What A Month!: Wildlife Wednesday

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly appreciation of wildlife in the garden, in the neighborhood, or in the wider world that you inhabit   For me, this was a busy and distracted month, but not necessarily an engaged month of chronicling wildlife goings-on.  I enjoyed observing the critters in my midst, but somehow, didn’t catch photos of wildlife doings. Some eclipse-viewing (it was truly awesome!), some time-spending with my traveling son (that was awesome, too!), and some helping said son prepare for settling half-way around the world, all took precedence  over any full-throated wildlife watching.

Oh yeah, there was also an unwelcome and destructive guest:  Harvey.

Mid-summer mornings were graced with a birdsong that I didn’t recognize.  Cheery, chirpy and with some variation, I rarely saw the bird–except when high in a tree or winging away from my sight in a flutter of feathers, I couldn’t quite match the bird with the daily serenade. Eventually though, I spotted this pretty visiting the pond.

A new bird to my garden, once I identified it, I also identified its song.  This is a Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis.   I’ve seen these birds in other parts of Austin, notably at the parking lot trees of the HEB grocery store where I usually shop, but don’t recall ever having one visit my garden or neighborhood.  It seems that a pair nested in the neighbor’s tree for the summer and that they popped over to my garden to enjoy the water sources.

I’d typically hear their song in the mornings.  After identifying the bird, I learned that song I heard most often was the Kingbird’s morning song.  I also realized that I didn’t hear that song later in the day, even when the birds were around.   I witnessed their acrobatic flight, swooping through the tree tops, as they dined on insects in the late day summer sun. Western Kingbirds are large flycatchers who breed here in Central Texas and throughout much of western North America and winter in Mexico.

I don’t know if it was only the male, or female, or both, who visited–they share similar coloring and markings. The Western Kingbird is a darned cute bird!

By mid-August, the birds had apparently left the area, migrating to Mexico and the Pacific Coast side of Central America for their winter digs. I enjoyed their visits and have missed their morning calls; I hope they return next summer.

Hummingbirds have been active all summer.  In fact, I think I’ve seen more hummers in my garden this year than in the past decade or so.  That said, this is the only decent shot that I’ve managed:

I believe this is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, and she represents a common hummingbird species in this area.  I think it’s a Black-chinned because the beak is fairly long and straight and this one is a little larger than the other common hummer, the Ruby-throated.  I’ve had no luck this summer with hummingbird action photos, though they are very much a part of the garden landscape, especially now as they prepare to migrate south.  I’m glad that I grow many plants that they like (Turk’s cap, Flame acanthus, Tropical sage, Autumn sage, Yellow bells, naming just a few) because much of their habitat along the coast of Texas–a major part of their migration route–was severely damaged during hurricane Harvey.  Rockport-Fulton, Texas has hosted the wildly popular Hummingbird Celebration each September for decades, but is devastated due to Harvey. Because Rockport-Fulton is decimated, the Hummingbird Celebration has been cancelled for this year, which is bad for both the people and the birds. Rockport-Fulton relies on the influx of tourist money generated from the annual celebration of these winged wonders, and the tiny birds fuel up for their long migration to Mexico, Central and South America by feeding from the abundance of hummingbird-friendly plants in that area and the multitudes of sugar-water feeders that residents and festival supporters place for the diminutive pollinators.  I fear that many hummers won’t survive migration this year as their needed nectar sources were stripped during the floods and high winds, and the good folks who hang sugar-water feeders for the hummers to feed from can’t do that now. There are few trees to hang the feeders from and most people along the coast are assessing damage, desperately cleaning up their properties, and attempting to return to some sense of normalcy.  It may seem trifling to fret about birds in the wake of a human and property disaster, but hummingbirds are important pollinators of trees, native plants, and commercial crops.

When their population plummets, the environmental impact is broad, and grave.

Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) of Kerrville, Texas is taking donations of water and sugar, as well as providing feeder poles so that hummingbirds have some food available as they migrate through Rockport. Here’s an excerpt from their Facebook page about the plans:

Our Donation Plan;
I wanted to let everyone in on what your donations are doing, and how we will be moving forward.
1) For now we will NOT be accepting any more donations other than sugar and water and monetary . We have secured over 200 brand new feeders and poles from our great vendors that are heading to Rockport as we speak. And we have another volunteer from King Ranch bringing over another 100 feeders this week.
2) We will continue to use all of the donated money for hummingbird supplies as we make multiple trips to Rockport in the upcoming weeks.
3) If you would like to donate sugar and water please look for multi packs of 5 lb sugar or gallon jugs of water from the baby section in HEB packed in 3 count boxes. We can get so much more of this stacked in trucks. These can be dropped off at the store.
4) We are not taking any more plants down right now. Many of you helped educate me as to the soil conditions and the lack of fresh water for plants not to mention the lack of residents to care for them if we put them in pots. We have many folks wanting to donate native plants and we will be doing this when the human conditions improve before the hummingbirds return in the spring. I will keep you posted on this project.
We are setting up a free feeder adoption plan on our next trip for Rockport residents that would like to help and we will continue to bring them nectar supplies when we travel down. This way we will get all of these much-needed supplies spread around that area and not overload a small number of residents who are trying to pick up the pieces of their own lives.

Last but not least-THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! WBU customers and bird people are the very best, we are so fortunate to have you in our lives.

And further from WBU’s FB page:

Donations can be made to: Wild Birds Unlimited at 855 Junction Highway Kerrville Texas 78028. All of the funds collected will be used over the next few weeks to bring in sugar, water and any unforeseen items that will help the birds. If you are not comfortable doing that we are recommending donating via paypal to any of the wonderful pet organizations that are feeding and housing displaced and injured animals, they are really doing a fantastic job in Rockport.

There are many in need after the catastrophic winds and floods generated by Harvey. Monetary donations are the most practical way to assist people, pets, and wildlife who are negatively impacted by this storm.  Check out these links for more information:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/28/546745827/looking-to-help-those-affected-by-harvey-here-s-a-list

https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/08/30/234047/update-list-of-charities-and-steps-to-donate-as-harvey-relief-grows/

Hummingbird Celebration

So, there it is.  An odd month, a busy month.  A month of joy, wonder, and fear.  That’s life and we’ll roll with it, because we don’t have much choice.  Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.  Good wildlife gardening to you!

Wildlife Wednesday: Birds, Birds, Birds–And Some Other Stuff, Too

I wrote in the last installment of  Wildlife Wednesday that the bulk of migrating birds seemed to have skipped right over my garden.  Well, I was wrong–they’ve arrived for rest, water and insects throughout April and it’s been a parade of colorful feathers most days. Today is the first Wednesday of the month, the day wildlife gardeners celebrate those who require our gardens for their survival.

Gardening for wildlife is fun and an important step toward mitigating the damage to the natural environment caused by urbanization and industrialization. Attracting wildlife to the garden is a simple process, if a few basic principles are followed: providing water, cover (in the form of shrubs and trees), shelter for young, and practicing sustainable gardening methods, including utilizing native plants, limiting or eliminating chemicals, and pruning well after migration in spring and fall, leaving nutritious seeds for mammals and birds, and protection for young.  Check out the National Wildlife Federation for more information on the how-tos of wildlife gardening and start your own wildlife friendly garden–you won’t regret it.

Besides the migrants, there was plenty of other “stuff” in the garden, like this little spider, lying in wait to catch-n-munch a bee or fly that might have the misfortune of landing on this Zexmenia bloom, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.

 

That spider would have snatched a meal if it had instead been loitering on this Zexmenia bloom, complete with native bee ready for the eating.

There are plenty of other native bees, as well as honeybees and butterflies in the garden now, and lots in bloom for them to eat, but this syrphid fly was a pleasure to photograph as it rested after nectaring at a non-native poppy and some native Shrubby blue sage, Salvia ballotiflora.

