow bird bath near the Possumhaw and see them all over the garden.IMGP6549_cropped_4101x2936..new

The fly lays its eggs on the decaying fruits so the larvae can feed on rotting berries.

IMGP6550_cropped_3502x2682..new IMGP6551_cropped_3299x2728..new

Adults sip nectar from the little flowers.IMGP6552.new

On the limbs and trunk of the Possumhaw, I’ve seen several of the Twice-stabbed Lady BeetleChilocorus stigma.


I find the name rather gruesome,  but what a pretty little insect and beneficial too.    Lady Beetles, no matter how many dots, enjoy eating aphids and other sucking insects; they are good friends to gardeners. 

And finally, this  Mason BeeOsmia lignaria, wasn’t immune to the drive for spring romance, or at least, the drive for reproduction of the species.  I watched two of these buzzing around my back patio walls in  search of the right holes in which to form nests and lay eggs.  This one chose a hole in my old (REALLY old) electric pruner.  She entered several times,

IMGP6289.new  IMGP6290.new


…and packed the hole with pollen and probably a little mud for whatever eggs she laid.  Here are other holes in the mortar of my house walls were she and other native bees have done the same.



Many of these holes have existed in the mortar  for years, some well before we bought our home, like these two.


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At some point, these holes were filled with glue or caulk (maybe for shelves?).  I’ve recognized for a number of years that bees and wasps use these holes as nests, so I have not cleaned or filled them in.  I guess some would find holes in the walls a bit unsightly, but I love that the bees use them year after year to create homes for their larvae ensuring more bees in the future.  To me, that is real home beauty.

I hope your gardens benefitted from wildlife visitors this month and that you will join in posting about it for April 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 we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Good wildlife gardening!


Took Care of THAT Squirrel!

Every winter, we clean out the Eastern Screech-Owl house in preparation for the upcoming brood season. This year, when The Husband took down the owl house for its yearly cleaning, he decided to quickly cobble together another because the one used for a couple of years was worse for wear. Screech Owl houses are easy to build.

We installed the newly constructed house and waited to hear the tell-tale trill of a male Eastern Screech-Owl, Megascops asio, letting his partner know that he has, indeed, found a lovely home in which to raise a family.

I heard him trill one evening in December, just after sundown, but only a few times since.  I also haven’t spotted an owl head poking out of the hole at sundown–which typically happens once the couple settles in for breeding and brooding and it’s a pretty cute thing to see.  No observable owl isn’t  that unusual–Screech Owls, while comfortable in and adapted to urban settings, are shy and elusive, although I usually see and hear more activity than has been the casethis year.

I wasn’t particularly concerned, until I saw this:


He or she moved in and has been quite comfy squatting in another’s home this winter.  I forgot this might happen–usually it’s a young squirrel and I’ve engaged in this battle of wills before: a fuzzy-tailed rodent moves into the house, cranky gardener chases him off and round it goes until the squirrel moves out and the owls move in. This year though, Squirrel Nut-twerp (SN) has been quite the recalcitrant squatter.  On and off throughout January and February, SN has outsmarted me.   I placed an old pillowcase early in the mornings,


…that I’d remove at night.  I didn’t do this everyday, but as often as I felt like I needed to in my quest to dissuade SN from his desired digs.

I’d think to myself: Ah ha, e’s gone!  Victory is mine!!  Then he’d be back in the house, looking cute and if I might suggest, just a little smug, at besting me.


Last Thursday, as the sun sank to the west and as the coldest night of the year commenced, SN was in the brood box, looking askance at me, clearly wondering what I was going to do.  You gonna chase me out again, lady? The forecast predicted rain, freezing temperatures and ice.  He looked at me, I looked at him. I capitulated. OK, Bub. You can stay there for the night.  I didn’t have the heart to chase him off. Truthfully, I’d given up on hosting an owl family this year.  I’ve seen and heard so little from the neighborhood owls, that I assumed the couple moved on to a less squirrelly location. My adored owls and I were vanquished. Squirrel Nut-twerp was the victor in the annual maneuvering for desirable tree trunk real estate.

Just after sundown on Saturday evening, I stood outside, looked up in disappointment once again at the hole being devoid of  a fuzzy owl face and I turned away.  Feeling quite disconsolate and sorry for myself, believing with full conviction of my abject failure as a wildlife gardener, I morosely stared off into the opposite distance from the brood box, appreciating the form of budding trees against a darkening sky.  After a minute (probably less), I turned around and saw two perched owls in the tree–the female (the larger of the two), whinnied in the way of Eastern Screech-Owls and her mate, who sat just beyond her, on a different branch, quiet and probably annoyed at me.  We regarded each other, though I’m sure they saw me more clearly than I saw them.  One swooped off, the other followed, both in complete silence.

Happy, happy wildlife gardener am I!

Sunday morning, I noticed Squirrel Nut-twerp nosing around the brood box.  First, he climbed on top, timorously looking in from above.  Then he scampered to the limb in front of the box, poking his nose close to, but not into, the hole–then withdrawing in a hurry.

Hmmm, that’s a good sign that something scary resides in the box.

Further circumstantial evidence of inhabiting owls presented when I stepped outside a little later to the raucous  kerfuffle from 10 birds, perched in the tree, pointedly cawing at the brood box. Wrens, a mockingbird, blue jays all in noisy chorus,  protesting…something. New neighbors? That’s one of the sure signs of Screech-Owl inhabitants:  other birds, as well as their offspring,  are potential meals of the owls and once owls move in to the brood house or tree hole, those prey make known their displeasure about the predators. As a friend of mine said:  there’s nothing like some killers moving in to galvanize the neighbors into action.  I understand the birds’ trepidation. While I cheer about the rats and mice hunted by the Screech and Great Horned Owls, as well as the various hawks in the neighborhood, I lament the loss of fledglings and migrating songbirds who will, undoubtedly also be prey.

Such is nature.

Sunday afternoon, absolute proof of the Screech couple and their choice of house.


Isn’t she adorable, even if she looks a little grumpy?    I don’t know where Dad Owl is, close by more than likely, but I haven’t spotted him yet.

I’d like to think that I helped my owl buddies by annoying Squirrel Nut-twerp to the point that she moved on, but I suspect it was all the owls’ doing.