July’s Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, July 2016

Welcome to the July 2016 edition of Wildlife Wednesday.  The United States marked its 240th birthday on Monday and today we mark the 2nd birthday of this wildlife gardening meme! I appreciate and thank all who’ve participated in Wildlife Wednesday.  Each first Wednesday, I’m impressed and inspired by the fabulous photos and compelling anecdotes that avid wildlife gardeners share when they post for the meme.  And for those who’ve tuned in each month to read–a big kiss on the cheek for your interest in and love for wildlife.

Kudos to you all!

Wildlife gardening is an activity that everyone can take part in.  Especially in urban areas, planting for birds, pollinators, and other wild animals helps balance ongoing damage to natural zones and allows our world to heal–if just a little bit–by providing for those who can’t speak for themselves and with whom we share our world.

As July sees celebratory parades with accompanying banners and fireworks, I thought I’d host my own parade of critters that I’ve profiled during this past month.  So, strike up the band and wave your gardening flags, here are July’s wild things!


The garden has been full of Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) flitting and feeding this past month.


Gulf Fritillary nectaring on a Turk’s cap bloom (Malvaviscus arboreus). Look at that long proboscis.


I enjoyed this guy’s visit earlier in the month: Green Heron, Butorides virescens.


Standing stalwart, ready to pounce in the bog.


Impressionist coloration.


“I spy with my yellow eye…a gambusia!”



Beautiful metallic native bee enjoying the bounty of a passalong daylily.



Female leafcutter bee, also a native, gathering pollen for her offspring from a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).



Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) showing off pretty wings.



Soldier beetle (Cantharidae family), one of many pollinators who live and thrive in my garden.


As June progressed and summer has settled in for the duration, damsels and dragons zoom around in the garden, landing here and there on pond and plants, adding their special charm to summer’s wild festivities.

This dreamy (ahem, unclear) shot is, I believe, an Eastern RingtailErpetogomphus designatus.  


Supposedly common in the Austin area, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting this kind of dragonfly before.  According to several sources, the males have a slightly larger “club” at the end of the abdomen, also orange-colored, but this one has neither quality.  My guess is that she’s a she.

Giving firework colors a run for their money, Neon Skimmers, Libellula croceipennis, grace my garden regularly from June to November and are always welcome.



During National Pollinator Week, I profiled the Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes,  butterflies who make their nurseries in my garden, but who travel as adults throughout the neighborhood to nectar and mate.  In my garden, there are several currently in metamorph stage, attached to stems and hidden from predators.  I photographed this winged jewel on the morning of emergence.


A newly emerged adult, drying its wings near its former home.



A newly vacated chrysalis.

Butterfly and moth chrysalises are so well camouflaged that it’s a gift to find them–lucky me this time!!

Butterflies are easy to appreciate because of their beauty and daytime winging and nectaring habits.  But moths, common at dark and more subtly pattered and colored, also contribute to pollination and play an equally important role in a balanced ecosystem. Like many, my knowledge of moths is woefully inadequate.  I can tell you that this is a moth, but haven’t found the exact identification.


It reminds me though of a rock climber, sans ropes, hanging on to the rock, before advancing upwards.

Spiders are back!  I enjoy watching the Black-and-yellow Argiope spiders that are common in Austin gardens, including my own.  I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a clear shot of the top, more decorative part of the spider, and then realized that I was quite fortunate to have a clear view of the usually hidden underside of this female argiope.


It looks like she’s snagged one of my darling honeybees for a meal.  Well, I’m not so crazy about that part of a garden spider, but tolerance of hunting and acceptance of the fate of prey is part of wildlife gardening.  Everyone must eat, which usually means that something was alive and no longer is.


I usually observe and photograph the green form of the Green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis, like so:



But these cheeky ones also blush brown when necessary, as camouflage from predators.


This anole blends in well with the wooden fence.


This anole hides with the backdrop of a limestone wall.

And gardeners!

And finally, there was this dude:


You want a piece of me?!



This Leaf-footed bugAcanthocephala terminalis, practically dared me to catch a photo as it traveled the length of a Soft-leaf yucca leaf, toward this camera-wielding gardener.


I’m walkin’ here!


It looks like he’s dancing a jig as he made it to the end of the leaf.

But in the end, I’m bigger, more technologically advanced (sort of…), and higher up on the food chain, so yeah, I was able to catch him/her in a plucky stance.


This bug sports decorative feet and antennae.

