Birds of Winter: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2017

Greeting the new year with my first 2017 post, I’m glad to kick 2016 to the curb–good riddance, what a difficult year–but I am glad that the birds in my garden are busy with their winter work of eating, singing, bathing, gearing up for spring flirting, defending territory and providing interest in the garden and entertainment for the gardener. It’s the first Wildlife Wednesday installment for 2017, where critters are wild, occasionally woolly, and always welcome.

Central Texas enjoyed a couple of nights of sub-freezing temperatures a few weeks ago, just enough to leave  the garden crinkled and wrinkled, foliage-deprived and bloom-less. On the up-side though, it’s easier to see the birds as they forage  in the undergrowth for winter sustenance and prepare their game-on for spring migration, spring wooing and summer chick-rearing.

I’m observing and listening to winter Texan warblers again this winter–and pleased that I’ve learned a bit about their habits and vocalizations.  This past month, my garden has hosted several of the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata.  So far, it’s mostly males in their winter plumage that I’m spying.  Flashes of sunny yellow and soft cheeps  in the trees are my clues in identifying these cuties as they fly between trees or perch on bare limbs.

 

I’ve no idea if this is the same fella, but he rested in the glow of the late afternoon light, which rendered  his colors a golden hue.

I especially like this shot,  as he points his yellow rump at me.  Avid birders call these North American songbirds Butter butts.  A silly and apt name, I think.

I believe that the Butter butts in my garden are the “Myrtle” subspecies common to the eastern part of the United States because my Butter butts have a white or cream-colored throat.  The “Audubon” subspecies common further west sports a yellow throat.

 

Many are my “favorite” birds, but the Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, really holds a soft spot in my heart.  From their pretty songs, to their decorative popping presence in trees, to their break-neck snatches of sunflower seeds from the feeder, these year-round residents are fun to watch because of their antics with one another and curiosity about their surroundings.

 

Thrilled this winter to have at least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, in the gardenhe’s challenging my photography skills because he’s super quick flitting in the brush and shy after any movement I make.  He’s hard to shoot–that is if I’m aiming for a clear photo.  If you click on the name link (which takes you to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page on this bird), you can see the red “ruby” crown in a photo.  For now,  I can only dream of getting that splash of crown color which is this species’ namesake. However, I can gleefully report that I’ve seen the red stripe atop his darling head through my binoculars.  My goal this winter is at least one shot of the ruby crown on the Ruby-crowned.

I think there might be a female coming in for visits too, but for now, it’s all about the guy and his red crown.

 

Several Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata, are currently hanging around, much as they did last winter. I’ve observed two males and a female.  Like most other warblers, their movements are fast and their body language–all head tilts and swishy tail flicks–charming.

A butterfly chrysalis hangs below the blue bowl, just to the right of the vertical wood post. I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos.

The Orange-crown males have an orange crown (similar to the red crown of the Ruby-crowned), which appears as a little bird mohawk when a girl bird, or rival guy bird, needs impressing. I haven’t seen the orange crown so far this winter, but did on a regular basis last year with those who visited.

 

I was chasing the male Ruby-crowned Kinglet one afternoon for a photo, when a contentedly berry-munching Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos stopped me in my tracks.  Nestled in the branches of a native Possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua, the Mock gobbled berries within easy reach.  The Possumhaw is a small tree which produces beautiful (to gardeners) berries during winter and is a favorite of a variety of wildlife, including my friend, The Mock.

The Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas and known for its vocalization mimicry and beautiful songs.

This Mock was comfortable as I stood close, probably because I told him how pretty he is.

 

And hoping to catch and devour any, or all, of the above was this handsome Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii.

Another year-round resident in urban Austin, Texas, I see these and other raptors regularly in the neighborhood, flying from tree to tree, scaring the prey birds witless.

This gorgeous one perched in my back neighbor’s tall tree, remaining for several minutes, surveying its realm and allowing me to get some clear shots. The birds in my back garden remained very quiet for a time….

Wishing you a happy new year, full of wildlife in your gardens and peaceful interactions everywhere. Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for January 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!

