Migratory Machinations

My garden enjoyed an extended fall bird migration as the the feathered travelers made their way southward for winter. I didn’t catch photos of most of the migrants I saw, either choosing to simply observe or (more often) lacking quickness in the utilizing of my camera. It’s gratifying to see so many birds resting–if only for a day–and that my garden serves as a respite along their long and dangerous journeys.

Typically, bird watching is more fulfilling during spring migration, as there are not only a reasonable number, but also a greater diversity of birds who temporarily visit my garden from early April, stretching to early June. Historically, fewer migratory birds have come through my garden during fall, though this year, that wasn’t the case. It’s hard to say why there were more migratory birds in September and October: perhaps it’s the drought we’re experiencing, making the urban garden scene a better bet for food and water sources than the open areas of rural Texas. Or maybe it was just the right weather or wind stream pattern that allowed for sufficient numbers on a path that brought them to my garden.

I was fortunate to host a female Black-throated Green Warbler, Setophaga virens, for the better part of a day.

Like most migratory birds (as well as the native birds), it’s the promise of a refreshing bath and cooling drink that lured this cutie in and allowed me to appreciate her beauty.

The first time I saw one of these birds I thought it was the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, Setophaga chrysoparia, who nests no where else in the world except here in Central Texas. If you click on that link, you’ll see that, at a quick glance and if you’re a novice bird watcher, the mistake is an easy one to make. I’ve never seen a Golden-cheeked, but I’m oh-so glad that the Black-throated greens have seen fit to visit my garden space, even if those visits are ever-so-brief.

I like this cheeky am I not adorable? pose!

I hope she has safely made her way to southern Mexico/Central America and that her winter is spent eating well and resting.

For the last few springs, I’ve seen Nashville Warblers, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, in my garden. They always come as a troop of 4 or 5, never as a single bird, like so many migratory bird species. Nashvilles are feathered friends who enjoy another’s company!

In mid October, I was entertained for most of a week by a group of 5, both males and females, until a strong cold front sent them on their way south.

They’re shy and skittish at first, perching in the trees above and alighting on the plants below and beside the pond before they’re comfortable getting into the pond.

This Firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis, well-placed by the pond, serves as both perch and protection, before and after a bath.

Usually, there’s some time sitting on top of the pond rocks, nervously surveying the surrounding area for safety’s sake.

This one is a female,

…and this one is male. How can I tell? Check out the dab of rust-colored feathers topping his little head–it’s guaranteed to charm the ladies, or at the very least, one special lady.

In time, relaxed and ready, they take the plunge! I like these two, canoodling in the bog area.

Isn’t that sweet? Bird love in the bog! Most of my bird visitors favor the bog: the water is shallow, perfect for fluffy, flitty bathing and plants grow for cover from predators.

That said, there’s always a character lurking around, ready to disturb the peace, like this not-a-bird!

This Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger, skittered up the rocks and scattered the birds, taking its turn for a drink at the waterfall. When disturbed, the birds disappear for a time, but they come back when all is quiet and they can bathe and drink in comfort.

Migratory season is mostly over. I did see a Nashville Warbler at the pond twice in this past week. Was it a tardy migrant, winging as fast as possible toward its warm winter digs? Or will it stay here until spring fever hits, joining several Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and at least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet for bog baths, pond parties, and insect/suet munchies? Whatever they decide to do, they’re all welcome, temporary or permanent: these seasonal birds, along with the year-round resident birds, add their particular beauty to the diversity that is a wildlife garden.

Praying for Snakes and Birds

As the days shorten and cool, it’s once again a pleasure to be out-of-doors.  In my spare time, I’m re-configuring parts of my garden (when am I NOT re-configuring parts of the garden?), and enjoying the seasonal change from summer to autumn.

In my compost area, I was wrangling rogue fallen leaves and when I peeked into an empty bin, discovered this slithery fella.

A young Texas Rat SnakeElaphe obsoleta lindheimeri,  I imagine it’s the offspring of a adult snake that I saw in June.  Several times, the Blue Jays were yelling at something in the back corner of my garden.  I’d investigated, assuming that they were screaming at an owl, but they were looking down at the ground and not up into trees.  After several inspections driven by the jays’ caterwauling, I finally I saw a bit of a good sized snake.  The snake was mostly nestled under groundcover, but enough was visible showing a circumference several inches, meaning that the snake is most likely 5-6 feet long.  I left the snake alone, not out of fear, but because rat snakes are good predators to have in the garden.

The Blue Jays were quiet after that, but a few weeks later I heard the alarm calls of a crowd of Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and Black-crested Titmice as they fluttered around my back neighbors’ large elm tree.  The little birds were inspecting something in the crotch of large limbs, and only once I grabbed my binoculars could I see that it was several bits of shed snakeskin hung on the bark of the tree.  Rat snakes can climb trees, so I was certain the skin was the remains of my snake.  I emailed the neighbors and they were excited about the find, but never saw the live snake.

Fast-forward through summer and I suppose eggs were laid and snakes were hatched.

Once I snapped photos of the binned beauty and dragged the Hub out to see our slinky friend, we deposited the little reptile in a different part of my garden.  I hope it eats lots of rats and mice, but not the various birds that are around.  Alas, birds and their eggs (remember, rat snakes climb!) are part of rat snake diets.

Predators eat.


After checking the honeybee hives recently, I spied this smaller, but no less deadly, predator hanging out near our hive, Scar.

“Arms” held aloft, perhaps this adult Praying mantisStagmomantis sp. is praying for me to go away so that it can continue its dinner hunt.

Mantids eat a variety of things, most of which are smaller than themselves, including honeybees.  Flies, butterflies and moths, as well as other insects are also on the mantid menu.  When I checked the next morning, the mantid was gone from this spot, but is probably nearby.

Fall bird migration is underway as they travel from their northern breeding grounds to winter in Mexico, Central and South America.  I’ve seen a Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, on several occasions, finally catching it still enough for a couple of shots.

Actually, I have no idea if this is the same warbler I’ve spotted several times, or simply another Nashville sojourner, though all the ones I’ve seen have been male.  Nashville Warblers breed in Canada, migrating southward through a wide swath of the United States, and wintering in Central America.  I’ve seen individuals of this species in my garden before during spring migration, but never during fall.

The only other migratory bird in my garden has been a Yellow Warbler, flitting late one afternoon around the pond.  Their flashing sunshine yellow feathers are hard to miss.   I also saw a magnificent hawk at my pond, but I had bumbled noisily out the back door and so startled it, causing it to take flight immediately.  When will I learn to first look through the glass to check out the surroundings before I open the door and scare everyone away?

There’s never a dull moment in the garden–one just needs decent observation skills and to practice quiet, subtle movements.

I guess I have some work to do.