 

Pollinators and the predators are great, but in my garden this past month, the migrating birds took center stage so, let’s talk birds, shall we? Aside from the year-round resident avians, Texas lies along a major north-south migration route.  During spring and autumn migration, birders flock (yuk-yuk!) to Texas to catch glimpses and glean photos of the many birds of the Americas as they make their way through Texas.  Though the Gulf of Mexico coastline outshines the birding here, Central Texas has some birding game to brag about.

At the beginning of April, I was still enjoying visits from the Yellow-Rumped warblersSetophaga coronata, 

…and the Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata.

I haven’t seen either for a while and I’ll bet those cuties have headed north and their daily visits to my garden are now ended.  I was glad to host these winter Texans from November into early April.

I’ve seen this handsome charmer on a number of occasions, but these were the best shots I managed:

I’m fairly sure he’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii.  Another visited about the same time last year and was camera shy.  These birds are winter Texans, not showy, but subtle and elegant in color and form. They hop along the ground, looking for seeds, in the cutest way imaginable.  I’m still seeing one or two, several times each week, but they’re headed to other parts of North America and will soon be gone from my garden.

Early one morning I squealed with delight when I walked by a window and spotted this “lifer” in the back garden, eyeing my pond:

The Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens,  winters primarily in Central America, migrating through the eastern half of the US, finally arriving in Canada to breed and raise young.  Canada is a nice place to grow up, I hear.

And yes, you might have noticed the term “lifer” that I slipped into above. That’s a term that real birders use when they’ve seen a bird species for the first time. I’m loathed to use that term because if I do, it means I’m a birder, and I’m trying desperately to avoid that label.

How am I doing so far??

Another new bird for me is this beautiful Blue-headed VireoVireo solitarius. 

Not the best of photos because it was taken at a distance and from inside my house (sometimes that method of photo-taking works, sometimes it doesn’t), this bird’s colors and markings are striking. He’s quick and skittish and has visited a number of times, or perhaps, it’s been visits from several. The vireo and the Black-throated Green share an almost identical wintering, migrating, and breeding geographic pattern.

The bee hunters are back and gobbling up my honeybees and probably, some native bees as well.  I first noticed this attractive female Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra, in the tree under which my honeybee hives, Buzz and Woody, reside.

I love to watch these birds hunt.

Like most predators, they’re smart: note her bright eyes as she searches for her next buzzy snack.

Tanagers catch bees (and wasps and other flying insects) on the wing, take their prey to a tree, bash (ooh!) the hapless critters on a branch, remove the stingers and gulp their meal. These beauties breed in Texas, as well as much of the southern part of the US, though I’ve only seen them in April and May, and coincidentally, since I started beekeeping.

Ahem.

I next caught a quick look-see and shot of a juvenile male, though he didn’t stick around long.

And just this past weekend, an eye-popping adult male graced my garden.

So gorgeous! He swooped and then rested, then swooped again.

I hope a few Summer Tanagers will hang around for the duration of the season; I’d be willing to sacrifice a few of my honeybees for their company.

Last week, a (probably) weary migrating female Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris, bathed briefly in my water-pump infused birdbath.

So pretty, but I still hope to see a startlingly beautiful male before the Buntings head just a little north of here to raise their families.  Last year, a pair hung out in my garden for about a week, which you can see here, noshing on the seeds of the early spring blooming Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.  Using native plants in your garden is a good way to attract migrating songbirds, as well as to feed the native birds of your region.

This blast of sunshine, a Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia, flashed through my garden this past Sunday–I’m so glad I was home to see him!

As a bonus, he stopped and posed for me at the base of the pond.

Playing at being coy, I think!

He’s a gorgeous hunk of avian masculinity and I’m sure he’ll have no trouble finding a mate. Though I suppose all of the male Yellow Warblers are just as pretty, so maybe the competition is tough?  He and his partner(s)  will breed far north of here and if I’m lucky, maybe another will stop and chirp at me in October, as the Yellows make their way back to Central America.