The Good Pollinators: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2016

I suppose there aren’t many bad pollinators, but I’ve certainly relished the good work of pollinators in my garden this autumn and, in fact, for the whole of this past growing season.  Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate those who require and benefit from our efforts as gardeners.

Gardeners garden.  It’s what we do.  Neophyte gardeners are first attracted to the multitudes of choices with blooms-n-foliage, as well as the endless arrangements therein as we delve into the joys of augmenting personal outdoor space.  But sooner or later, we notice those who “visit” our gardens:  pollinators, birds, mammals, reptiles. With greater observation and understanding, the notion of garden beauty morphs into more than an emphasis on the human-focused composition of plants to a recognition of the purpose of those plants, as well as the gardener’s role in promoting a healthy, diverse environment. For many gardeners, the drive to attract wildlife to our particular slice of the Earth spurs deeper learning about plants and the processes of wildlife gardening.

When I was traveling in October, a neighbor sent me a Facebook message with a photo attached, wondering what “this” butterfly was.  I didn’t have time during my travels to research, but did take a look at on-line butterfly sources once I returned home.   In my own garden, I observed this Tailed OrangePyrisitia proterpia, working blooms one afternoon.

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I sent my Tailed Orange link to the neighbor and she delightedly affirmed that “my” Tailed Orange was “her” butterfly, too.  Score!  While probably not the same individual butterfly, clearly this was a species hanging around the neighborhood.

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Tailed Orange butterflies are fast flyers, the adults nectaring on many flowers as they move rapidly from one to another. Tailed Orange butterflies prefer plants in the pea (Fabaceae) family as their hosts.

Another cheery autumn yellow butterfly common in Texas  most years is the Cloudless SulphurPhoebis sennae. 

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Also utilizing host plants in the Fabaceae family, this butterfly graces my garden annually from the end of summer, well into early winter.  I grow the native Lindheimer’s senna, Senna lindheimeriana,

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which is a likely plant (check out the species name of the insect!)  in which these butterflies lay their eggs.  In the future, I’ll need to keep a keener eye out for the larvae on the leaves and snatch a photo of the juveniles of this insect.

QueensDanaus gilippus, which are year-round residents here,

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The two black dots on the hind wings indicate that this butterfly is a male.

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…and a few straggler migrating MonarchsDanaus plexippus,

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The lack of black dots on the hind wings indicates that this Monarch is a female.

continued their regular visits, though I haven’t seen a Monarch since mid-November.

This little cutey, a Spotted Beet Webworm Moth, Hymenia perspectalis, rested on a Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,

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while this Clouded SkipperLerema accius, contemplated a shuttered Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala bloom.

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Another skipper, a Tropical Checkered SkipperPyrgus oileus, was loathed to pose for a photograph in the bright Texas sun, but eventually, relented.

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It enjoyed the bounty of a Rock rose flower, which is a member of the family (Malvaceae) that this butterfly requires as its host.    The checkerboard pattern on the upper wings,

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…and its “hairy” body were the keys for identifying this butterfly.

I often see Grey Hairstreaks in the garden but this past month I enjoyed a Mallow Scrub HairstreakStrymon istapa, as it visited several flowers in the aster or Asteraceae family.

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Hairstreaks are such pretty butterflies, with subtle coloring and unique markings.

 

Variegated FritillaryEuptoieta claudia,

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…a Gulf Fritillary,  Agraulis vanillae,

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…an American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…and a Southern DogfaceZerene cesonia, 

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…all are typical butterflies which contributed to the mass of butterfly/moth activity gracing my November garden.

It wasn’t just about butterflies and moths this month, though. There were beetles–lots of beetles–in the garden this past month.

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They employ some sipping of the nectar, but also cause a little damage leaves and petals during their feedings.  Does that make them bad pollinators?  Nah, I never met a pollinator that I didn’t love. Or, at least tolerate.

Additionally, native bees were out in force in the last weeks of full-bloom garden action.   Throughout summer, I’d catch a glimpse of a stunning metallic green bee, but I was never fast or organized enough to document its activity–until this month!

