Return of the Blues: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2019

Ah, the winter blues.  More accurately, the late winter blues.  Blue Orchard Mason bees, Osmia lignaria, are exiting their year-long incubation chambers and buzzing my garden.

The goal for their short lives is to mate, rummage around flowers and foliage for nesting material, lay eggs, and pack the eggs safely to ensure the next generation of bees who will appear, on cue, next February.

The blue bee bonanza is an annual event in my garden.  These beautiful insects–an eye-popping, rich, iridescent blue–zoom from the native bee houses where they grow up, to the garden and beyond, and then back again, as they mate and then gather pollen and other material for the next generation’s nesting chambers.

These bees are important for commercial orchards, but thrive in welcoming home gardens, too.  In our garden, we’ve placed several boxes with drilled wood and lengths of cut bamboo.  These bee houses are utilized by a variety of native bees throughout the year.  Because the Blue Orchard bee adults emerge in February, they’re the first native bees to pack away their babies in the bee houses.

Packed nursery holes, as well as some where a bee (or bees) have exited, and a new adult.

After mating,

…the females begin their egg-laying process in a hole in wood or masonry which is of a size and length that the adult female finds appealing.  The first eggs laid–those at the back-end of the cylinder–are female, and the eggs at the front–potentially the most exposed–are male. Between each egg laid, mom bee builds a wall of mud and pollen so that each is snuggled into its own room.  The entire nursery, all chambers therein, is then sealed firmly until the next year.

Do the girls get pink rooms and the boys, blue?  Nah, the rooms are gender-neutral, as far as color choice goes.  However, gender differentiation is present: the female eggs-larvae-adults are at the furthest end of the nursery cylinder so that those most responsible for successful procreation are best protected, or so suggest the entomologists who study these bees.  The male eggs-larvae-adults are situated at the front of the nursery cylinders, emerging as adults first, so that they’re ready, eager, and awaiting their potential mates.

The two bees in this photo are males; one is fully emerged, the other peeking out, ready to take on his corner of the world.

Males have a white patch on their faces which is a mustache-like clump of white hairs.

Hairy dudes.

This fella rested on an upturned plastic bin under one of the bee houses.  He posed handsomely for me.  Or was he challenging me to a duel?  Or perhaps wondering what I am?  Who knows what a bee thinks?

The females (with the males, of course) mate, then begin preparations for laying eggs and provisioning for their offspring.  This female wriggled and writhed around the pollen-laden center of a Desert mallow bloom. 

Unlike honeybees, who carry their pollen packs on their legs in what are formally known as coribulae or pollen baskets; I call them pollen pantaloons, but that’s just me. Blue Orchard bees,  members of the Mason bee family, carry gathered pollen on their tummies.  This is the best shot I  managed of a female heading into a nesting chamber with pollen.  These gals are fast fliers!  I’ve observed creamy white pollen-coated tummies, as well as cheery yellow and orange, color depending upon what bloom, or blooms, the female worked.

The females fly into the holes head-first, making their way to the back of the cylinder, then working their way forward–one egg and egg prep–at a time.  Mom bee rolls the pollen into balls, adding nectar and microorganisms, to make pollen bread. Each egg is laid on its own ball of pollen bread, which will be the food source for the larvae.  A mud wall is built, sealing in the egg and its food source.  Then mama works on the the next egg and chamber, so it goes until she reaches the front of the hole, which she seals thickly with mud and pollen.

The female has chosen this bamboo cylinder for her nursery. To the left, see the two cylinders with holes; adult bees, plopped in last year, have exited their nursery chambers.

I don’t grow any fruit trees, though I have some early spring blooming trees in my garden  There are flowering fruit trees in my neighborhood–peach, apple, and pear–and I expect that the blue bees nesting my garden visit those flowers.

Building native bee houses, or hotels, is easy.  Using untreated wood and providing a variety of different sized holes for different sized bees, you’ll attract a wide array of native bees to your garden.  You can even leave cut logs from downed, or pruned, trees in your garden, and with some aging of that wood, the native (carpenter) bees will find them.  Check out these links for instructions and ideas about attracting these fascinating and beautiful pollinators to your garden.

As much as the appearance of new buds on trees or the thickening of bloom stalks on spring perennials, the arrival of the adult Blue Orchard bees heralds the onset of Spring in my garden.  New life emerging and continuation of the alliances between flowering plants and their pollinators confirms a time-honored environmental zeitgeist of the natural world.

What indicates spring–or autumn–for your garden?  Please share your wildlife garden observations and insights, then leave a link to your post when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening for March!

Wildlife Wednesday, October 2015

September is over, fall migration through Texas is underway, and in my gardens? Well, it’s the usual wildlife suspects who rule the roost.  Hummingbirds gave great performances prior to their leaving;  they entertained the gardener, paid attention to the flowers, and fueled up for their long flights.  They are now off to winter in lovely, warm Mexico. Here’s wishing them plenty of tropical blooms, while the rest of North America chills out.