There are a wide variety of Coreidae, or Leaf-footed bugs, in this area and I enjoy seeing them in my garden.  They do feed on plants, but I’ve never seen serious foliage damage from them, or at least, none that I’m aware of.   I’m sure there are some leaves, less than pristine, which owe their damage to the bugs’ meal preferences, but it’s nothing that I lose sleep over.  Keeping abreast of who inhabits and visits your garden will ensure that no serious “pest” damage occurs.  Usually, a spritz of water, once or twice, is all that is needed to discourage less-than-welcome marauding insects. Pesticides, even “organic” pesticides are highly damaging to many garden creatures, and not only the ones targeted.  A garden is alive and fulfilling its purpose when it nurtures a wide diversity of critters–insects, spiders, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and chemicals are anathema to a healthy, diverse wildlife community.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for July 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 readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

In Praise of Bees

If you live in or near Austin, The Tour de Hives will be held this coming Saturday, August 15.  The tour of local bee yards  is in celebration of National Honey Bee Day and also a fundraiser for the Travis County Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit organization committed to promotion of and education about honeybees.  Check out the links for more information. If you live elsewhere, there are activities planned nation-wide–check out your local gardening calendars and/or beekeeping societies for activities and tours.

IMGP1077_cropped_3415x3060..new Honeybees and all other pollinators need us and we need them–our survival depends on their survival.  There are simple things that gardeners/homeowners can do to help declining pollinators, birds, and other wildlife:

–Remove sterile monoculture turf and replace with native perennials, shrubs and trees. You’ll find the gardening work easier, less expensive, more interesting and beautiful.

–Plant with intention, for wildlife and/or pollinators–after all, that’s who plants were invented for.

–If native plants aren’t readily available in local nurseries, choose pollinator plants that are not invasive to wild areas.  Additionally, growing plants from seeds is often easy and rewarding.

–Don’t use pesticides or herbicides–those products are unnecessary and disrupt the  balance that exists in the natural world.  Using native plants and wildlife gardening methods decreases harmful insect and plant disease infestations.

–Do your part to heal the world, one wildlife habitat at a time.

















While honeybees are grand (aren’t my girls just lovely?), a more important group of pollinators are the unappreciated but vital-to-the-survival-of-everything, native bees. There are 20,000 identified native bee species worldwide, 4,000 of which live in North America, and over 300 known species in Texas.   Here are a few of the many which visit my gardens:








Plant for wildlife, plant for life!

Bee Mama Missive: Bees–They’re What’s For Dinner

Paraphrasing an advertising tagline from the American beef production industry, I think Bees-they’re what’s for dinner is applicable  to the Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra,  who are visiting my garden.  In the last month, I’ve observed at least three different Tanagers flitting around my back garden.



You’ll have to excuse the photos–I’ve yet to take a clear pic of any one of these stunning birds, but the male is pure bright red, the female is yellow, and the red/yellow combination is an immature male.  I have no idea where they’re nesting, but these eye-poppers breed in Central Texas and surrounding areas west, south, and eastward during summer.

When I first saw the birds, all three over the course of a weekend, I was baffled about why they were landing only on the house side of the Shumard Oak tree and nowhere else in the garden. They’d land in the tree, hop from branch to branch, moving constantly. Occasionally one would flit to the Retama tree or, more likely to the electric/cable wires adjacent to the Shumard.  Eventually each bird would fly back to the neighbor’s tree, or beyond, which is the direction they always come from.  I couldn’t figure out what they wanted from that particular spot in the Shumard.  The Husband mentioned off-handedly, “Maybe they eat bees.”


Really?  The birds and the bees?  One is the hunter and one is the prey?   I checked the Cornell Merlin phone app while I was watching the Tanagers that Sunday afternoon and Summer Tanagers are, in fact, bee and wasp eaters. The Tanagers were landing in the Shumard just above where the honeybee hives are located.


Who knew?


Indeed, I’ve watched them fly into the flight path of my honeybees, swooping in, then banking off sharply as if they caught something; I assume the brilliant hunter flew off to an unseen spot to eat.  I’ve witnessed an immature male Tanager flutter just above a Purple Coneflower, where a native bee was hard at work nectaring.  The Tanager hovered briefly, then seemingly decided that maybe honeybees were more easily picked off for a meal and he flew away.


At about the  time that the Tanagers were making daily, or nearly daily, appearances, I also realized that both of our honeybee queens were dead.  I’m not sure what happened to the queens, as they were dutifully laying eggs at the beginning of spring. We might have accidentally rolled them during a hive check (probably) or, they might have simply died or were so weak that the worker bees decided to replace them–that happens.  The previous weeks, as part of my spring beekeeper management, I’d conscientiously destroyed queen cells (that the girls insisted upon making), in order to quell their desire for procreation.  I did such a good job that the ladies were left without their leaders.

