Spring Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2018

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung and we’re savoring the warming, blooming results.  For those in the southern part of our little Earth, the growing season is winding down.  But for all who pay attention, wildlife is around:  living, breeding, hatching, or, fledging and becoming independent, and preparing for winter.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrated on the first Wednesday of each month.  We gardeners love our blooms-n-foliage, but it’s the critters who need and rely on the blooms-n-foliage that  bring life to the garden. Viva wildlife!

At the end of February, I spotted the first of the Blue orchard beesOsmia lignaria, who’d burst out from their bee nurseries after pupating for a full year.  These deep blue, metallic bees were raring to go: ready to pollinate, mate and create new incubators for their bee babies.

Empty pupa shell. It housed the Blue Orchard bee for a full year.

Love among the blue bees!

As I write, the few adults left are adding their final touches on the eggs’ nests.  Their incubating progeny is tucked-in and safe for the coming year.

Caught in the act! One of the last adult Blue Orchards packing her nest.

There were so many bees looking for nurseries this year, that I scavenged more blocks of drilled wood and some extra cut bamboo to fill the housing needs.

No vacancy!

There are empty holes in this hotel, but we need to make more bee nurseries for the later season, different  bees.

I’ve placed an order with Bee Daddy for more holey wood and cut bamboo for next years’ bee babies.  So long Blue orchard bees–and thanks for your work in my garden.

 

Winter avian residents are eating, drinking, bathing, and squabbling in the garden.  That said, spring migration is imminent and I’ll soon say a bittersweet farewell to the feathered winter Texans that who share my garden.  The Ruby-crowned kingletRegulus calendula, was a shyer fella than either of last years’ pair, but I managed glimpses of his cuteness.

I saw more American goldfinchesSpinus tristis, than I usually do in winter, though only captured a few shots of these yellow, black, and white beauties.

A handsome male in his not-quite-breeding plumage.

I usually see greater numbers of Lesser goldfinchesSpinus psaltria, throughout the year, but this winter, they’ve been scarce.  Still, there were a few.

It’s a date!

Interestingly, my sister-in-law, who lives in west Austin (we’re in central Austin), experienced just the opposite:  plenty of Lessers, few Americans.  Wildlife have their preferred hangouts–much like people–critters appear in greater or fewer numbers, depending upon what’s available in food sources and cover–and whatever unknown quality they’re looking for at a particular time.

 

A favorite bird showed up this past month!  Cedar waxwingBombycilla cedrorum,  flock together on the wing and in the trees.  These gregarious birds typically perch too high (and invariably, it’s too windy) to capture good shots, but I lucked out a few times.

You can see the red “wax” on the tip of the wing of the upper bird. It’s not clear what this bit of bright red is for, but may be related to attracting a mate.

Rakish mask, bright yellow flare at the tip of the tale, and a splash of red–who wouldn’t find these birds attractive?

It’s rare to find them alone; they enjoy one another’s company and sometimes, the company of others.

Cedar waxwing chatting up a female House Finch.  I love the look on the finch’s face.  Whahh???

I’m still hearing them as the flock from tree top to tree top.  They’ll be around for a while, but they breed far north of here and they’ll migrate soon enough.

She’s gorgeous–and knows it!

 

This is the third year that at least one Lincoln’s  Sparrow,  Melospiza lincolnii,  has visited in late winter/early spring.

The coloring is subtle, but lovely.

A view from behind; it’s a beautiful pattern in those feathers.

An elegant looking little bird, Lincoln’s Sparrows hop jauntily through the garden in search of seeds and flutter and flap in the bog of the pond.  There have been at least three of them at various times, though I certainly can’t tell one from another.

Named for a traveling companion of John James Audubon (yes, THAT Audubon), Mr. Thomas Lincoln, these charmers are in my garden briefly before they migrate.   I sure enjoy watching them hippity-hop for seeds and preen-n-shake after baths.

 

Another winter Texan whose appearance I anticipate is that of the Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata.  Butter-butts (as Yellow-rumps are affectionately known) have been no-shows in my garden until recently; only in the last couple of weeks did one (actually, three) appear.  I’m happy to welcome them–better late than never!

Not a great photo, but you can see his yellow rump and isn’t that what it’s all about??

Look how cute I am!!

 

I’ve put the commercial suet away, as it’s too warm now, but the one Orange-crowned warbler, Oreothlypis celata, who enjoys the suet, still shows up to bathe.

The streaking on the breast is pretty. I wish I could capture the orange crown. Maybe next year…

He’ll be leaving soon too. Sniff.

As for the year-rounders, they’re always welcome.   A rare set of photos of the female Red-bellied woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, shows her beauty.

The male’s head is completely red;  it has no gap in the color,  like this female.

Red-bellies are shy birds;  I see the male daily; the female is a rarer visitor, but both love  suet.  Since removing the suet, they partake of the black-oiled sunflower seeds.  I don’ t know where they nest, but hope to see their offspring later in the year.

 

Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata, are always photogenic–and chatty.

Are you talking about me?

‘Nuff said!