Another lifer (ugh) for me is this female Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula, who also visited recently.  Baltimore Orioles are known for the stunning good looks of the male and the birds’ affection for orange slices in the garden. I am thrilled that this lone female spent time in the birdbath.

Though perhaps outclassed by her male counterpart in the looks department, I find her coloring and markings quite lovely.

Enough with the sipping, I’m gonna bathe!

Stay alert!

Where are those stinkin’ cats?!  No worries, Ms. B, they’re in the house–bathe safely!

Yet another bird common to the eastern part of North America, she’s on her way north, but made a quick stop to refresh and I’m pleased my garden was a respite for her.  After her drink and bath, what else would a Baltimore oriole do?  Steal some yummy blackberries, of course!

 

Migration is happening and the birds are moving through–I imagine in the next days, it’ll be the resident birds, and maybe their charming offspring, whose feathery presence will dominate.

For those following the goings-on of the goldfish-snarfing heron,

…I found two of the four goldfish hunkering under a ledge of the bog in the pond since posting about the sushi-loving bird. The lily pads are unfurling in rapid succession and I’ve witnessed the bigger of the two goldfish swimming around, no doubt feeling more confident that hiding under the leaves is a good bet for survival. I’m certain the fish are breathing a gilled sigh of relief.

Migrating or otherwise, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for May Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. 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!

 

Movin’ On: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2017

It’s springtime here in Austin, Texas and there’s plenty to relish, especially regarding the many gifts of nature:  pleasant temperatures, glorious sunshine and well-appointed rainfall, iconic wildflowers and other blooming beauties, and active and abundant urban wildlife. You don’t have to go far–there’s no requirement for lengthy drives into the Hill County or blister-producing hikes–to savor  the benefits of spring pleasures if you plant for wildlife in your own garden space.   When you grow native annuals, perennials and trees, as well as adapted non-native plants, you will reap a blooming bonanza in your garden.  Wildlife of all sorts will come, as they’re granted rest and reprieve, nourishment and protection, most especially during migration and into the breeding season.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday where we showcase wildlife and appreciate their place in our own back yards and in the larger world.

This past month I  haven’t observed the variety of migratory birds that I recall from 2016, but there were a few who made brief stops near the pond, or who rested in newly foliaged Red Oaks.  A pretty White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus, a lone and stunning Black and White Warbler, Mniotilta varia, a handsome Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, and four female Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus,(obviously engaged in a girls’ day out), comprise the sum total of spring migratory birds gracing my garden.  With each observance, I either didn’t have my camera ready, or chose to simply marvel at the bird’s presence;  I have no photos of these birds to share.

My avian winter Texans visit the back garden less frequently and I assume that most have moved on to more northern gardens and greenbelts, with the hope of a mate and chicks.   I haven’t seen any Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata in several weeks, but throughout winter and earlier in March, one, or several, were daily garden charmers as they perched on limbs or hunted for insects from spring blooms.

Clinging to the stem of a Yellow bells (Tacoma stans) while surrounded by Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea).

This one poised to flutter to the bog area of my pond, which is a favorite bathing spot for all the birds in the garden, residents and visitors alike.

Jump!

If you look closely at the following photos, you can spot the smudge of orange, which male Orange-crowns flash in territorial warning when necessary, but which is drab and undramatic when life is simple and there are no threats to manhood, or perhaps I should say, birdhood.

 

I still see Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata, like these two breeding-plumaged boys, preparing for a buddy bath.

The photo isn’t the best, taken early and pre-coffee and through a window, but I was tickled to catch them hanging around. Do you see the difference between the two?

