Spring Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2018

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung and we’re savoring the warming, blooming results.  For those in the southern part of our little Earth, the growing season is winding down.  But for all who pay attention, wildlife is around:  living, breeding, hatching, or, fledging and becoming independent, and preparing for winter.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrated on the first Wednesday of each month.  We gardeners love our blooms-n-foliage, but it’s the critters who need and rely on the blooms-n-foliage that  bring life to the garden. Viva wildlife!

At the end of February, I spotted the first of the Blue orchard beesOsmia lignaria, who’d burst out from their bee nurseries after pupating for a full year.  These deep blue, metallic bees were raring to go: ready to pollinate, mate and create new incubators for their bee babies.

Empty pupa shell. It housed the Blue Orchard bee for a full year.

Love among the blue bees!

As I write, the few adults left are adding their final touches on the eggs’ nests.  Their incubating progeny is tucked-in and safe for the coming year.

Caught in the act! One of the last adult Blue Orchards packing her nest.

There were so many bees looking for nurseries this year, that I scavenged more blocks of drilled wood and some extra cut bamboo to fill the housing needs.

No vacancy!

There are empty holes in this hotel, but we need to make more bee nurseries for the later season, different  bees.

I’ve placed an order with Bee Daddy for more holey wood and cut bamboo for next years’ bee babies.  So long Blue orchard bees–and thanks for your work in my garden.

 

Winter avian residents are eating, drinking, bathing, and squabbling in the garden.  That said, spring migration is imminent and I’ll soon say a bittersweet farewell to the feathered winter Texans that who share my garden.  The Ruby-crowned kingletRegulus calendula, was a shyer fella than either of last years’ pair, but I managed glimpses of his cuteness.

I saw more American goldfinchesSpinus tristis, than I usually do in winter, though only captured a few shots of these yellow, black, and white beauties.

A handsome male in his not-quite-breeding plumage.

I usually see greater numbers of Lesser goldfinchesSpinus psaltria, throughout the year, but this winter, they’ve been scarce.  Still, there were a few.

It’s a date!

Interestingly, my sister-in-law, who lives in west Austin (we’re in central Austin), experienced just the opposite:  plenty of Lessers, few Americans.  Wildlife have their preferred hangouts–much like people–critters appear in greater or fewer numbers, depending upon what’s available in food sources and cover–and whatever unknown quality they’re looking for at a particular time.

 

A favorite bird showed up this past month!  Cedar waxwingBombycilla cedrorum,  flock together on the wing and in the trees.  These gregarious birds typically perch too high (and invariably, it’s too windy) to capture good shots, but I lucked out a few times.

You can see the red “wax” on the tip of the wing of the upper bird. It’s not clear what this bit of bright red is for, but may be related to attracting a mate.

Rakish mask, bright yellow flare at the tip of the tale, and a splash of red–who wouldn’t find these birds attractive?

It’s rare to find them alone; they enjoy one another’s company and sometimes, the company of others.

Cedar waxwing chatting up a female House Finch.  I love the look on the finch’s face.  Whahh???

I’m still hearing them as the flock from tree top to tree top.  They’ll be around for a while, but they breed far north of here and they’ll migrate soon enough.

She’s gorgeous–and knows it!

 

This is the third year that at least one Lincoln’s  Sparrow,  Melospiza lincolnii,  has visited in late winter/early spring.

The coloring is subtle, but lovely.

A view from behind; it’s a beautiful pattern in those feathers.

An elegant looking little bird, Lincoln’s Sparrows hop jauntily through the garden in search of seeds and flutter and flap in the bog of the pond.  There have been at least three of them at various times, though I certainly can’t tell one from another.

Named for a traveling companion of John James Audubon (yes, THAT Audubon), Mr. Thomas Lincoln, these charmers are in my garden briefly before they migrate.   I sure enjoy watching them hippity-hop for seeds and preen-n-shake after baths.

 

Another winter Texan whose appearance I anticipate is that of the Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata.  Butter-butts (as Yellow-rumps are affectionately known) have been no-shows in my garden until recently; only in the last couple of weeks did one (actually, three) appear.  I’m happy to welcome them–better late than never!

Not a great photo, but you can see his yellow rump and isn’t that what it’s all about??

Look how cute I am!!

