Hot Plot, Cool Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, August

Despite summer’s heat as daily fixture of life,  the garden and its critters go about their business of growing and blooming, nectaring and seed-eating.  I swelter in the garden, but revel in observing the abundance of wild activity.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked on the first Wednesday of each month and celebrating the wild things in our gardens and wherever we meet them.

The garden currently enjoys no shortage of Horsefly-like Carpenter beesXylocopa tabaniformis.  They are the most numerous, and active, of the native bees that I see; they are earliest at work in the morning and the last to clock-out in the evening.

This one demonstrates nectar-stealing, so no pollination here, but she’s slurping up the good stuff for her larvae and herself.

While taking my elderly dog for his outdoor breaks, I’ve noticed the popularity for blooming oregano among pollinators.  The petite, clustered blooms attract a variety of pollinators–huge and tiny, colorful and plain.  I was especially pleased to witness visits from both a male and female Eastern Carpenter BeeXylocopa virginica, a relative of X. tabaniformis.


The white face indicates a male bee.

Considered common here in Central Texas, I haven’t seen this species often and am happy to welcome this new-to-my-garden visitor.

His lovely back side, wings aloft.

The sun was spot-on as I photographed mid-afternoon–normally a problematic time of day for photos–but I think the bright light beautifully illuminates his subtle coloring.

He and his female friend also visited Turk’s cap and Shrubby Blue sage blooms as well, but both favored the oregano flowers.

I grow two oregano plants (and also, two basil plants) in my herb garden:  one of each for me to snip from and not allowed to flower, the others left to bloom for the bees and butterflies.

Another spectacular pollinator who works the oregano blooms is this stunning green metallic bee, which I believe is a Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica.

I saw this bee (these bees?) several different times, and like the Eastern Carpenter, she nectars at several plants. But her favorite meal is found at the little oregano flowers.

The Texas July sunshine highlights her stunning coloring and glittery presence.

A two-fer in this shot with the sweat bee sharing space and food with a honeybee. The honeybees are regular customers of the oregano flower buffet and are always buzzing around the oregano.

Ms. Metallica plays peek-a-boo, while Ms. Honeybee gets to it!

These scalloped leaves show cutter bee activity, though I haven’t actually seen them munching away.  The females carve round holes, or partial holes, in leaves, then mix the leaf component with pollen and mud.  The bees use the mixture in their nurseries as a stuffing to protect eggs and feed larvae.

I spied this Leaf-footed bugAcanthocephala terminalis,  along the beam of a blackberry vine-enveloped trellis.  I thought he might strike a manly pose for me; instead, he skittered behind a leaf, glancing once to check if I was still there.

I was.

Later, he flopped down onto a sunflower leaf, which looks worse for wear, either from the doings of a sucking insect (maybe our leaf-footed friend?), or perhaps, just the heat. I like to watch these insects.  They’re shy and avoid confrontation, but can apparently deliver a wallop of a sting if need-be.  I maintain a respectful distance and hope they don’t damage too many leaves.

They don’t.

Dragons and damsels are back and it’s murder and mayhem in the garden, carried out with swift efficiency by these predatory beauties. This sparkly jewel of a Neon Skimmer, Libellula croceipennis, is a fixture in the garden when resting and an aerial acrobat as he hunts mosquitoes.  And I’m just fine with that.

His bright coloring indicates a male. His mate wears a muted orange, not quite as dazzling.

Resident birds while away the summer months, munching seeds and insects, and cooling off in bird baths and at the pond.  This female (or juvenile?) Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,  contemplates a dip in the waterfall. Grackles and Blue Jays are consummate bird bathers.

Before they plop into the water to bathe or sip from its flow, many birds perch on the rocks and take advantage of the cover provided by the Ruby Red-runner plant which accompanies the flowing water into the pond.

This Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis,  steadfastly refused to look my way as it perched just above the waterfall.

After winter, I didn’t prune the  Yellow BellsTacoma stans entirely so that the birds could enjoy a safe place in which to perch and watch their surroundings.

Still, he could have given me a thrill and glanced my way.  I was able to catch a slightly better look at his cute face only after he flew to a different location.

The Chickadees are year-round residents in Central Texas and regular visitors in my garden.  We placed nest boxes for them, the Carolina Wrens, and the Black-crested Titmice, but had no takers–the nest boxes sit abject and empty.  All summer I’ve watched as each of these parents showed their offspring the avian ropes: sipping from the baths and pond, noshing from the feeder and plants, and teaching the how-tos of safely traversing the trees. They’re content to visit my garden, but not move in. I have no idea where they nest, I just know it’s not in my garden.

