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!

 

Awakenings: Wildlife Wednesday, March

Wild things are throwing off the covers of winter and so are their garden partners!  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrating all things wild in our gardens. Here in Austin, Texas, it’s not meteorolgically  spring, but it’s also definitely no longer winter.  Sure, it’s likely there will more cold days, but spring is busting out everywhere and wildlife are gearing up with life-affirming activity.

Birds–residents and winter visitors–have taken front stage in wildlife action for the last couple of months and they still are the leading characters of the garden.  There are other garden-dwellers who are angling to slough-off their winter wears and gear-up for a new life and the promise of a mate (or mates!) and family.

Bees are back!  The honeybees have been around all winter, though on the coldest days, they remained well-tucked in their cozy hives to keep warm.  But the season is nigh for the emergence of the native bees and first in line are the Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria.   The highlighted link takes you to my March 2017 Wildlife Wednesday post, where I wrote about these stunning bees as they emerged at exactly the same time last year.

Two adult bees emerging after a year of development in the holes of an insect hotel.

The Blue Orchid adult bees live for about a month and during that time, they mate, and then gather pollen, leaf material, and mud for their offsprings’ incubation chambers.

I found this Blue Orchard bee chewing away at the leaf of my Old Gay Hill rose. It’s the leaf material that they gather which gives the packed holes a green tint.

Females lay their eggs in the holes of wood,

This female is regurgitating her gathered material, so she’s head-first in the baby-bee incubation chamber. Check out the packed green tinged hole; is that green from my rose-leaf??

…or masonry,

…and then pack the holes to protect the developing bees for the next year.

A just-emerged adult Blue Orchard bee. You can see the holes that the adults emerge from in the packed nesting material created last February/March.

It takes a full year for these blue beauties to “cook till done” but it’s time well-spent.  Currently, every time I walk by either of my two insect hotels, there is a flurry of shiny blue activity as the buzzers have mated and are bringing in material to secure their babies’ future.

With as long a screw that I could find in our garage, I cleaned out those drilled holes where it was obvious that a bee had emerged, so that it’s available for the next generation. I couldn’t quite reach the end of the drilled holes in some nesting spaces, but cleared many spots.  I also added a few more cut bamboo pieces and drilled wood blocks to the boxes.

I like blue bees in the garden and will happily welcome more next year!

 

Squirrels are ever-active and always cute.  And annoying.

Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)

 

Winter and spring are the best times to see woodpeckers in my garden and this year, they haven’t disappointed.  I hear and see Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Melanerpes carolinus,  nearly daily.  A male and female are regular visitors (mates?), enjoying the commercial suet I provide in the cool seasons.

A handsome male.

This male sat for quite a time in my Red oak tree, enjoying the rest.  Maybe his tummy was full.

At another time, he (or a buddy) worked the bark of a neighbor’s tree.  Check out the holes to his left!

I don’t see the female as often, but snatched a quick shot of her one day as she nibbled at the suet.

Suet is a bit gross (all that fat!), but birds need fat during winter and so I oblige. Personally, I’d choose cheesecake.  Or ice cream.  Ahem.

I only provide suet in winter and spring; once it’s hot, the suet spoils quickly.  During the warm months, I’ve tried a recipe of non-animal fat suet (peanut butter with seeds and cornmeal), but there were no takers.

 

A few mornings each week, I take a handful of peanuts out for the Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata.  They love their peanut treats!

Sometimes they line up along the fence line like planes on a runway, awaiting departure.  Each bird waits its turn for a peanut-grab and take-off.

 

A pretty-boy House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus.

Perched at a bird bath.

The males are in full-mating color form, accompanied by lots of singing!

 

White-winged Doves are common here in Austin, but in my garden I rarely see Inca Doves or specimens of like this pretty Mourning DoveZenaida macroura.

The bird’s blue eyeliner echos the blue of the bowl it waddled past.

Its been hanging around for a week or so, nibbling seeds and resting in the sun, and walking that weird walk that doves are known for.

 

Another common bird, replete in his stunning spring plumage, is the Great-tailed GrackleQuiscalus mexicanus.

This photo doesn’t catch the luminous colors that his feathers display when the sun shines.  Instead, on this cloudy morning, the feathers showcase the velvety black that complements his striking eyes.

 

Not my favorite bird and an invasive pest,  I rather admire the plumage and coloring of the European StarlingSturnus vulgaris.

Starlings show up in late February and are bullies at the suet feeder.  I  usually stash away the suet when I see them congregating and chasing off the local songbirds, because a group of Starlings can finish a suet block in an hour, if allowed the opportunity.  I have noticed that they only appear in the mornings, so I hang out the suet in the afternoons once they’re gone.  This year, there haven’t been as many Starlings, for which I’m grateful.  They are joyous bathers and make great use of my birdbaths and the bog area of the pond.

The seasons are changing:  winter to spring and summer to autumn.

Who’s visiting your garden in this time of change?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening!

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): A Seasonal Look

Coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens), loved for its eye-popping clusters of pollinator-delighting blooms and its robust  demeanor in the garden, is a favorite perennial vine for many Texas gardeners.