 

I’ve put the commercial suet away, as it’s too warm now, but the one Orange-crowned warbler, Oreothlypis celata, who enjoys the suet, still shows up to bathe.

The streaking on the breast is pretty. I wish I could capture the orange crown. Maybe next year…

He’ll be leaving soon too. Sniff.

As for the year-rounders, they’re always welcome.   A rare set of photos of the female Red-bellied woodpecker,  Melanerpes carolinus, shows her beauty.

The male’s head is completely red;  it has no gap in the color,  like this female.

Red-bellies are shy birds;  I see the male daily; the female is a rarer visitor, but both love  suet.  Since removing the suet, they partake of the black-oiled sunflower seeds.  I don’ t know where they nest, but hope to see their offspring later in the year.

 

Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata, are always photogenic–and chatty.

Are you talking about me?

‘Nuff said!

This winter was different from the last few winters: fewer Starlings (yay!), but also, fewer Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers (boo!).   There were more American goldfinches and fewer of the Lessers.  Hawks wouldn’t stay out of the garden, but the Eastern Screech owls, who’ve been nightly companions for years, have vacated the neighborhood.  Things are changing and as migration season kicks in, I hope to observe unusual birds as the come to rest, feed, and bathe on the path to their breeding grounds.

 

Finally, a non-bird.

Yup, these cuties are back and rumbling around!  The unofficial mascot of Wildlife Wednesday–Green AnoleAnolis carolinensis, hasn’t lost his wariness of this gardener.  He has nothing to fear from me, I adore these charmers.

As an aside, I was asked by the nice folks at Gardening Know How to write as a guest blogger and wrote about our beekeeping adventures.  You can find a link to the articl here.    Thank to Gardening Know How for the opportunity to spread the word about bees–some of my favorite critters!

Whether you’re gearing up for growing, or settling down for resting, what critters kept you company this past month?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening–and viva wildlife!

 

Awakenings: Wildlife Wednesday, March

Wild things are throwing off the covers of winter and so are their garden partners!  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrating all things wild in our gardens. Here in Austin, Texas, it’s not meteorolgically  spring, but it’s also definitely no longer winter.  Sure, it’s likely there will more cold days, but spring is busting out everywhere and wildlife are gearing up with life-affirming activity.

Birds–residents and winter visitors–have taken front stage in wildlife action for the last couple of months and they still are the leading characters of the garden.  There are other garden-dwellers who are angling to slough-off their winter wears and gear-up for a new life and the promise of a mate (or mates!) and family.

Bees are back!  The honeybees have been around all winter, though on the coldest days, they remained well-tucked in their cozy hives to keep warm.  But the season is nigh for the emergence of the native bees and first in line are the Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria.   The highlighted link takes you to my March 2017 Wildlife Wednesday post, where I wrote about these stunning bees as they emerged at exactly the same time last year.

Two adult bees emerging after a year of development in the holes of an insect hotel.

The Blue Orchid adult bees live for about a month and during that time, they mate, and then gather pollen, leaf material, and mud for their offsprings’ incubation chambers.

I found this Blue Orchard bee chewing away at the leaf of my Old Gay Hill rose. It’s the leaf material that they gather which gives the packed holes a green tint.

Females lay their eggs in the holes of wood,

This female is regurgitating her gathered material, so she’s head-first in the baby-bee incubation chamber. Check out the packed green tinged hole; is that green from my rose-leaf??

…or masonry,

…and then pack the holes to protect the developing bees for the next year.

A just-emerged adult Blue Orchard bee. You can see the holes that the adults emerge from in the packed nesting material created last February/March.

It takes a full year for these blue beauties to “cook till done” but it’s time well-spent.  Currently, every time I walk by either of my two insect hotels, there is a flurry of shiny blue activity as the buzzers have mated and are bringing in material to secure their babies’ future.

With as long a screw that I could find in our garage, I cleaned out those drilled holes where it was obvious that a bee had emerged, so that it’s available for the next generation. I couldn’t quite reach the end of the drilled holes in some nesting spaces, but cleared many spots.  I also added a few more cut bamboo pieces and drilled wood blocks to the boxes.

I like blue bees in the garden and will happily welcome more next year!

 

Squirrels are ever-active and always cute.  And annoying.

Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)

 

Winter and spring are the best times to see woodpeckers in my garden and this year, they haven’t disappointed.  I hear and see Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Melanerpes carolinus,  nearly daily.  A male and female are regular visitors (mates?), enjoying the commercial suet I provide in the cool seasons.

A handsome male.

This male sat for quite a time in my Red oak tree, enjoying the rest.  Maybe his tummy was full.

At another time, he (or a buddy) worked the bark of a neighbor’s tree.  Check out the holes to his left!

I don’t see the female as often, but snatched a quick shot of her one day as she nibbled at the suet.

Suet is a bit gross (all that fat!), but birds need fat during winter and so I oblige. Personally, I’d choose cheesecake.  Or ice cream.  Ahem.

I only provide suet in winter and spring; once it’s hot, the suet spoils quickly.  During the warm months, I’ve tried a recipe of non-animal fat suet (peanut butter with seeds and cornmeal), but there were no takers.

 

A few mornings each week, I take a handful of peanuts out for the Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata.  They love their peanut treats!

Sometimes they line up along the fence line like planes on a runway, awaiting departure.  Each bird waits its turn for a peanut-grab and take-off.

 

A pretty-boy House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus.

Perched at a bird bath.

The males are in full-mating color form, accompanied by lots of singing!

 

White-winged Doves are common here in Austin, but in my garden I rarely see Inca Doves or specimens of like this pretty Mourning DoveZenaida macroura.

The bird’s blue eyeliner echos the blue of the bowl it waddled past.

Its been hanging around for a week or so, nibbling seeds and resting in the sun, and walking that weird walk that doves are known for.

 

Another common bird, replete in his stunning spring plumage, is the Great-tailed GrackleQuiscalus mexicanus.

This photo doesn’t catch the luminous colors that his feathers display when the sun shines.  Instead, on this cloudy morning, the feathers showcase the velvety black that complements his striking eyes.

 

Not my favorite bird and an invasive pest,  I rather admire the plumage and coloring of the European StarlingSturnus vulgaris.

Starlings show up in late February and are bullies at the suet feeder.  I  usually stash away the suet when I see them congregating and chasing off the local songbirds, because a group of Starlings can finish a suet block in an hour, if allowed the opportunity.  I have noticed that they only appear in the mornings, so I hang out the suet in the afternoons once they’re gone.  This year, there haven’t been as many Starlings, for which I’m grateful.  They are joyous bathers and make great use of my birdbaths and the bog area of the pond.

The seasons are changing:  winter to spring and summer to autumn.

Who’s visiting your garden in this time of change?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening!

BIG B, little b, What Begins with B?: Wildlife Wednesday, February

BIG B, little b, what begins with B?   

In my case, it’s not Barber baby bubbles and a bumblebee, but BIRDS, Birds, birds! With apologies to the Dr. Seuss children’s book which whimsically teaches the ABCs in classic Seussian-style, this month in my garden has seen a variety of both upper case (BIG) and lower case (little) birds.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly huzzah for wildlife and also for those who garden to protect and support that wildlife.

I’ve never witnessed as many up close and personal daytime raptor encounters in my own garden as has been the case for the past couple of months.  During late autumn, winter, and spring, I regularly see raptors swooping through the neighborhood, scattering terrified birds, as well as soaring through the Austin sky as I make my way around town.  But this past month, several have hunted directly in my back garden, with exciting, sometimes troubling, results.

A gorgeous Cooper’s HawkAccipiter cooperii, flew into a sliding-glass door which serves as the door to my back garden.  I happened to be out in the garden and it must have flown passed me on its way to the crash.  I heard the thump against the glass door and whipped around, assuming that it was a Whitewinged dove, as those are the birds that typically hit the windows.  I was shocked to see the hawk on the back patio floor, a bit unsteady on his talons.  He fluttered to a bench adjacent to the door, and then flew to a back trellis.

I thought the hawk might be a juvenile, but the deep orange eyes suggest an adult.

With one more addled act, he landed on a pathway about 10 feet in front of me.  After minute of giving me the stink eye and allowing me the time to grab some photos,

…this beauty flew to a neighbor’s tree and then was off again, flying well.

A few days later, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk in my Red oak tree; I assume it’s the same hawk, as it hangs around my house, clearly looking for bird meals.

The hawk’s eyes are focused on what I realized was a dove, its targeted meal.

