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!

Migrants: Wildlife Wednesday, June

The antics of North American neotropical birds (as they migrate from Central and South America to various parts of North America), continued in my garden during May and nearly into June.  Bird migration is the remarkable natural phenomenon transforming the skies into invisible (to us) highways for those seeking longer days in which to raise young, and to locate and dine on new and different food sources from what wintering grounds provide. Today is the first Wednesday of June, so let’s revisit the wild happenings in our gardens from this past month. In my case, it’s all about the birds.

I’ve been privileged to host a variety of migratory birds as they stop to rest, bathe, and eat in my back garden. This spring, plenty of species that I’d seen before popped in, some lingering for days and others, for oh-so-brief stints.  Yellow Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and more, comprise the regular sightings that I look forward to during spring migration. I appreciate these revisiting migrants (and their relatives), but this spring, the number and assortment of birds eclipsed any spring or autumn migratory period I’ve yet witnessed in my own garden space.

April’s Wildlife Wednesday saw the visitation of a lone female Baltimore OrioleIcterus galbula, but during May, a small band of two males and another female stopped for a couple of days to nosh on delicious tangerine slices that I had placed on several fences in the hopes that these colorful birds would take a load off and pay a call–and it worked!

This male made short shrift of the juicy treat one evening.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit of all sorts.  During migration, orange or tangerine slices placed in gardens provide a high-calorie snack for the bird and an opportunity to please the bird watchers.

I hastily nailed, and then impaled, tangerine slices when I read that Baltimore Orioles were winging their way through Central Texas.

I think that before next autumn’s migration, I’m going to rig some sticks for the birds’ perching pleasure.  This guy looks uncomfortable squatting on top of the flat surface while he slurps the sweet stuff.

I can report that the tangerines were fabulous!

During several mornings I spotted one, or more,  Swainson’s Thrush birds, Catharus ustulatus.

These pretty birds hung around the pond, bathing or fluffing from bathing, but each individual also traipsed through the garden, presumably picking up yummy bugs for post-bath snacks.  They have a funny way of running, reminiscent of how some water birds walk.

Swainson’s Thrushes enjoy a wide migration pattern, utilizing the entire width of the U.S. for migration and  then breeding throughout  a broad swath of Canada.

“Are you getting my good side?”

I’m looking over the shoulder, just so.”

 

Another bird that I’ve never seen before this spring, and who made several appearances, were Canada WarblersCardellina canadensis.  These beautiful, tiny birds were tough to photograph.  They flit constantly and would not pose!

Despite this study in blur, his beauty is obvious, with coordinated, yet contrasting gray and yellow coloring, adorned by a black necklace.

These birds are shy and constantly on the go.  They’re named for our fabulous northern neighbor, but are the last to migrate from South America and the first to leave Canada for their tropical winter home.  They like it hot, I guess.

I think this is a female Canada warbler.

This was the best photo I managed.  Her markings don’t quite fit the color patterns of other species with the gray and yellow scheme, but she also doesn’t show the faded black necklace that female and juveniles demonstrate.  That could be my limited abilities to capture and not her lack of identity markers.

 

A gorgeous gray bird is this Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis, who displays a you caught me!  goofy look on his face.

 

Ah, this shot is better–you can see just how handsome this relative of the mockingbird is.

I’ve enjoyed previous visits from these birds, though usually they spend time in the blackberry vine, enjoying juicy fruits.  This year my crop was a bust, but the Catbird visited nonetheless.

 

Black-and-white WarblersMniotilta varia, made appearances throughout April and May, but these are the best photos shots they allowed me:

I think the Black-and-white Warbler is a most elegant bird in both color and form.

Opposite from the Canada Warbler, the Black-and-whites are some of the first of the migrants to leave their tropical wintering homes and travel northward for breeding.

A Wilson WarblerCardellina pusilla,

The black cap is a sweet marking.

…and his mate,

…spent a couple of days with me.  They liked the pond–and the bugs!  Both male and female worked up,  down, and around various perennial plants, grabbing insects and hiding from the camera.

A Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus, stopped briefly,

…and charmed.

A Great Crested FlycatcherMyiarchus crinitus, also showed up–and departed before the camera clicked.

Last spring (2016) several male and female American Redstart WarblersSetophaga ruticilla, favored my garden and introduced themselves to me.  This spring, only ladies visited.

This species hops and dances, flashing decorative, butter-yellow patterned tails.

 

A single male Chestnut-sided WarblerSetophaga pensylvanica, briefly brightened the garden.

So much color on one little bird: white, black, bright yellow, and rusty-red

This multicolored cutey was a fleeting guest–I hope his kind returns one day.

 

The last warblers who vacated my garden was a pair of Common Yellowthroat WarblersGeothlypis trichas.   Cornell Lab of Ornithology (see previous link) describes their insect-hunting vocalizations as  “witchety-witchety-witchety” and that’s exactly how I found them as the female worked the garden for some protein, witchety-whichetying all the while.

 

Here, she contemplates a dip in the pond.

 

The male, jaunty mask in place, enjoyed the pond, but I’m sure snatched his share of insects, too.

It’s been just over a week since I last spied these two;  I hope they’re flying north to do their duty and raise a family.  Moreover, I hope that they–with their offspring– pop back for a visit in September or October.

No male Painted BuntingPasserina ciris, ever landed with his signature splash of color, but several females enjoyed my pond.

They’re always  welcome in my garden–as are most wild critters.  Come back soon, feathered friends!

Migrating or otherwise, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for June 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!