You’ll notice that the one toward the bottom has a yellow throat–he’s an Audubon’s subspecies and typically found in the West.  The other with a white throat, is a Myrtle subspecies and they’re more common in the eastern part of the United States and in Canada.  I have no clue why both were in my back garden, but it was a treat to see and photograph both in the same frame. More proof I suppose that Texas truly is a crossroads for migratory birds.

Too bad those blackberries aren’t ripe.

Butter Butts have been constant companions since November, but will soon be gone, making their way north to the upper mid-West and Canada for summer,  My early mornings won’t be the same without them.

 

One of the last winter Texans to leave for northern lands are the Cedar Waxwings,   Bombycilla cedrorum.  Such beautiful birds, they’re always in a flock, gabbing and preening, and usually situated at the top of trees, where it’s too blustery to get a good photo. Even if I managed something decent, it would be of their butts and who wants to see that?   I was on the phone with a friend when a couple of them dropped in to bathe and drink in the birdbath with the bubbling fountain. I told my friend that I HAD to hang up NOW so I could get some good, close shots of these dandies and she was gracious enough to let me go, forthwith.  She’s understanding about my various idiosyncrasies and I knew she wouldn’t be offended at my hasty hangup.

As I write, I hear their high-pitched keening in the breezes outside, their voices carried into the house, keeping me company.  Soon enough,  that keening will no longer linger in the breeze and will be silent; I’ll realize that they’re gone for summer.

I miss them already.

One day next November, I’ll hear their call again–high-pitched and insistent. I’ll be thrilled that they’ve once again joined me for winter and much of spring.

 

I take pleasure in the typical off-and-on visits from Lesser Goldfinches,                     Spinus psaltria, but they’ve been scarce this year.  I have delighted in several visits from a little band of American GoldfinchesSpinus tristis.  

Mostly, they’ve frequented the birdbaths,

First you see my front,

….then you see my back.

…the bog of the pond,

…or perched prettily in the shrubs and trees.

Until I downloaded this photo, I didn’t realize that there were two other goldfinches at the right edge of the above photo.  Like the Cedar Waxwings and teenage humans, Goldfinches tend to hang out in groups, though they’re quieter than the Waxwings–and the human teenagers.

If you’re fortunate enough to host these birds during their summer breeding, they will nosh at feeders, but prefer native composite (Asteraceae) seeds; flower seeds of the many varieties of sunflowers are finch (of all species) favorites.  The trick for attracting Goldfinches, as well as many other native songbirds, is to let the seeds develop after the bloom period.  Many gardeners want to prune back “spent” blooms because there’s nothing left  for pollinators and we’ve been “educated” that spent blooms are unattractive.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Flower seed heads are attractive and the second round of feeding on a plant comes after the bloom-n-pollination/nectar gathering time: it’s the feeding time for birds, mammals and other insects besides pollinators.  When you see a host of birds eating seeds at plants, it’s a lovely and affirming sight and that nourishing of wildlife is the purpose of plants.

While the migratory birds are movin’ on to their summer breeding sites, I’m left with my resident birds, like this bathing male Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis.

Well, that’s not so bad.

 

Blue orchard beesOsmia lignaria, are almost finished with their seasonal contribution to the world and my garden.

The few remaining adults left are packing away their eggs and soon-to-be-larvae. There are plenty blue bee babies cookin’ for next year.

 

My favorite native bees, the Horsefly-like Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa tabaniformis, are out in droves and pollinating up a flower-storm!

Stealing nectar from an Autumn sage (Salvia greggii).

More nectar at a Gulf penstemon (Penstemon tenuis).

Zoom!

Got it!

Uh, the pollen and nectar of the white Autumn sage are the other way…

 

Ubiquitous Texan Crescent butterflies, Anthanassa texana, are also making the rounds of blooming bounty.

 

This Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, is battered–but not defeated–in its quest for nutrients from flowers of the Giant spiderwort.  There will be more of these gorgeous and useful insects in my gardens in coming months.

He may display rag-tag wings, but he works the garden diligently and for free!

Whether your garden enjoys migrating or resident critters, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for April Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. 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!