Pipe(vine) Dream

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed observing many a Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, drifting through my garden, blue-tipped wings highlighted by the brilliant Texas sun.

The winged wonders rest in trees and tall shrubs, basking in the sunshine; occasionally, one drifts to the garden, flitting through the plants with strong wing beats, adding its beauty to the local landscape.  The host plant for these gorgeous insects are pipevine plants, Aristolochia species; I’ve never grown any myself and I didn’t I know where pipevines resided that might be the nursery for the Pipevine Swallowtails visiting my garden.  But in the last couple of years, I noticed several White Veined Dutchman’s pipeAristolochia fimbriata  in a nearby neighbor’s garden and have assume that recent Pipevine Swallowtails wafting through my garden hail from her Dutchman’s Pipe.

This is one of my new plants, but you can see why a gardener might want this plant in the garden

Aside from its obvious attractive qualities in the garden,  A. fimbriata also a fab host plant for both the Pipevine Swallowtail and another butterfly, the Polydamas SwalllowtailBattus polydamas.

Last fall, dreaming of hosting my own crop of Pipevine Swallowtails, I planted three individual White-veined Dutchman’s pipe in a spot which has become increasingly shady.  I wanted something that would handle shade, be summer drought-hardy, and feed some sort of critter–or two.

I think I picked the right plants.

The three pipevines will spread, but I might plant a fourth in the middle to fill in. The small green plants shown here in the middle of the three pipevines are rosettes of Gulf penstemons, which I’ve recently transplanted to another spot.  A flock of ceramic birds fill the void.

Cheery green foliage, with spidery markings, the leaves are elegant and eye-catching.

White Veined Dutchman’s Pipe is hardy in zones 7-11;  I garden in zone 8b.  After our hard freezes this past winter, the pipevines died to their roots, but popped back in spring, ready for a full growing season.

I traveled during the first half of May and when I returned, the caterpillars (none of which I saw prior to the trip) had laid waste to all three plants.  Nothing remained but slender limbs of green.

Yum, yum–Dutchman Pipes taste good to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae!  Within a few weeks and assisted by some lovely, welcomed rain in June, all three plants have emerged–lush-n-leafy–after providing meals for that first batch of caterpillars.

Dutchman’s Pipe bloom, too!   They’re odd little aliens which are a bit shy.  You’ll have to peek under leaves to see them.

Despite the muted color scheme, Dutchman pipe flowers evoke the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Toward the end of the first round of larval lunching, there were still a couple of caterpillars, nibbling away.

There wasn’t much of the green stuff left for those last larvae and I don’t know if either ate enough to get to the morphing stage, but some time later, I found this chrysalis in a bucket on my back patio.

How do caterpillars decide where to place their chrysalises? I was about to fill the bucket with water when I saw the chrysalis. Yet another reminder that t’s always good to keep a sharp eye out for insects and the weird spots where they place their homes.

I kept watch for the adult’s emergence, but missed it.  However, the adult butterflies are back at it again;  the other day, I watched as a female oviposited the next generation.

There are several clusters of eggs on several slender branches. I imagine the larvae will eat most, if not all the leaves, so foliage will have to flush out again.

Despite the ravages that butterfly and moth larvae render leaves they feed upon, I’ve never lost a plant to caterpillar munching madness.  The various host plants that I grow always leaf out after a period of rest.

I prefer to use Texas natives when I’m able, but there is no commercially available native Texas Aristolochia. The next best thing is a non-native and A. fimbriata  fills this niche nicely.  It’s summer-tough, non-invasive, and pretty.  What more could you ask for?

One cautious note about pipevines: if you’re interested in attracting the stunning Pipevine Swallowtails,  you should avoid planting Giant pipevine, Aristolochia gigantea.  This tropical pipevine is too toxic for the Pipevine Swallowtails; the butterflies lay their eggs, the larvae hatch and eat, then die after the first instar.

So if you want this,

…and this,

…plant this.

 

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!

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

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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.

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Standing stalwart, ready to pounce in the bog.

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Impressionist coloration.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) showing off pretty wings.

 

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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This anole blends in well with the wooden fence.

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This anole hides with the backdrop of a limestone wall.

And gardeners!

And finally, there was this dude:

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You want a piece of me?!

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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.

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I’m walkin’ here!

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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.

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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.

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee,

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..as it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

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Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

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The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

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…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

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Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

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…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

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This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

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…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

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A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

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…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.  

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I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

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…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

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He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

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But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

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The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

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More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

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He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage. IMGP1652_cropped_2695x3304..new

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

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They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

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I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

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This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November 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.

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Good wildlife gardening to you!