This vertical loveliness is native to East Texas, Florida, with a northward range up the east coast of the United States, but is also found in many other parts of the continental United States.   Here in Central Texas (Austin, Zone 8b), Coral honeysuckle provides semi-evergreen color, punctuated by spring outbursts of gorgeous red blooms, with yellow interiors.

The bloom clusters remind me of a group of debutants, all in elegant, clingy red evening gowns, with an underneath peek-a-boo of yellow petticoats.

 

I’ve grown two of these vines in my garden.  This one in full sun,

…and this one in a mostly shade spot.

A May shot of a shady spot with blooming Coral honeysuckle anchoring the garden.  Aside from the bicycle, and (from left to right), grows Frostweed, Inland sea oats, and Turkscap.  Some Spiderwort are still popping with purple blooms.

The bulk of blooming occurs mid-to-late spring.   The flowers on my vines have bloomed as early as February, sometimes with continuous blooming into May.  Peak bloom time occurs during March and April, with a sprinkling of blooms in early summer.

An excellent climber–perfect for a trellis, arbor, or fence–Coral honeysuckle flowers more in full sun.

In woodland areas, it clamors over the ground as well as up trees and rocks.

Pollinators of all stripes, sizes, and colors flock to the tubular founts of pollen and nectar:

Nectar stealing Honeybee at top of bloom, with native Green Metallic bee (Halictidae) on left, toward back of bloom cluster.

Nectaring Metallic Green bee.

Horsefly-like Carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis).

Honeybee coming in for a meal.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the blooms, though I’ve never seen any at my blooms.   I suspect that there simply aren’t many (if any) hummers around during the peak bloom period in my garden as they don’t typically arrived back in Austin from Mexico and Central/South America.  That said, the tubular red blooms certainly fit the profile of hummingbird attracting flowers.

Additionally, this honeysuckle is the host plant for a butterfly, Spring Azure, (Celastrina ladon), and a moth, Snowberry clearwingHemaris diffinis.

Springtime sees the biggest burst of blooming, but sporadic clusters occur in summer as well, usually after a tropical rain event.

The vine maintains a lush, green presence throughout the summer months, requiring minimal water during the dry and hot of summer.  I irrigate in the hottest of the hot, during those months with nary a drop from the sky.

Coral honeysuckle is a water-wise addition to any garden.

 

I usually see the fruits of the Coral honeysuckle in summer and early autumn.

They must be yummy, because the fruits don’t last long on the vine.  Various birds enjoy the fruits and foliage protection from honeysuckle; I’ve seen Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, and other birds seek refuge–and probably snacks–in both of my vines.

Nascent coral honeysuckle fruits.

 

As summer segues into autumn, Coral honeysuckle continues its solid green contribution to the garden.

 

During winter the vine can freeze completely if the freeze is hard and long enough.

There are usually a few token leaves remaining.

More often than not, the foliage simply thins a bit, with some strands lacking foliage and the vine maintaining the majority of its leaves.

As the days grow longer and the temperatures warm, whatever foliage which quit the vine during winter’s freezes, return–lush and full and ready for the new growing season.

New Coral honeysuckle growth is exuberant–to the point that the fresh limbs reach to the sky in unwieldy growth spurts, requiring occaisional tucking in and twining around so as not to clamor over other things in their paths.

Additionally, emerging foliage and stems blush burgundy, augmenting the brilliancy of the blooms.

The crowning glory of this honeysuckle vine are the masses of bloom clusters which follow new spring growth.

Coral honeysuckle prefers well-draining soil and can develop powdery mildew if its feet are damp and the arms and legs of the vine congested.  That said, even in my clay soil and during the heaviest of flooding, I’ve never seen mildew on my leaves.  I mulch new plants, with a refresher of either commercial mulch or shredded leaves, as needed.  I water my vines, along with the gardens they’re a part of, during the dry of summer and prune bare strands when/if necessary.

I leave my vine as it is–a bit wild and wooly–so that birds can perch and hide, if someone scary (hawk, cat, gardener) comes near.  Coral honeysuckle isn’t invasive, it just requires a ‘haircut’ from time-to-time.  The oldest strands of vine are easily snapped off, making the work of pruning an easy task.  If you prefer a very tidy garden vine, Coral honeysuckle might prove a little feral for your taste.  But give it a chance: Coral honeysuckle’s beauty and hardiness make its mild rowdiness well worth the minimal shagginess.

My biggest complaint about Coral honeysuckle (and it’s not a complaint about the plant at all!) is that I don’t have enough room for more of these tough, pretty vines.  Gardeners appreciate the stalwart nature and beautiful blooms and foliage of this vine, wildlife appreciate its contributions to their safety and diet.

Coral honeysuckle:

The vine grows to the left of the Softleaf yucca.

 

Spring:

 

Summer and Autumn:

 

Winter:

Coral honeysuckle flanked by dormant Turkscap (right), Inland Sea Oats (bottom) and in-bloom bottle tree (left).

A water-wise, wildlife-friendly, and gardener-pleasing vine–you’ll be glad it grows in your garden!