Wildlife Wednesday, August 2014

Another month, another slew of wildlife happenings in my gardens. Thanks to for-the-most-part regular rains this year, there are more butterflies, moths and birds in my gardens. Central Texas is still in drought, but it’s eased a tiny bit within Austin’s city limits.

Around my pond there is almost always a dragonfly or two–weaving, diving, hovering, then resting on the tips of nearby foliage after their flying frenzy. I often see this handsome fellow, a Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis)  and his relatives.


This particular species is the most common of the order Odonata around these parts.

Another common dude cruising, landing and generally being gorgeous is the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).


He posed nicely for me one hot, sunny afternoon while I was in the pond, feeding my lilies and having my toes nibbled by the fish.  For the last two summers, I didn’t see as many dragon and damselflies in my gardens owing to the ongoing drought.  I’m happy to say that this summer they’re back in full force; I’ve enjoyed the show.



Just what the world needs, more “stink” bugs.


These two love-bugs are commonly called Leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus phyllopus).


They are happily ensconced in my gardens, I’m somewhat sorry to say, though I admire their resourcefulness. Leaf-footed bugs are in the general category of “sucking” insects–meaning that they suck juices from plants.  They puncture their plant victims with their mouths and suck the juices out, leaving the fruits or berries hard and discolored.  They menace commercial and home crops, like tomatoes (my tomatoes, to be specific).  I didn’t bother these two (I am after all, a romantic), but I’ve been known to squish’m.  Yeah.

On to something prettier and more welcome in my gardens, this Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) was sunning herself poolside.  She’s easily identified by the top part of her wings as she held them open.


The undersides of her hind-wings and fore-wings are also colorful.


Her wings are held in a vertical position, like a soldier at attention, though she’s actually at rest.




I’m fairly sure this is the adult version of the caterpillar that I profiled last month, the  Yellow-striped Armyworm Moth, Spodoptera ornithogalli.


When  I was identifying that caterpillar, I noticed in photographs of the adult moth that the pattern on the wing varies, though all share the muted, mottled gray/brown coloration.


I spied this lovely orb-weaver in her netting between Iris straps a few weeks ago.


I couldn’t identify her and I hoped to observe her for a few days.   Alas, she disappeared the next day.  I’ll just call her a garden spider.

This female hummingbird was sipping her breakfast when I rudely approached to take some photos of her plant choice of nectar.


I don’t know what species of hummer she is


…I can only confirm she’s a she and not a he.

We surprised each other.  About the same time I realized there was a tiny bird in my camera lens, she realized there was a person photographing her dining experience.  I was enthralled and she was annoyed.  She promptly flew off–maybe to shoot some hoops?

While gabbing on the phone to a friend one Sunday afternoon, I found this enchanting butterfly working the blooms on delicious oregano.


This Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) crawled from branches to blooms and back again.


Such a pretty little thing.


He never opened his wings, so I couldn’t see the top side of the hind and fore wings, but you can see those here and read further about this member of the Lycaenidae sub-family of butterflies. The Lycaenidae are members of the Superfamily Papilionoidea, apparently considered  “true butterflies”.

I enjoy lots of wildness in my gardens and I bet you do too.  Please join in posting about the wild visitors to your gardens for August Wildlife Wednesday.  Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter.   When you comment on my post, leave a link to your post for Wildlife Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!


Wildlife Wednesday, July 2014

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Except I got myself into this mess and have no one else to blame!

Wildlife Wednesday debuts today and I’m committed to following through with photos and identifications of some of the many wild creatures who share my garden space.  As an avid gardener, I encourage and appreciate the critters inhabiting my gardens. I’ve planted trees and perennials with the purpose of attracting wildlife to my habitat.  Over the years I’ve developed a special affection for bees, butterflies and moths. I bird watch and am thrilled when birds enjoy my gardens and especially when  “new” birds visit.  Underlying all that though is my passion for perennial and native plants gardening.

As I began the process of viewing my garden with a keen eye toward wildlife in preparation for this meme, I realized how much I don’t know about the “wildlife” in my gardens.
When I cruise my gardens and spot spiders, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, I categorize with generalities: Oh, there’s a spider!  Wow!  Look at those bees!  Oh, the toads are out!   You get the drift.   I’ve developed a general working  knowledge about the creatures in my gardens–who they are, what they eat, how they benefit, or not, my gardens and how, what I plant in my gardens, benefits them.

