True to Form: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2019

As summer muddles along here in Central Texas with fairly typical heat and humidity, this gardener slows down. Even so, I can’t resist the daily pull of the garden, even in mid-afternoon heat: too much action, life, and beauty greet my visits and I don’t want to miss it any of it.  Local wildlife isn’t bothered one bit by the long, sunny days–if water is available.  True to form, my mid-to-late summer garden provides good wildlife watching.

During spring and autumn bird migration, I’ll slice fruit and affix the pieces to a fence for the weary, hungry and thirsty birds.   While spring migratory season is over and fall migration has yet to begin, some extra oranges found their way to my kitchen and I wanted to share them with, ahem, the birds.

This rascal isn’t a bird, but I’ll bet you knew that already.

This Fan of the Orange is an Eastern Fox SquirrelSciurus niger.  Many types of birds and mammals enjoy fruit, and if you grow–or attempt to grow–fruit trees, this won’t be news to you.  While my orange offers were targeted for birds, I don’t mind (too much) that the squirrel devoured the juicy fruit.

Green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are active for most of the year, except for the deep of winter.  In summer, it’s rare that I’m in my garden that I don’t see at least one of these garden cuties.  I like the way this one drapes its claw over the leaf edge of the Twist-leaf yucca, Yucca rupicola. The lizard looks like it’s in total command of the situation.  I  expect the anole to don a pair of shades or a hip hat, and sip from an adult-lizard beverage of choice.

 

Nature’s life and death dramas play all the time in my garden.  Oregano blooms, favored by a variety of pollinators, make good perches for garden predators and Milkweed Assasin bugsZelus longipes, commonly hang out on the oregano and hunt.   This assasin had the poor honeybee firmly vised.

A closer look at the assassination.

Excepting a surfeit of predators (which I’ve never seen), I let pollinators and predators go about their business–no matter the outcome.   In nature, it’s all about balance.

This has been the Summer of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia.  Several generations hatched, morphed in caterpillar stages, and then flitted through the garden as adults.  I grow plenty of sunflower types and those plants have nurtured a boon of butterflies, which have been pops of moving color in both larval and adult stages.

To encourage butterflies in your garden, tolerance for munched leaves is a must.

Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on host plants.  Then larvae hatch and eat the foliage of those plants.  The foliage isn’t pristine during the caterpillar progressive meals, but once the eating frenzy is finished and the cats are sequestered in their cocoons, the foliage recovers. A common fallacy is that there is something wrong with foliage that has been eaten, and that the offending insects must be destroyed.  But insects and plants evolved together and share synchronistic relationships:  plants are required for healthy insect populations and insects utilizing their host plants for food eat only what they need for their next stage of development and generally won’t eat foliage to the detriment of plants–nature just doesn’t work that way.  Plants usually rebound to provide for the next generation of pollinators.   As for problematic, invasive insects (for example, aphids and red spider mites), a few blasts of water will usually take care of them.

 

Big, beautiful Southern Carpenter beesXylocopa micans, usually show up in mid-summer and this year a couple arrived on cue.  I like this bum-shot of the bodacious bee.

No, it doesn’t have a red tail issuing from its backside, but instead, the bee is perched over the flower, its proboscis (unseen) thrust into the base of the plant, slurping nectar.  This activity is known as nectar stealing or robbing and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to aid pollination.  The thief either eats a hole into the tissue of the flower, or exploits a hole already in existence, then–proboscis engaged–sips away, bypassing the more typical pollination process.

When pollinators land on flowers and drink from the center of the flower where the reproductive parts are located, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship:  the pollinator gets nectar, the plant is pollinated and reproduction happens.  So is nectar robbing actually theft and is pollination averted?  Maybe not, as the insect (or other pollinator), land on the bloom in such a way that its various body parts make contact with the reproductive parts of the flower.  After nectar robbing from one flower while lying all over that flower, the bee then flies to other flowers.  With pollen grains attached to the bee’s abdomen, legs, and parts unknown, grains are deposited on the following flowers and pollination is achieved.

These gorgeous bees are so large that when one buzzes by me, I feel a slight whoosh in the air!  I’ve seen them at different plants, but in my garden they prefer Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Addendum:  I thought this bee was probably a Southern Carpenter, but for good measure, before I published, I sent an identification request to BugGuide.net.  The first response I received was, I believe, incorrect as it suggested the bee was a species from California.  That would be hard as the bee and I reside in Texas.  However, I’ve since received a second identification (Friday August 9) suggesting that this bee is a Large Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa mexicanorum. 

 So…welcome to the wonderful world of insect identification!

So what’s in your garden as summer plods along?  Please post about your garden critters and leave a link  to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!

Moss Rocks: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2019


We recently realized that our pond was leaking–not too much, just enough.  The pond leak isn’t a first, it’s happened before.  The most likely place for a pond to spring a leak is at, near, or around the waterfall, so unplugging the pump and dismantling the rocks which make up the waterfall are steps one and two for diagnosing a disappearing water act.