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Bee and beetle, working side-by-side.

I’m fairly sure that this gorgeous bee is a Green metallic bee, Agapostemon texanus.

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Though rare, this species of wild bee are seen in this part of Texas.  I was pleased to watch her work the flowers of a Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

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Also enjoying fall-blooming Goldeneye, were two kinds of Sweat bees:

Lasioglossum spp.

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This sweat bee shares flower space with the Mallow Shrub Hairstreak.

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…and Halictus tripartitus.

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A Small carpenter bee, Ceratina sp., nectared and gathered pollen from a Rock rose.

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Identifying native bees is tricky because there’s just not that much research on these important pollinators.  To help me figure out what I’m seeing in my garden, I use a site hosted by an entomologist at The University of Texas, Professor Shalene Jha, who studies Texas native bees.  The site focuses on native ecosystems and native bee sightings in wildlife preserves. The information on the native bees is local and relevant to Texas, the photos of these bees, remarkable.

Not a pollinator, but a regular contributor to Wildlife Wednesdays, this juvenile Anole lizard is most likely making his/her last appearance for a while.

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I might spot one from time-to-time over the course of the next few months, but they’ll be nicely tucked in for our (usually) mild winter.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for December Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. 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.

 

Pollinators Galore: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2016

Having  traveled for half of October and with a general lack of time for critter photo-ops when I was home, there isn’t a portfolio of day-to-day proof of the masses of buzzers and flutterers who’ve been in my gardens this past month.  You’ll just have to take my word for it–this past month was epic on the pollinator front in the garden!  Not only in sheer numbers, but the variety of butterflies and native bees has been a delight.  Today is Wildlife Wednesday and I hope you’re set to celebrate the wild things in our gardens.  Whether winged, scaled, feathered, or furred, wildlife is what makes a garden a truly living space–wildlife is what makes a garden.

It’s been quite a few years since my garden has enjoyed and benefited from  the numbers of butterflies who visited in these past couple of months.  The wet year, coupled with relatively mild summer temperatures, allowed for the right breeding conditions to occur and for blooming plants to thrive.  Plenty of host and nectar plants are available for feeding this year and pollinators are taking advantage of the bounty.   There are always more butterflies in late summer and fall, but this year I notice some that I’d never seen before.

I saw many of these pretties,

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…mostly hanging out around the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.   I knew that I’d seen a photo of this kind of butterfly–somewhere–but couldn’t recall where. After some sleuthing, I identified this species as a Common mestra, Mestra amymone. Eventually, I remembered that I’d seen photos of the mestra on the FB page of The National Butterfly Center, which is located in Mission, Texas. Primarily a butterfly of South Texas, Mexico and  South America, they will stray northward–and so they did, right into my little garden!   They favored the Blue mistflower, but I also saw them nectaring at the Plateau goldeneye and Turk’s cap, too.

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White-Striped Longtail butterfliesChioides albofasciatus,  are a new butterfly in my garden.

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They proved difficult to get clear photos of because they nectared at Yellow bell blooms which are located high on the tall shrubs and subject to every puff or blast of breeze–not conducive to great photography,  Also, this critter doesn’t sit still for long.

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Lucky for this gardener though, one spent casual time at a lower-to-the ground West Texas native, the Shrubby blue sage, Salvia ballotiflora and I opportunistically snagged some shots.

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Yet another butterfly more common in South Texas and regions further a-field, it’s interesting that there were “tropical” butterflies in my Central Texas garden this past month.

Along with the southern visitors, the usual garden suspects were active. For example,  Fiery SkippersHylephila phyleus,  decked out in autumn colors,  have been all over the Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, sharing nicely that pollinator favorite with many other winged things. .

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A tiny native minor bee is blurry just above the Fiery Skipper.

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Other fans of the Gregg’s mistflower are the many Clouded SkipperLerema accius butterflies  which regularly tour the garden.  These skippers have been active throughout the warm season this year.

