Autumn Pollinators

Autumn weather has finally arrived. Clouds and rain, with chilly temperatures (upper 30s and 40s), it’s unseasonably cool. I’m not minding it though, as we have more than our share of balmy days. Just before the wet and cool set in, the pollinators were everywhere, all day long: flitting, flying, nectaring and gifting their unique grace to the garden.

The Monarch butterfly migration didn’t nearly match last autumn’s magnificence, but these seasonal visitors drifted through, and for about 6 weeks, there was always some Monarch action in the garden. Once we warm up again, it’s likely I’ll still see a few lingerers, but it’ll be next March before they make their way back through Central Texas from Mexico.

Monarch butterflies are heading to their winter digs in Mexico. Here’s hoping the weather cooperates, whisking them south safely and protecting them in their roosts.

Late summer and autumn bring a number of yellow butterflies in the garden. One of the more common of the numerous yellows are the Southern Dogface, Zerene cesonia. This one enjoys what Mexican Honeysuckle offers.

American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, are also regulars in Central Texas. This one nectared on the prolific blooms of a Henry Duelberg, Salvia farinacea.

Another familiar autumn butterfly is the American Snout, Libytheana carinenta. These are perhaps not the most beautiful of butterflies, but they’re charming with that extended “snout” as well as their petite form. In some years, they migrate in large numbers, but this autumn, only a few fluttered.

Not outdone by the butterflies, bees are still active, too. One of my favorite native perennials is the Texas Craglily, Echeandia texensis. It’s also favored by a variety of pollinator types, including honeybees.

This isn’t a particularly good photo, but I like how it captured the full-to-bursting corbicula or pollen basket. I like to call honeybees’ corbiculae pollinator pantaloons.

Also buzzing through the garden are a variety of syrphid, or flower flies. This little one is working on its pollinating skills! In fact, there were all kinds of flies around the flowers and they’re excellent pollinators.

A diminutive butterfly that I’m sure I’ve seen in my garden in past seasons, but I know I’ve seen when perusing through insect resources, is this Reakirt’s Blue, Echinargus isola. I enjoyed the flitty antics of several individuals before the rainy period set in.

While attractive enough to the human eye when their wings are up, when open wide, a whole new look emerges. I love the blue in the wings.

One interesting fact about Reakirt’s butterflies is that females lay a single egg on a flower bud and the caterpillar eats the flower, seed pods, and only sometimes, the foliage. Additionally, the caterpillars are accompanied by ants, who slurp up the cats’ “sugary secretions” left behind.

This little cutey was a super fast flyer, but I did nab one or two shots. Called a Dainty Sulpher, Nathalis iole, I’ve seen this specie before in the garden, though had never taken a decent photograph. This dainty lives in a wide range of places, but doesn’t survive cold winters. Host plants include those in the aster family and I grow plenty of them. I didn’t see any obvious eggs or caterpillars, but I plan to keep a keen eye out for them next fall.

Common Checkered-Skipper, Burnsius communis, is a butterfly that lives in most of the continental United States. A large skipper, it’s also a skipper that cooperates with its human admirers–look at that lovely wingspan. These skippers use plants in the mallow family as their hosts and I grow several: Turk’s Caps, Globe Mallow, and Rock Rose. It’s no wonder that these butterflies are in my garden for late summer and fall.

A cousin to the Monarchs, the Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus, rivals in beauty! This handsome male nectars on the bloom of a Gregg’s Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii

And this one? It’s all about the almost-spent-blooms of a Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata. Queens don’t migrate like the Monarchs, so I’m likely to see them in summer.

It really has been a glorious October and November and I fully expect that once the chill passes and before our first freeze, some of that glory will return. Central Texas enjoys a long growing season and therefore, a long pollinator season. Some pollinators have gone to rest, like many of the native bees, but others will over-winter and be active during our sunny days. They’re welcome anytime!

Autumn Garden

Central Texas is deep into its second spring, the autumn blooming bonanza that occurs after summer’s heat abates and rain returns. I’m pleased with the results in my “new” front garden, primarily planted last December and January. The garden thrived in the hot summer, plants surviving and growing, valiantly withstanding heat and drought. With autumn’s arrival and October’s gentler temperatures, plus a smidge of rain–it’s exploded with color and life. Native perennials abloom with nectar and pollen keep pollinators crazy-busy, while native grasses wave their delicate panicles in the wind with grace and elegance.

Who says there’s no autumn color in Texas?

Along the lengthy driveway, bright Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, brings sunshine to its spot and contrasts with rich purple Fall Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. .

Moving away from the street, towards the house, the Aster fronts a Barbados Cherry, Malpighia glabra, not currently in bloom, but always providing lush green cover for birds. Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, its silver foliage a stand-out, complements both Aster and another Goldeneye.

Across the span of driveway cement, more lush Goldeneye towers over orange Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera. Both attract various pollinators and provide cover for critters, though the Goldeneye also produces seeds beloved by finches, wrens, sparrows and mammals.

Looking toward the house, blasts of autumn yellow dominate, but there’s also plenty of white, red, blue and pink, buttressed by the large swath of cheery orange Honeysuckle.

Another pairing of Goldeneye and Fall Aster. I do like yellow and purple together!

In the center of the garden, colorful flowers surround: white from Mexican Orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana, and Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea; red from several ‘Martha Gonzales’ roses; pink from a ‘Caldwell Pink’ rose; blue from’ Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea.