A slight slippage of pond liner, coupled with inappropriate rock placement, allowed for some (well, more than some) water diversion into the bordering soil and away from the pond.  We repaired the liner, re-stacked the rocks, and the pond is back in action and holding a constant level of water.  The fish are happy and swimming, the pond flowers are lovely and blooming, and the pond is no longer wasting water.

After we turned off the pump and removed the rock around the waterfall to watch for  water level change, I observed this Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, hopping around the disassembled rocks, pulling up bits of moss from those that had been in water.

That the jay was interested in the moss is a curiosity.  Blue Jays are omnivores and eat a variety of things:  seeds, nuts, grains, insects are all on their favorite foods list, but they sometimes steal nestling birds and dine on small animals (mammals and invertebrates).  As well, they’re known to occasionally scavenge dead birds and animals.  I don’t know that Blue Jays like salads, but this jay wasn’t eating the moss, nor can I find information that Blue Jays partake of this particular green in their diets.

Blue Jays do use grass for nesting, though;  might they also use moss?  Males are typically the gatherers of nesting material, while females are the builders of the nests.  Could the jay be in the process of gathering nesting material?  Yes, that’s certainly a possibility, though it seems a bit late in the season for family planning and house building.  Blue Jays only produce one brood per year and when I’ve observed Blue Jays and their nests, the babies fledge in May, or early June at the latest.  That said, Jays will abandon nests if a predator attacks or if some other calamity befalls the eggs or nestlings.  This spring has seen some spectacular thunderstorms with high winds and driving rains, perfect for dislodging nests–and nestlings–from trees.  Additionally, owls and hawks live and hunt in our neighborhood, so it’s reasonable to think that this bird’s first brood didn’t fledge successfully and he and his partner are in the family way again.

Mr. Jay was choosy about his moss.   He plucked moss from a rock, then dropped some of it. He bounded around to other moss rocks, snagging more in his beak, dropping that, then gathering other bits.  He acted as if he was looking for just the right sort of moss.

After a time and done with the moss-work, he flew away.

My best guess is that he was helping his mate build a nest–maybe their first, probably their second. There are no occupied Blue Jay homes in my trees, so I’ll never know for certain if the plucked moss is destined to feather a nest.  Maybe in a month or two I’ll see a fledgling Blue Jay, nearly as big as her parents, ruffling her feathers, squawking impatiently, and begging for food.

How is your wildlife?  Are they foraging in your foliage or feasting at your feeders?  Are the wild things in your garden chasing competitors, wooing mates, or raising families?  Please share your wildlife garden stories and remember to leave a link when you comment here–happy wildlife gardening!

Lizard Brain: Wildlife Wednesday, May 2019

I think we can all agree that recycling is a good thing, yes?  Reusing  materials, keeping waste out of landfills, and limiting extraction of and manufacture with raw materials are all laudable goals.   My Social Justice Warrior self experiences a nice infusion of warm fuzzies when I place my bin out for the bi-weekly pick-up of formerly used, then discarded paper, glass, and metal stuffs.  Additionally, one never knows what events will unfold while rolling the bin up the driveway, past gardens which are full of life.  Two weeks ago, I was glad that I was engaged in the recycling rumba as a kerfuffle in the garden caught my eye in the movements of these two guys:

The two are Green anoleAnolis carolinensis, lizards:  charmers in the garden, sometimes green, sometimes brown, sometimes fierce competitors for territory and lady anoles.   These two locked eyes for a brief minute, then a second bit of brawl ensued and this resulted:

Oh dear.

I don’t think they’re buddies.

Anoles are quirky critters and fun to watch as they sun themselves or lie in wait for passing insects.  They glare at me when I disturb their hunting or sunbathing, but are welcome partners in my gardening adventures. I enjoy their company and appreciate their place in the local environment.  But true to their nature and like most other wildlife, they scrabble for mates, territory, and food, and spring mating season brings out aggressive lizard brain behaviors.

What I typically observe are assertion displays, like dewlap extensions, which may or may not involve another lizard.

However, this acrobatic pose is bit beyond assertiveness and happens when there are two dudes involved and the assertion displays haven’t done the trick.

According to this article on anole aggression, this is a full-on challenge display,  complete with black spots which form near their eyes (eyespots), enlargement of the crests along their necks (under lizard), and the crests along their backs (upper lizard)

These fellas held the position for several minutes, even as I maneuvered around them, egging them on.

I didn’t really egg them on, but I was tickled to capture the lizard tussle.  Poor hapless, helpless Lower Lizard, he dangles, little claws akimbo.

Eventually, Lower Lizard fell–or was dropped–into a bed of Damianita, Chrysactinia mexicana.  According to those who study anoles, he’s the declared loser, as he was in the lower position from the get-go.  He looks a little sad and maybe embarrassed as he goggles at the victor. I don’t think he had a date that night!

Meanwhile, the winner is smug,

…as he leers at the loser.

Ah, spring:  flowers, butterflies, birds, fighting lizards.  So much drama in the garden.

Remember to recycle–you never know what you’ll see!

What critter capers do you enjoy watching in your garden?  Please share your wildlife stories and leave a link when you comment here. Happy wildlife gardening!