Beekeeping is hard.  Especially when the beekeeper doesn’t know what in hell she’s doing.

So I found myself in a bit of a fix: two dead queens, which means two dying hives–and   Summer Tanagers gobbling honeybees on a regular basis.  Even without the hunting birds, the bees are doomed if I don’t requeen both hives, and the Tanagers assure that inevitability sooner, rather than later. What to do?  A quick check on the Beeweaver Apiaries website showed that they were sold out of queen bees until June.

JUNE!!  My hives won’t make it to June.  I emailed  the owner, whom I met last year, explained my predicament and she took pity on me, or more likely, my hapless honeybees.  She immediately ordered two queens sent, via UPS, on an overnight shipment to me.  Beekeepers stick together and help each other.

The queens were to arrive on a Thursday and when they didn’t as expected, I shifted into sleuth mode  to discover where my queens were stranded. UPS claimed that the package was delivered to my address at 9am.  I wasn’t home at that time, but Bee Daddy was and there was no delivery of queens or anything else.   I combed the neighborhood on my bicycle, searching  for a misdelivered queen bee package. I received some odd looks from neighbors when I explained what I was looking for and that proved interesting.  And weird. I won’t go into the details about what I did to find the package of bees, but the queens and their attendants were misdelivered that morning to an address that was one number off of mine and about ten houses away.

Yes, I made a formal complaint to UPS.

The hives were requeened and new bees are hatching as I write–there will be plenty of honeybees for the Tanagers to eat.


WAIT A MINUTE!  That’s not why I have honeybees! I have honeybees so they can pollinate my gardens and the gardens around the neighborhood.  I have honeybees so that I can enjoy and share their incredible honey.  I DON’T have honeybees so the Summer Tanagers can hunt and eat them.


But hunt and eat they do.  One of my bedroom windows is just above where the hives are located.  One morning recently, I opened the window to a gorgeous male Summer Tanager, perched in the Shumard,  gazing hungrily down at the hives.  He was so intent on snagging a bee for his breakfast that he didn’t notice  my movement at the window.

This past Sunday morning, my little Astrud cat was staring at something as she sat on that window sill, as she often does.


Can you see him through the less-than-pristine screen?  The Tanager is poised on top of Scar (one of my hives).  The beautiful avian scamp flew downward for a second, likely to the entry board of the hive, then flew back to the top with his prize: a honeybee in his beak  for lunch.  He mangled my beloved little bee and deposited her down his gullet–while perched atop the hive.  That takes a certain amount of impertinence.

Additionally,  I have  mixed emotions about witnessing the effrontery.

Do I mind the Tanagers hunting the bees?  No, actually, I don’t.  I do feel a little sad about the hardworking foragers, toward the end of their lives, being snarfed down by the gorgeous feathered fiends.  And having hives readily available is tantamount  to shooting fish in a barrel.  After all, it’s not even like the Tanagers have to hunt that hard. The hives are right there and the bees are coming and going constantly, with no thought to their own personal safety–the health of the hive is what drives them.

Meanwhile, the Tanagers have found a pretty sweet deal.

In targeting my honeybees for the benefit of their tummies, the Tanagers won’t decimate my hives.  Yes, they’ll kill some and if they’re around all summer, many.  But the honeybees are in much more danger from pesticide or herbicide use on a plant they might forage from than they are from the Summer Tanagers. I don’t garden with chemicals, but the bees forage within a three-mile radius–who knows what they take nectar and pollen from? The Tanagers will kill some bees, but they won’t cause either of my hives to collapse because of harmful chemicals. The balance of prey to predator won’t be disturbed–as long as all other factors remain relatively equal.

Ahem.  Good beekeeping practices are part of that equation.


So I’m welcoming the Tanagers to my garden and consider myself fortunate to observe these fascinating and beautiful birds.  I don’t see them everyday.  In fact, a couple of weeks passed and I didn’t see any Tanagers.  Then, saw one or two for several days–hanging around the beehives, of course.  Besides bees and wasps, Tanagers also eat fruit, though I didn’t see  them at the ripening blackberries.


Apparently, the Tanagers have plenty to eat.  Truthfully, I rather them dine on the honeybees than the native bees, since the honeybee hives are protected and have a healthy location in which they thrive.  The native bees nest in and around my gardens, but they also nest elsewhere and may not always find such a tolerant and beneficent host.

Beekeeping and wildlife gardening–a tricky balance with those two, but there clear advantages with both endeavors and my garden and the surrounding environment are the winners.

I’m sure the bees are delicious to the Tanagers, but I think I’ll stick to eating honey.

Either way, bon appétit!