Observing the garden’s center from a different angle, we see the back side of the driveway Goldeneye–it’s a big plant. It’s really too big and once the flowers finish and the seeds are devoured (by critters) and sown (by the wind and gravity), I’m yanking it out. I’ll separate bits of each stalk-with-root and replant in other spots where its rangy, floppy character is less cumbersome and more appropriate. It needs space to spread.

The smeary red flower photo bombing this shot is the flower of a Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Another dab of autumn pink comes with a cluster of native Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, paired with a second Mexican Honeysuckle shrub and more ‘Henry Duelberg’ sage. From my shady back garden, I transplanted five individual non-native, but well-adapted Softleaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, and a couple of smaller native Pale-leaf yucca, Yucca pallida. These plants will serve as stalwart evergreen anchors. As expected, they were hot summer champs and flourished in the Texas sun.

To the right of the yucca sits a Texas Beargrass, Nolina texana, which spent many years in a large ceramic container. I was hiking at Enchanted Rock last October and along the trails around the rock, noticed plenty of arching, shapely Beargrass clumps throughout the sun-blasted landscape. I’d always kept my potted Beargrass in shade/part shade, but inspired by the beauty of those Beargrass individuals full sun with no water, decided to pull mine out of the pot and plant it directly in the sunny garden. It was a bear (yuk!) to remove, but has settled nicely into its new home. It bloomed in the container, it’ll be interesting to see if it blooms in the ground.

The ridiculously brilliant pink-in-the-pot is a bougainvillea. It sits on the stump of the removed Arizona Ash tree. Bougainvillea love the heat, bloom magnificently from May through November, but will be safely tucked away in the garage for winter. Maybe I’ll find a garden gnome to be the winter stump care-taker.

Throughout the garden, wispy Mexican Feathergrass accompanies flowering perennials, but they’ve all gone toasty, as they do, in autumn.

I’ve always loved silver and grey foliage and with a full sun situation, now indulge this passion. I planted several Globe Mallows and a couple of native Wooly Butterflybush, Buddleja marrubiifolia. The mallows develop in a tidy, round form while the Wooly Butterfly bushes grow vertically, often in a wonky, decidedly non-tidy, shape. That’s fine with me, I rarely turn wonky away.

I’m thrilled with the six gorgeous Gulf Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris, I can now grow, thanks to the blasting sun. A pretty, tough green-foliaged thing in spring and summer, autumn sees the plants’ flower spikes become feathery and frothy in stunning pink/purple hue.

I’ve had a few Lindheimer’s Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, grasses for several years, but was able to add a couple more. I mean, why wouldn’t I?

This garden is a beacon for bees (native and honey), butterflies and moths, and birds, many and active. I love my shadier, sedate back garden, but the colors, forms, and textures in this sun-drenched space are worth the end of a dying tree and the efforts involved in re-imagining this area. I’ve made some mistakes (duh!) and will move a few things this winter, but I’m happy with the garden’s progress.

In this garden, second spring equals autumn color!

Autumn Birds

The annual autumn bird migration through Central Texas is mostly completed. I typically observe fewer birds coming through my garden in fall than in spring, but there are always a few who spend time in the trees and shrubs and splish-splash in the pond.

This fall several male adults and at least one female adult Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia, popped by for visits. These sunny critters are hard to miss: dashes of yellow through the air, pops of yellow in trees and shrubs, flashes of yellow in the shallows of the pond. These bright streaks-n-spots in the garden are busy, busy birds–they don’t stay still for long! I’m glad this one wanted some warmth from the sun after his bath; he perched long enough for a quick photo.

Male Yellow Warblers are brilliantly yellow, with lovely burnished breast streaks. Females and juvenile males are yellow in a softer hue, but lack the markings on the breast. These beauties winter in Central America and northern parts of South America.

I took plenty of photos of “Yellow Warblers” but as I downloaded the shots, it happened that some birds were Yellow and some were just yellow. The two just yellows are female or immature Wilson’s Warblers, Cardellina pusilla.

Several years ago, I enjoyed the visit of a male Wilson’s Warbler, his little black cap a signature accessory. This fall, the two who bathed in the pond and bopped through my garden didn’t rock black hats, but instead, attractive arches of yellow over their eyes–the clue to their identities. These birds are heading for Central America, to rest, eat well, and prepare for next year’s breeding season.

An Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, graced my garden for several days, dipping in the pond, fluffing in the trees, catching insects on the wing. This bird is a flycatcher and some of its winter non-breeding range is located in Texas, though south of where I live in Austin. I see one or two almost every spring during migration, though I don’t recall ever spotting one in fall.

The Phoebe has a charming way of tilting its head back and forth, as if listening for important news. As insects are its main food source, the Phoebe is a fast and agile flyer, and an excellent hunter of many kinds of insects.

From November to April, I’m fortunate to host several kinds of warblers and I’m eagerly awaiting their settling in the garden. It’s always a thrill to observe them for the first time, but I never grow tired of their presence; their beauty and calls are a joy in the winter garden. I’ve already seen a couple of Orange-Crowned Warblers, but both moved on to other places, other spaces. Neither were my warblers.

C’mon little warblers: there’s plenty of food and water, trees and cover, and the cats are in the house. What are you waiting for??