This winter was different from the last few winters: fewer Starlings (yay!), but also, fewer Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers (boo!).   There were more American goldfinches and fewer of the Lessers.  Hawks wouldn’t stay out of the garden, but the Eastern Screech owls, who’ve been nightly companions for years, have vacated the neighborhood.  Things are changing and as migration season kicks in, I hope to observe unusual birds as the come to rest, feed, and bathe on the path to their breeding grounds.

 

Finally, a non-bird.

Yup, these cuties are back and rumbling around!  The unofficial mascot of Wildlife Wednesday–Green AnoleAnolis carolinensis, hasn’t lost his wariness of this gardener.  He has nothing to fear from me, I adore these charmers.

As an aside, I was asked by the nice folks at Gardening Know How to write as a guest blogger and wrote about our beekeeping adventures.  You can find a link to the articl here.    Thank to Gardening Know How for the opportunity to spread the word about bees–some of my favorite critters!

Whether you’re gearing up for growing, or settling down for resting, what critters kept you company this past month?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening–and viva wildlife!

 

Sometimes They Land in Trees: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2018

Happy 2018 and welcome  to the first Wildlife Wednesday celebration of this new year.  Winter arrived in Austin in the last several days with an ice-numbing grip of below freezing temperatures.

I heard that snort and saw those eyes a’rolling!  I understand that compared to much of continental North America, my goose-bump inspired whining won’t win much sympathy, but darn it, it’s cold!  Truthfully, I’m just fine-n-dandy with the hard freeze, in great hopes that every mosquito in Texas is dead, dead, dead (not likely, though).  Also, with the frigid temps, my autumnally hued and interminably foliaged trees have finally let loose their leaves.

In the last couple of days, Red oak leaves blanketed the entirety of my back garden.

Maybe now I’ll be better able to observe the variety of birds who visit my garden, as the winter avian Texans (especially the tiny ones) prefer to flit among the bare limbs, in search of whatever they search for.  With the leaves as camouflage, that’s been hard to do.

This shot was taken on Sunday, just before the temperatures plummeted and the tree dumped most (but not all!) its leaves.

That said, for most of this past month, critter watching has mostly involved the birds at the feeders, with the random pitter-patting of maddening mammals and the skulking about of bothersome marsupials.

I’m tickled at the early appearance of two examples of the stunning American GoldfinchSpinus tristis.  American Goldfinches usually show up later in winter, so it’s a treat to see them now.

This handsome fella is wearing his non-breeding colors.

Do you need something?

Pretty boy!

In addition to that obvious and gorgeous adult male, is this female or juvenile male.

The coloring–both dark and light–are muted in this bird.

Wonderful wing bars!

Sweet face!

American Goldfinches belong to the same Family and Order as the House Finch, and House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which I wrote about here, also affects American Goldfinch populations.  Fortunately, the two Americans who noshed at my feeder appeared free of the disease, the good news of which I reported on Project FeederWatch.  I still see a female House Finch with one infected eye which is completely closed due to the infection.  She feeds by searching for seeds on the ground, but she struggles to land when she flies and is vulnerable to predators with only one good eye.  All other House Finches who are in my garden–and there are quite a few– appear healthy.   The House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, is a year-round resident, becoming more active as winter settles in.  Most bird feeders are designed with multiple perching stations, and birds share the stations with varying degrees of camaraderie.  Here, the House Finch clan dominates, with a red-accented male perching at the left and the more drab females completing the feeder trio.

Hey birds, over here!

Another duo feeding a the food bar is a second male House Finch sharing a meal with a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus.

I’m not sure if the Black-crested is a male or female, but I’m confident that the House Finch is a young male.

The House Finch  poses nicely, the Black-crested snarfs seeds.

A Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis,  couple nests each year in a neighbor’s shrubbery,  but make daily forays into my garden to feed and bathe.    No photo this month of the scarlet feathered male, but the female is a head-turner in her own right!

A common Texas wintering songbird is the Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and I’m fortunate to have at least one who is regularly visiting.

Song birds love suet and it’s a good thing to feed them in winter.  I can’t provide suet for 7 or 8 months because Austin’s warm climate causes the suet to turn rancid quickly.  It’s a perfect winter/early spring food though and provides fat, which birds need.

This little Orange-crowned also enjoys the occaisional bath in the pond bog.

About to take the plunge!

I provide a commercial suet for my avian friends, but there are many recipes for homemade suet.  Check out these recipes if you’re so inclined

Facing the camera!

The pair of  Carolina WrensThryothorus ludovicianus, also visit more than just the feeders.   A favorite perch is a metal sculpture where each of the pair takes turns surveying the landscape.

Check out my profile!

The 360 degree view requires a look-see at the backside!

This favorite perching place is just below a little house built for the wrens, which they’ve inspected, but haven’t yet used for chick rearing.  Fingers-crossed that this spring, they’ll decide the neighborhood is worthy of their chicks.

Wrens forage on the ground, scavenging for insects and small seeds; they also enjoy the suet.

Eyeing something in the fallen leaves!

 

Finally, a bird who lands in a tree!  

