Sometimes They Land in Trees: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2018

Happy 2018 and welcome  to the first Wildlife Wednesday celebration of this new year.  Winter arrived in Austin in the last several days with an ice-numbing grip of below freezing temperatures.

I heard that snort and saw those eyes a’rolling!  I understand that compared to much of continental North America, my goose-bump inspired whining won’t win much sympathy, but darn it, it’s cold!  Truthfully, I’m just fine-n-dandy with the hard freeze, in great hopes that every mosquito in Texas is dead, dead, dead (not likely, though).  Also, with the frigid temps, my autumnally hued and interminably foliaged trees have finally let loose their leaves.

In the last couple of days, Red oak leaves blanketed the entirety of my back garden.

Maybe now I’ll be better able to observe the variety of birds who visit my garden, as the winter avian Texans (especially the tiny ones) prefer to flit among the bare limbs, in search of whatever they search for.  With the leaves as camouflage, that’s been hard to do.

This shot was taken on Sunday, just before the temperatures plummeted and the tree dumped most (but not all!) its leaves.

That said, for most of this past month, critter watching has mostly involved the birds at the feeders, with the random pitter-patting of maddening mammals and the skulking about of bothersome marsupials.

I’m tickled at the early appearance of two examples of the stunning American GoldfinchSpinus tristis.  American Goldfinches usually show up later in winter, so it’s a treat to see them now.

This handsome fella is wearing his non-breeding colors.

Do you need something?

Pretty boy!

In addition to that obvious and gorgeous adult male, is this female or juvenile male.

The coloring–both dark and light–are muted in this bird.

Wonderful wing bars!

Sweet face!

American Goldfinches belong to the same Family and Order as the House Finch, and House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which I wrote about here, also affects American Goldfinch populations.  Fortunately, the two Americans who noshed at my feeder appeared free of the disease, the good news of which I reported on Project FeederWatch.  I still see a female House Finch with one infected eye which is completely closed due to the infection.  She feeds by searching for seeds on the ground, but she struggles to land when she flies and is vulnerable to predators with only one good eye.  All other House Finches who are in my garden–and there are quite a few– appear healthy.   The House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, is a year-round resident, becoming more active as winter settles in.  Most bird feeders are designed with multiple perching stations, and birds share the stations with varying degrees of camaraderie.  Here, the House Finch clan dominates, with a red-accented male perching at the left and the more drab females completing the feeder trio.

Hey birds, over here!

Another duo feeding a the food bar is a second male House Finch sharing a meal with a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus.

I’m not sure if the Black-crested is a male or female, but I’m confident that the House Finch is a young male.

The House Finch  poses nicely, the Black-crested snarfs seeds.

A Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis,  couple nests each year in a neighbor’s shrubbery,  but make daily forays into my garden to feed and bathe.    No photo this month of the scarlet feathered male, but the female is a head-turner in her own right!

A common Texas wintering songbird is the Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and I’m fortunate to have at least one who is regularly visiting.

Song birds love suet and it’s a good thing to feed them in winter.  I can’t provide suet for 7 or 8 months because Austin’s warm climate causes the suet to turn rancid quickly.  It’s a perfect winter/early spring food though and provides fat, which birds need.

This little Orange-crowned also enjoys the occaisional bath in the pond bog.

About to take the plunge!

I provide a commercial suet for my avian friends, but there are many recipes for homemade suet.  Check out these recipes if you’re so inclined

Facing the camera!

The pair of  Carolina WrensThryothorus ludovicianus, also visit more than just the feeders.   A favorite perch is a metal sculpture where each of the pair takes turns surveying the landscape.

Check out my profile!

The 360 degree view requires a look-see at the backside!

This favorite perching place is just below a little house built for the wrens, which they’ve inspected, but haven’t yet used for chick rearing.  Fingers-crossed that this spring, they’ll decide the neighborhood is worthy of their chicks.

Wrens forage on the ground, scavenging for insects and small seeds; they also enjoy the suet.

Eyeing something in the fallen leaves!

 

Finally, a bird who lands in a tree!  

Giving me the stink-eye is this immature Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii. He/she had scattered the neighborhood doves, with no meal as a reward, and was resting in a neighbor’s tree, no doubt annoyed with missing lunch.  The beauty loped off just after this shot.  Cooper’s Hawks are year-round residents here, but easier to observe once winter’s  chill render some trees bare.

There are always plenty of squirrels (stealing birdseed and digging in plant containers) who become meals for neighborhood raptors, though perhaps not as often as some might wish.  This squirrel was safe on the ground and near the house, munching away at fallen sunflower seeds and generally behaving well.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

The Virginia OpossumDidelphis virginiana, is still around too, sometimes mosying through the garden during daylight, but not sleeping in the owl house–for now.