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Monarch butterfliesDanaus plexippus, continued their march through Texas.

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Male Monarch demonstrates his  scent glands (the two black dots on the hind wings).

It was a pleasure hosting them this autumn–I hope they safely arrive in Mexico and winter well there.

 

Black SwallowtailPapilio polyxenes, butterflies visited daily.

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Black Swallowtail on Turk’s cap.

 

Honeybees (from my three hives) busily worked at the bloom-heavy Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, as well as everything else, preparing their honey stores for winter.

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There are still scads of the charming Southern Pink MothsPyrausta inornatalis, like this one resting on a White tropical sage.  The Pinks are another species in abundance this year.

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Native bees of all kinds are still working in the garden.  This leaf-cutter, Megachile, was not the only native bee around, but fun to watch as she worked Plateau goldeneye blooms.

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Additionally, this past month saw a boon in the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, population.

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The foliage decimation wrought on my Passion vine by caterpillars eating and eating and eating,

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…and then pupating into their adult form wherever they could,

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…is all the proof I need to suggest that they’re quite at home in the garden.

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I don’t fret about butterfly and moth caterpillars munching on host plants because they generally don’t kill the host, munching away only to some level of plant un-attractiveness. Usually, the plants–like the Passion vine–spring back to full-leafed health quickly and in preparation for the next generation of caterpillars.  Biology dictates that for the most part, the symbiotic relationship between a host plant and its insect is a healthy one, and a plant is rarely, if ever, eaten to death.  From an evolutionary standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for a host plant to die every time its insect requires reproduction.

Ain’t nature grand?!

Texan CrescentsAnthanassa texana, 

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….are eating  their native host plants–the Branched foldwing, Dicliptera brachiata,

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…as can be seen by the green sticks left from the last crop of caterpillars.  No worries about the recover of the plant though, the munched Branched foldwing is already leafing out.  For the remainder of autumn, more of the butterflies will nectar in the garden in clouds of fluttering brown and gold. I missed the opportunity to catch a photo of the nondescript caterpillars, though I’m always happy to get photos of a pretty face–and lovely set of wings.

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Not only did butterflies and moths grace my garden, but plenty of Syrphid, or Flower flies, appeared too.    For the most part, Syrphid flies haven’t been as numerous in the garden this year.  But recently I’ve seen many of this particular kind, the Distinctive SyrphidOcyptamus fascipennis.

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Syrphid on the bloom clusters of the Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

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As for what attracts all of these garden gifts, If there was an award for Pollinator Plant of the Month, it would have to go to Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.

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There are four individual pollinators on this particular flower cluster–and it’s not unusual to see that many pollinators simultaneously feeding on  Frostweed bloom clusters. Where Frostweed grow, insect–especially pollinator–activity is abundant.  Both small and large butterflies, honey and native bees, and eventually, after the blooms are spent,  little finches and warblers choose this plant as a favorite food source.  It, along with the Plateau goldeneye, are amazing plants for attracting and feeding wildlife.  Both plants are easy to grow (Texas natives!) and attractive; both fit especially well in a woodland garden or at the back of a perennial bed.

These beetles enjoyed one particular group of Frostweed.  I never quite figured out what kind of beetle they are, but I’m leaning toward an identification as some kind of blister beetle.

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The adults were definitely nectaring on the flowers,

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…though the nymphs congregated along fruit or foliage, just hanging out it seemed.  Typical teenagers, I guess.

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At any rate, the beetles didn’t appear to damage the plants, so I left them alone.

A few beetles visited the Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera.

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Like the beetles on the Frostweed, these didn’t appear to harm the honeysuckle foliage or flowers.

This month wasn’t all about pollinators though–this predator Crab spider was clearly waiting to snatch something smaller than herself for a meal.

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And this Hydrophilidae, a Water scavenger beetle, was loitering on a spent Garlic chives bloom.

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Not quite sure what this one was up to, but I think he’s a little menacing looking.  He neither spit nor lunged at me, so I suppose he’s okay and we can be friends, or at the very least, co-workers in the garden.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for November Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. 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.