But rarely do I immediately jump on the Internet or crack open my wildlife-related  books and pour through information about what I’ve observed.   I can distinguish a garden spider from a beetle and a bee from a butterfly, but do I usually know what species that spider or beetle is or how it uniquely operates?  No, mostly I don’t.  I can describe some differences between a honeybee and a native bee, but do I know which specific native bee is pollinating alongside the honeybee?  Not always and I don’t necessarily have time to research that information.   That I have wildlife (of all sorts) in my gardens is enough for me.   I have a rough understanding that most insects are beneficial, so I leave them alone.  I grow hardy, tough plants and virtually never resort to chemical warfare.  The few “harmful” critters in my gardens (aphids, sucking insects, raccoons) I dissuade from my gardens easily, by spraying with water or making noise or occasionally deleting what draws them to my gardens.  Sometimes, I squish’em with my fingers.  (Don’t try that with raccoons–it’s not a good idea.)

I not only tolerate, but in fact, welcome, wildlife to my gardens  Gardens are ecosystems.  Gardens are multilayered with life because of the creatures who visit and inhabit.  Without wildlife, a garden doesn’t exist–it is merely a collection of plants.

So I thought it would be interesting and cool to profile members of the Kingdom Animalia who benefit and support the gardens I’ve encouraged and developed. That is, until I began the identification process.

Science is hard.  Studying plants for my gardens differs from studying the wildlife which arrives as a result of those plants.  Except with wind, flowers generally stay still for photographs; not true of butterflies, bees and birds and the other creeping, crawling, flying things in a garden. They move and often, very quickly.  My friend, Linda Hardison of the Oregon Flora Project, told me once that she thinks she was attracted to botany as a scientific pursuit because, unlike any the study of wildlife, plants don’t move and there’s plenty of time to identify and study them.  I really appreciate that sentiment now, as I embark on researching the many, many creatures in my gardens.  Gardening is one part creative design–planting and arranging in a pleasing, structurally aesthetic form and one part scientific–understanding the life and life-cycles of plants and the creatures the plants serve and benefit.  It is the symbiosis of the two processes, the creative and the scientific, that constitutes gardening in its most complete form.

I hope I’m up to the task!

Not to anthropomorphize, but I love to see critters sharing space on a plant, seemingly enjoying the beneficence of what the plant (Coneflower) provides for each.


On the other hand, it could be that Ms. Honeybee decided to skedaddle before the crab or flower spider, genus Mecaphesa, attacked her.  Wise little bee.


I think this is a type of Mason Wasp, Euodynerus pratensis, working some Coral Honeysuckle blossoms,



presumably sipping nectar.  I know that many wasps, including Euodynerus, will insert their eggs in hosts like caterpillars, but I’m not sure that’s what this one was doing.  Not to mention that I have no idea whether it’s male or female.  Gender identification of insects: I guess that needs to be on my bucket list of things to learn.


These photos were taken some weeks ago and I haven’t seen this wasp (or any like him or her) since.



This unfamiliar caterpillar on a Coneflower bloom is possibly that of the Yellow-striped Armyworm Moth, Spodoptera ornithogalli.


I don’t usually see caterpillars on the Coneflowers–I prefer pollinators only, please.   But when researching this one, I’m fairly certain that I’ve seen the adult in my gardens in recent weeks.


I found another Crab Spider, Mecaphesa dubia, awaiting something yummy to eat on this happy sunflower.  I was picking blackberries when I saw her.


Everyone must eat, I guess.

I find little snakes in my gardens throughout the year–sometimes under rocks when  I move them or under un-raked leaves.  This little one is a common my gardens.  I believe it’s a Rough Earth Snake, Virginia striatula. 


He was coiled happily under the dog’s outdoor water bowl and slithered away (obviously not quickly enough) when I dumped out the water.  I won’t introduce the cats to the snake.

So, there we are.

Wildlife Wednesday.  I dearly hope I identified the chosen critters correctly.  If not, feel free to correct me.

A big thank you to Deb at austinagrodolce for inspiring me with beautiful photographs of her own wild garden visitors and her encouragement in the development of Wildlife Wednesday as a regular garden blogging meme.

Please join in posting about the wildlife visiting your gardens for July Wildlife Wednesday.  Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful wildlife you encounter.   When you comment on my post, leave a link to your post for Wildlife Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday and good wildlife gardening!