There are no Eastern Screech Owls in the owl house either, nor have I heard the adults’ signature trill at night.  I’m concerned that no couple is interested in the owl real estate in my garden and if there are no takers, that will be disappointing.  There’s still time for some owl action and owls are remarkably elusive; I won’t begin the no-owls-in-my-garden lamentation just yet.

So begins another year of garden wildlife drama.  Let’s celebrate lots of life in the garden during 2018. Please share your wildlife stories and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

Bees, Birds, Butterflies: Wildlife Wednesday, November

Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate the critters who live in our gardens, adding beauty and life while sustaining pollination and seed distribution.  Birds, bees, and butterflies are always welcome visitors, but others contribute their threads to the wildlife fabric of the garden. October is typically a glorious month  in Austin, Texas and this past month was exemplary in things weather and garden related.

Masses of fall blooming perennials have spurred pollinator activity.  Native bees, active most of the growing season, have been all over obliging blooms. This Green Sweat BeeHalictidae, and its metallic buddies have reveled in the Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, flowers.

Looks like someone munched the petals before Ms. Bee arrived, but ragged, clearly nibbled-on petals don’t slam the brakes on pollen and nectar gathering.

Caught in flight!

Proboscis deep in bloom.

 

Small Striped Sweat BeesHalictidae, also favor the goldeneye blooms.

No photos as evidence, but I’m observing these yellow and brown ladies busily filling nest holes in a bee hotel affixed on my back patio.

 

Horsefly-like Carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis, always abundant in my garden, are slowing down as the light is changing and temperatures are cooling, but they’re still  buzzing the blooms and drilling wood for nests.

This bee rocks a pollen-filled coribula.  One wonders how they fly, so loaded with pollen.

 

Honeybees never miss pollinating action and are in full honeyflow mode.  The back garden is awash with the fragrance of honey.

This girl is enjoying the bounty of Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora).

 

Birds are always a thing in the garden and recently I’ve glimpsed an Eastern Screech Owl and heard its territorial trills; the owls are year-round residents in the neighborhood, though elusive during summer months.  Also, the local hawks are more active, swooping through the trees and scattering birds at will.  In addition to the year-round residents,  winter avian Texans–“snowbirds”–are arriving to shake things up a bit.  This past weekend I spotted a pair of Ruby Crowned Kinglets and  an Orange Crowned Warbler.  Last year, those two kinds of birds, as well as others, spent late autumn, winter, and early spring in my garden.

One of the regulars, this Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, wrangled with an oak acorn for several minutes.  I thought he might consume the whole thing while perched on the fence, but he eventually placed the pecked remains of the acorn in his beak and took off for a more private place to finish his meal.

 

The Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, wears a striking red-head, but it’s the blush on the belly for which this cheeky bird is named.  That bit of blush is just barely visible in this shot.  I usually hear, rather than see these birds, but they are common where I live and they will visit the garden, especially once the suet is out for the taking.  In my neighborhood, there are several nesting pairs.

For the record, there is a Red-headed Woodpecker, also a year-round resident, who has a very red-head, which you can see here.  I’ve never seen this species in my garden.

As goldeneye blooms fade, seeds develop and the finches move in for the munching.  This male Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria,  snacks on seeds amid the blooms, spent blooms, and foliage.  His mate was there as well, but harder to see and photograph.  These little birds are around year-round visitors, but only appear depending upon on what seeds are available in the garden.  Lesser Goldfinches and American Goldfinches prefer the seeds of native plants.

Carolina wrensThryothorus ludovicianus, serenade the neighborhood regularly; this one stationed himself on a neighbor’s rooftop early one morning.

 

Butterflies and moths also decorate the October garden.   Most seasons there are plenty of  Giant Swallowtail butterflies, Papilio cresphontes, but this year they haven’t been as numerous.  I watched this one nectaring at Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii.  The top-most bloom is visible behind the head of the butterfly; proboscis is unseen, no doubt engaged. 

 

I’ve often seen this little winged-thing, especially in late summer/early autumn, but finally identified it as  a Spotted Beet Webworm MothHymenia perspectalis.  The other flower it prefers is the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum. 

 

This petite Reakirt’s Blue (Hemiargus isola), is another pollinator savoring the nectar of the Plateau goldeneye.

The underwings are neutral in color–females darker, so I think this is a male. The upperwing is where the blue is visible. Alas, this one wouldn’t open long enough for me to catch its lovely shading.

Sharing a bloom with a honeybee!