In September’s Wildlife Wednesday, I mentioned that a mottled and probably molting adolescent male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, was a regular visitor to my garden.  I poked fun at him  because he looked so rangy and awkward–the geeky teen of the backyard bird world.

Well, shame on me.  I read this article about how tough molting is on birds and specifically as they undergo the preformative molt of the adolescent to adult feathers.  I raised a teen male to young adulthood and remember much angst (mine) and crankiness (his) during his human “molting”.  I guess I should have been more understanding and sympathetic about the changes the juvenile bird was undergoing. Sir Young Cardinal still hangs out, munching sunflower seeds from the feeder, molting, but less molty and, I believe, dressed more cardinal-like.

Maybe it’s the better camera–my good one is out of the camera hospital.  Nonetheless, Young Cardinal on his way to scarlet beauty.

This adult male glances to the left,

…then to the right,

…and looks like he’s keeping claws crossed that the nutty gardener can’t see him  perched on the shrub.

Maybe if I hold my wings really tight, she won’t see me.  

There are plenty of birds at the sunflower buffet, like this Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis.

I’m especially fond of the Carolina Chickadee;  there is a mated pair that nests near, though not in, my gardens.  They appear in concert with a pair of Black-crested Titmice, though there are no photos of either of that pair for this month.      Both species have sweet verbalizations and I usually hear them before I see them.  That’s often how it is with birds.

Raucous and beautiful Blue Jays like this one, are also regular visitors to my garden and feeder.

Most evenings at sundown a group of them protest loudly at what I suspect is one or two Eastern Screech Owls perched in a neighbor’s tree.  I haven’t seen the owls, but have heard them on occasion in the last month or so.  The Blue Jays make lots of noise, but in the end they flap away for the night, returning to sound alarm(s) next day-and also, to eat at the feeder.

There should be more and varied birds through my garden in the next few weeks as they migrate southward.  Already I’ve seen several warblers flitting in the verge, though capturing by camera is tricky.  With good luck and some patience, I will have some success this month–to observe, to learn about, and to share for next month’s Wildlife Wednesday.

As for the insects, there are plenty of those and that’s mostly a good thing for the garden. This Milkweed BugOncopeltus fasciatus, is not such a beneficial bug in the garden, but apparently doesn’t do  that much damage to the leaves of Milkweed or Asclepias, plants.

There were quite a few earlier in the summer, but their numbers have dwindled.

Butterflies and moths are making a comeback since we enjoyed a bit of rain not long ago.  I’ve seen this Hackberry EmperorAsterocampa celtis, sunning herself several times recently.

A good thing too, because this species flies so fast that I’ve never taken a clear photo of one around the garden, only in pathways as they bask and allow garden paparazzi to photograph their sunbathing.  Hackberry Emperors feed on dung and sap, so they don’t visit  flowers. The host plant for this butterfly is the much-maligned Texas native tree, Hackberry, Celtis laevigata.  A member of the Elm family, this is the tree that everyone loves to hate, myself included.  But Hackberry an excellent wildlife plant–providing berries that many birds species eat and hosting the nursery for this pretty butterfly.

A   Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, posed for me one afternoon with a backdrop of Columbine foliage.

I often see one fly high through the garden when I’m outside in late afternoon.  The host plant for this beauty is pipevine, which I don’t grow (why not??), but I know there are several specimens in a neighbor’s garden–maybe that’s where this one grew up.

This Great Leopard MothHypercompe scribonia, rested on the trunk of my Shumard Oak one afternoon.

I see the larval form of this polka dot wonder throughout the summer months, but of course never think to get a shot for a blog post.  Large and fuzzy, the caterpillar is attractive enough, though I’m not sure much can beat the stunning pattern of the adult.

Eastern Black Carpenter bees, Xylocopa virginica,  Southern Carpenter BeesXylocopa micans, have nectared at and pollinated Henry Duelberg Sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’,

…and Drummond’s Wild Ruellia, Ruellia drummondiana,

…as well as other flowers for weeks now.*   There are many  Horsefly-like Carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis, buzzing the flowers, too, like this one on a white Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea.

My garden is currently in full, fall bloom and those many flower choices are keeping the honey and native bees are quite busy. Pollinate away, girls!!

The Paper Wasp, Polistes exclamans, sips at the bird bath.

The Neon Skimmer, Libellula croceipennis, surveys for prey.

The Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis,  glares at the annoying camera lady.

And the squirrel?  He/she relaxes after a tough afternoon of stealing birdseed and wrecking my container plants in the effort of burying treasures for winter snacks.