While pruning early one morning, I spied this resting moth, a Melipotis perpendicularis.

I know that I’ve seen this kind of moth before, though Austin Bug Collection says that this moth is not common.  Perhaps I grow its host plant, though I didn’t find information about that.

Whatever you grow and whomever visits or resides in your garden, please post your wildlife happenings for this past month. If you don’t have wildlife in your garden, it’s easy to plant for them and provide a welcoming home: they’re entertaining, beautiful, and necessary for a well-rounded garden. 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!

A Bird Tail

I adore Grackles.

You ask: what is a Grackle?–double-checking the header on your screen, because you were planning to peruse a gardening blog, but now you think you accidentally clicked on a blog about outer-space aliens.

The Grackle is a type of bird and the kind I know best and chuckle at is the Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus.  My resident (or recently resident) Grackle is no longer of the great-tailed variety.

He’s done lost his tail!

Not all the Grackles have lost their tails, but this one has and he appears…unbalanced.

I keep expecting him to topple over because he is so lacking in tail feathers.  Would he topple beak first?  Beak-first, he would be thus impaled by his beak in the soil of the garden or perhaps along one of the cracks in the limestone patio.  But if the toppling came butt-side, well, he’d just look silly, sitting there without his tail feathers, skinny legs splayed and gnarly claws up in the air.

Where are his tail feathers?  Those fine, fanned feathers probably fell victim to molting which occurs this time of year to many bird species.  (As an aside, when I check out the molting bird photos posted by bird enthusiasts on Facebook’s Birds of Texas group, I’m horrified at the  lack of pulchritude that formerly gorgeous birds, like Northern Cardinals, display. Molting birds are not pretty birds–they may be very nice birds and very interesting birds, but they are not attractive birds.)  For the record, my Northern Cardinals remain gorgeous.

And my Grackle–great-tailed or not–is still attractive, though he does appear molty in other parts of him besides his lack of tail–note his tatty head feathers.   Molting notwithstanding, one can appreciate the beautiful iridescence of his coloring–lovely black,  but so much more in blue and purple sheen.  His bright, discerning eyes suggest intelligence and cunning.

Grackles are clever birds, adjusting to myriad environments and increasing their range in North America because of their adaptability.  Native to Mexico, they’ve expanded their range throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.  They thrive in urban environments: pooping on cars, careening in front of those same cars along some roads, and squawking, squeaking, and beeping with conviction and importance,  especially in early morning and as they gather in groups just before sundown.   Grackles are omnivores–they’ll eat anything and I really mean anything.  Cheeky birds, they’re also fun to watch. When I still had turf that needed mowing, Grackles always accompanied me as I dutifully completed my chore, because while mowing, I flushed out crickets and other insects for their dining pleasure. Grackles were good companions in that despised homeowner’s responsibility. And there is no better show than watching a Grackle guy wooing a Grackle gal–it’s the stuff of urban legend.

I suppose if observed in flocks, queued-up along utility lines or strutting (and they do strut) around the parking lots of grocery stores, waiting for dropped, or better yet, spilled items, they can be disconcertingly…mob-like.  Grackles are loud and raucous–part of their charm, I think, and they’re big birds, too.  They could be considered slightly intimidating, as they single-mindedly scrounge for seeds, insects, or bits of dropped take-out.  They’re vociferous, but harmless–just always on the make for a snack.

My less-than-great-tailed Great-tailed Grackle will eventually grow his tail again. He’ll look like this one, perched high in my American Sycamore tree in April: sunning, stunning, and regally showing off for the ladies. And look at that great tail!

Or check out this photo courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  This has to be a definitive Great-tailed Grackle photo: a cocky, confident, Grackle-about-town.

© Kaustubh Deshpande, TX, Dallas, May 2009

This guy,

…who could be the same guy in the Sycamore photo, will once again be a lovely specimen of an avian figure as autumn and winter arrive and when the courting season approaches. The more Grackles, the merrier, or at least funnier and noisier, the garden.

A worthwhile read for an amusing, and sweetly touching, homage to the Great-tailed Grackle, check out this article from Texas Monthly, by John Nova Lomax:  Eight Reasons Grackles Are Awesome

Grackles really are awesome.