 

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies,  Battus philenor, are daily visitors.  I don’t grow the host plant, pipevine, but I know that several neighbors have the plant in their gardens.  Thanks neighbors!

Nectaring from a Frostweed (Verbesina virginica).

 

Like the Reakirt’s Blue, this Long-Tailed SkipperUrbanus proteus, showcases a beautiful blue coloring on its upper wings.  This one wouldn’t model that for me though, preferring to feed–wings up–on the Shrubby blue sage blooms.  A common, large skipper living in a wide geographic range, I usually observe them only in the autumn months.

 

Monarchs!  The magnificent, migrating Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus,  graced my garden as they made their way to Mexico for winter.

A female on a Turkscap.

It’s apparently been a good year for these beleaguered insects–thank goodness!  I’ve read that because of unusually warm temperatures in Canada and the north central parts of the U.S during early to mid October, that a bonus hatching of adults occurred–an “extra” generation of Monarchs.  That’s an odd thing and while Monarch enthusiasts are happy about those “extras,” it remains doubtful that they can migrate south quickly enough to escape the cold temperatures which have finally arrived, and make it safely to Mexico before the mountain wintering site becomes too cold.  Additionally, those concerned with the abnormally warm northern temperatures recognize the long-term negative affects of climate change and how it is impacting this species of butterfly.

I’m still seeing a few Monarchs, but I think the mass of them are already south of Central Texas.

Another female on a Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii).

 

The charming Gray HairstreakStrymon melinus, flutters through my garden all summer.  Usually, I see this,

Resting on the leaf of Shrubby blue sage after much sipping and flitting.

…wings up (well, down in the above photo!), with only the undersides visible.  While that’s certainly fun and I never complain at seeing a butterfly in action, it’s nice when they spread their wings out–just long enough for a shot:

This one relishes the flowers of Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).

 

Rarely has a day passed when a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, hasn’t been in attendance.  Preferring flowers in the Asteraceae family, I can only guess that this one is in its happy place while nectaring on a Frostweed.

 

The Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, isn’t quite the butterfly magnet that its cousins, Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii or White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis, are, but this Horace DuskywingErynnis horatius, isn’t complaining about  what the lovely blue blooms offer.

 

It wasn’t just the three B’s (bees, birds, butterflies) in my garden that were interesting; there were plenty of other contributing critters to appreciate.  A Carolina MantisStagmomantis carolina,  hung out on the screen of a bedroom windows one weekend afternoon.  Fascinating predators, they hunt and eat a variety of insects and have been known to catch hummingbirds!

That afternoon, this mantis missed some easy hunting, as she was on the window not facing the honeybee hives we checked, causing the bees to stir up a bit. Had she been on the other window, our lost bees would be her gained meal.  No matter, as the size of this mantis suggests she’s had plenty to eat–honeybees, and all sorts of other insects.

 

Green anole lizardAnolis carolinensis, gives me the stink-eye while deciding whether he wants to be green or brown.  I’ve seen lots of babies recently, but this one was larger than a baby, though not fully grown.

 

Ready for Halloween, this Milkweed assassin bugZelus longipes, dresses the part!

An insect predator of aphids, houseflies and others smaller than itself, the assassin bug also enjoys a drink of nectar from Frostweed.

 

Yet another seasonal icon, I observed this large spider hanging outside my kitchen window over the course of a couple of days.  I never got a good look at her–she skittered away whenever I approached, but I saw she bundled a few honeybees in her snare.

I’ll just call her Biggus spiderus–and leave it at that!

 

I’ve seen several examples of this insect from time-to-time.

It may be a Broad-headed Bug, but this nymph looks like it should be called a Broad-butted Bug!

I always assumed it was some sort of ant, but couldn’t find anything in my go-to resources that matched.  I finally uploaded this photo and description of the mystery insect to the fine folks at BugGude.net.  A nice bug person responded with an identification of a nymph Broad-headed Bug, Family Alydidae, the adults of which I’ve seen aplenty in my garden.  When I looked at the photos, the Broad-headed bugs looked like types of Leaf-footed bugs, Family Coreidae, which, as it happens, they were once classified with.   Broad-headed bugs are now classified in their own group.

 

One last mystery comes in the form of this handsome fella that I watched working Frostweed blooms.  It looks like a fly, but my search for an identification proved fruitless.  I uploaded this photo to BugGuide, but I haven’t received an identification yet, so this one is unknown and unnamed for now.  Any ideas out there?

This insect crawled from bloom to bloom.  It certainly possesses a fine set of wings, though.

Celebrating lots of life in the garden for Wildlife Wednesday, I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and reaping autumn bounty. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.

Good wildlife gardening to you!

 

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!