Scamp!  Let’s make that plural–Scamps!  I don’t recall ever having so many in the garden and never have they been so destructive.  The Fuzzy-tailed Devils will not leave the container plants alone.   To dissuade their digging, I’m sprinkling cayenne pepper on a daily basis–not on the squirrels, mind you, just the plants.  And I’m yelling at them a lot.  Not the plants, just the squirrels.

Squirrels are part of the ecosystem, though an annoying part, and they provide lots of entertainment for the cats.

And that’s about it for this wildlife gardener.  So what wild thangs are in your garden? Please post for October 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.

Happy wildlife gardening!

*I misidentified the carpenter bee originally and now believe that the bees I’m observing are Southern Carpenter bees.*

It’s Fall, Y’all

Letting you know that it’s fall in Texas–thus, the y’all, y’all.  A conjunction of you + all, and common in the vernacular of the American South, it’s a friendly and practical  term for inclusion and invitation to a conversation.  This conversation is about the beginning of our second blooming season, so-named “Autumn” or “Fall” in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Here in Texas?  We usually refer to it as, I’m so glad summer’s over!!

While in most places plants are beginning the decline of growth and production in anticipation of winter, many of our tough customers are readying for their second spring. The days still reach into the low 90’s F, but nights and mornings are cool and lovely, and even the afternoon warmth feels different from the summer heat.  Or so I tell myself. Human rationalizations aside, with a smidge of rain and gentler temperatures becoming normative, every Texas gardener eagerly awaits the garden’s emergence from summer’s dormancy.

It’s about time!

Native to Argentina but naturalized throughout much of Texas, Oxblood  or Schoolhouse Lily Rhodophiala bifida, in my garden have unfolded in a couple of waves this fall.

The stratification of blooming time has been a nice change.  Usually these individual bulbs jut out of the ground, stalk with buds, then blooms atop, bursting open with showy flowers, all with a few days of one another.  Oxblood fade away until the next September, leaving only foliage as a reminder–and not even that remains after winter.

And there’s a romance in the garden, too, this early fall.

Hugs between this extrovert Oxblood and a reserved Garlic Chive, Allium tuberosum–I guess it’s true that opposites attract.

Another Garlic Chive waits alone, early in the morning,  for honeybee suitors.

A new-ish bloomer for me is this purple grape juice colored Autumn SageSalvia greggii x Salvia microphylla.

I purchased three plants from a locally owned nursery well over a year ago and am finally seeing clusters of blooms, though there were a smattering throughout summer.   The story told is that one of the employees of the nursery spied the mother plant, un-named and un-tagged,  at a big box store.  The plant was purchased, cuttings were taking, and now the big-box plant descendants are sold from time-to-time at that nursery, usually during summer.   It’s an attractive purple salvia, water-wise and tough, and beloved by my honey and native bees.

Stalking a honeybee as she worked, partially hidden in the grassy foliage of a Giant Liriope,  Liriope muscari  ‘Evergreen Giant’, I snapped shots of the pretty lavender bloom spikes.  If you look closely, you can see a little bee butt.

These ornamental and drought-tolerant grasses don’t bloom often, though they are very welcomed when they do, usually in early fall.

In late July I pruned the bountiful Henry Duelberg Sage, Salvia farinacea, ‘Henry Duelberg’, in preparation for fall blooms.  This beautiful native perennial is an excellent food source for wildlife–pollinators and seed-eaters–and provides a great fall (and spring/summer) flower show for me.

That show has begun and will not disappoint–either the pollinators or the gardener.


‘Henry’ is nice, planted in conjunction with the open-for-nectaring business, Gregg’s MistflowerConoclinium greggii, blooming just behind.

I think this migrating Monarch butterfly,

..and pollen-gathering, nectar-sipping honeybee,

…would readily agree–huzzah for the fall bloomers!

The white and red Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, have blossomed for the past month or so, even before the moderate cooling.


Mexican Butterfly Vine,  Mascagnia macroptera, are showcasing cheery yellow blooms,

…and a few “butterfly” seedpods.


Fall Obedient, Physostegia virginiana, is a re-introduced perennial for me–I grew it many years ago.

I’m happy to host this charming bloomer and tough native again.  How did I go so long without it??

FrostweedVerbesina virginica,

GoldeneyeViguiera dentata,

…and Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, are full-flush with fall flowers.

The Rock Rose blooms crinkle a wee bit against the afternoon heat, but are staying open-ish.  That’s a definite change from the summer xeric practice of shuttering the petals by mid-afternoon.


Zexmenia,  Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida, are also back in top form.

All of these perennials are ready for visits from pollinators, and later for the seed-munching warblers, wrens and finches.

And my good friend,  sweet Asher-the-Dog?  He’s happy to rest on the cool pebbles, enjoying an early fall Texas morning.

Happy Autumn, y’all!