Giving me the stink-eye is this immature Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii. He/she had scattered the neighborhood doves, with no meal as a reward, and was resting in a neighbor’s tree, no doubt annoyed with missing lunch.  The beauty loped off just after this shot.  Cooper’s Hawks are year-round residents here, but easier to observe once winter’s  chill render some trees bare.

There are always plenty of squirrels (stealing birdseed and digging in plant containers) who become meals for neighborhood raptors, though perhaps not as often as some might wish.  This squirrel was safe on the ground and near the house, munching away at fallen sunflower seeds and generally behaving well.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

The Virginia OpossumDidelphis virginiana, is still around too, sometimes mosying through the garden during daylight, but not sleeping in the owl house–for now.

There are no Eastern Screech Owls in the owl house either, nor have I heard the adults’ signature trill at night.  I’m concerned that no couple is interested in the owl real estate in my garden and if there are no takers, that will be disappointing.  There’s still time for some owl action and owls are remarkably elusive; I won’t begin the no-owls-in-my-garden lamentation just yet.

So begins another year of garden wildlife drama.  Let’s celebrate lots of life in the garden during 2018. Please share your wildlife stories and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

A FeederWatch Find

In a recent post, Birding for Fun and Profit, I mentioned that volunteer birders across Canada and the U.S. are instrumental in assisting with research related to wild bird populations by submission of raw data observations of kinds and numbers of birds visiting yards and gardens. Aside from the pleasure of bird watching (and complementary teasing of friends and family which invariably accompanies the hobby), is the knowledge that bird watching advances true scientific efforts.  Project FeederWatch has tracked the advancement of certain avian diseases and requests its citizen scientists to report instances in their data logs. This past week, for only the second time (and first time during my “official”  Project FeederWatch period),  I’ve observed a bird with symptoms of red, swollen, and crusty eyes which is caused by the bacterium, Mycoplasma gallisepticum.

This little guy was at my feeder this past week, unfortunately  demonstrating a classic case of House Finch Eye disease, a kind of conjunctivitis caused by M. gallisepticum.

This male House Finch’s eye is almost completely closed due to inflammation.

First observed in the mid-1990s by Cornell feeder-watching volunteers, this disease has spread throughout the House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, population of North America.  The poultry respiratory disease made a species leap to wild House Finch populations and because the beginning of the epidemic can be traced to a specific point (Maryland) and time (February 1994), and because Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feederwatch was in full swing, volunteers reported sightings describing House Finches with symptoms of eye disease and scientists got to work.

Within a few years, reports of diseased House Finches were common throughout the U.S.  With raw data provided by Cornell’s “army” of bird watchers and the creative impulse of a Cornell Lab scientist, Belgian-born ornithologist, André Dhondt, an interdisciplinary research team has studied the evolution of this new disease from its inception and analyzed its impact on a given population–in this case, the hapless House Finch.  In the two decades since M. gallisepticum debuted in that small population of Maryland House Finches, the process of disease evolution–mutations coupled with population dynamics–is better understood, and scientists are now utilizing the gained knowledge towards a fuller understanding of disease spread in humans and development of immunities.    For a fascinating read, check out this article: House Finch Eye Disease: Outbreak, Then Understanding.

As for my little diseased finch, I haven’t seen him in a couple of days. I have noted his presence on my data for the week. Last year, I always indicated  “yes” and “zero” responses to the questions of if I looked for House Finch Disease and how many finches I saw.  This week,  it’s still a “yes” but now with a “one.”  I’ve only seen one other House Finch with crusty eyes and that was on a female House Finch in May 2016. With each passing day that I watched her, she became less able to function at the feeder. Both of her eyes were swollen and nearly closed; she would flutter until she happened to land on a branch, or the feeder, or the ground.  It was clear to me that she couldn’t see well enough to fly and perch.  For her, feeding became nearly impossible due to her poor eyesight. Eventually, she stopped visiting my back garden.

For what it’s worth, the other eye of the finch I’ve observed this week is healthy and unimpaired and he’s flying and feeding normally.   Additionally, most birds aren’t afflicted by this disease; continent-wide, American Goldfinches (which I only see in late winter) and a few others have been impacted.

What to do?  Well, there’s really nothing I can do to help individual birds.  They might recover on their own, but more likely, they’ll starve or become prey for someone else once they’re so blinded that they cannot feed and fend for themselves.  I am wiping the feeding stations on the feeder each evening with a diluted bleach/water solution, and that’s one easy way to keep the feeder clean.  Feeders should be washed once-per-month, though I have to admit that I don’t do that as regularly as I should; I should make that change.  Other tips for healthy bird feeding include regularly raking or sweeping the area underneath feeders and spreading feeders throughout the garden so that birds aren’t crowded.   Always, if you catch a sick bird, contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area–he/she will have the expertise to care for the sick bird.

While I certainly subscribe to the dictum of letting nature take its course, we gardeners and bird watchers can help our wild ecosystem partners thrive by simple changes in our gardening and bird-feeding practices. Let’s take care of our wild birds!