A split second after this shot, the bird belted toward the back of the garden and with a rustle of leaves and kerfuffle of activity, a Whitewinged dove sprinted into the air and across the neighbor’s back garden with the hawk in fast pursuit.  I lost sight of the two of them as they winged through trees in the ancient predator-prey dance, so I don’t know how the chase ended.

I’ve noticed a few more bird strikes on my windows since I had Pella windows installed about two years ago.   While I love the windows, I’m sorry that it’s created a problem for the birds. The vast majority of hits are of Whitewinged doves, and only one proved immediately fatal, but I can’t help wonder how many hit when I’m not home?  And, do any die later, from internal injuries?  I‘ve placed “bird alert” window decals on many of my windows, though I’d never placed any on the sliding-glass door that the hawk hit;  I’ve remedied that.  (My back patio is covered and I mistakenly assumed a bird wouldn’t fly fast into such obviously human territory.) The reviews of these decals are mixed, but they apparently have some positive effect on the birds’ view of things.  A quick look at one of my back windows gives you an idea of what the birds see.

This window images part of my back garden and the back neighbor’s roof. You can also see the stickers, placed  closely together.

As far as I’m aware, no bird has hit this particular window, but you can see why one might.

At about this time last year, I witnessed another Cooper’s Hawk chasing birds in my garden.  It flew from the house to a Mountain Laurel tree (mid-garden), and then immediately whooshed back to the house, straight toward a bedroom window.  The bird banked hard to its left about three feet from the window and flew off.  I’d placed some decals on that particular window and have often wondered if the bird saw the decals and realized that it wasn’t open space.

I’m now lowering the blinds in my windows, especially when I’m not at home, as bird researchers think that the slats help the birds to see that the window, even if reflective, isn’t open space.  Another recommendation is that if you have a window with an opposite window in the same line of sight (where you can see all the way through the house) which might give birds the illusion of open space, close or lower blinds on the second window.  It will diminish the look of greenery, trees and sky that birds think they see.  For more information about how to reduce  bird strikes, check out this article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Along with the active Cooper’s Hawk, there are two Red-tailed HawksButeo jamaicensis, at least one of which  I’ve seen a couple of times diving through my garden in search of  bird à la feathers.   As well, a Great Horned OwlBubo virginianus, prowls at night; I’ve heard and seen it several times.  I can’t tell if it’s a single, or one of a pair, but it’s big.  Really big.  While the predator birds have been unusually active this winter,  I haven’t seen or hear any evidence of Eastern Screech Owl,  Megascops asio, activity.  We’ve welcomed mated pairs for the past 8 years, enjoying their parenthood antics and darling offspring.  Last year, we missed hosting a pair because of an oppossum in the owl box.  This year, the owl house is clean, empty and ready for the little owls, but they’re a no-show.   It might be fear of the hawks or the Great Horned Owl, but it’s unusual–and concerning–for there to be no Screech owl activity this time of year.  I am also concerned about neighbors who place rat bait stations around their property.  Do the bait traps contain rodenticide, or substances that repel, rather than kill rodent?  Poisoned rodents lead to poisoned raptors. 

As for the little birds, there are plenty and they are quick.  I briefly witnessed this Blue-headed Vireo, Vireo solitarius, bathing in the bog and fluffing feathers in the winterized Yellow bells, Tacoma stans.  

I’ve seen this species of bird before during spring migration and I wondered if this one was misplaced.  In fact  All About Birds shows that Central Texas is on the cusp of the vireo’s winter habitat. He made one brief visit,  but he’s welcome anytime.

While on a walk in my neighborhood, I snagged a shot of a quick-moving female (?) Downy WoodpeckerPicoides pubescens.  Darling little wood lovers, I’ve limited success with decent shots of these rapid-fire tree huggers; these are the best I’ve managed.

Up in a tree a few streets away from my house.

Nibbling at the suet feeder in my garden.

Downy woodpeckers sing a charming chirp and are common in my neighborhood, but apparently, shy with bird paparazzi.

As for poor quality bird photos, I’m posting these of a Ruby-crowned KingletRegulus calendula.   My current camera, coupled with a bordering-on-a-character flaw lack of patience, removes any expectation of achieving clear shots of this tiny dynamo, topped by a flaming red cap, so I’m  going for broke on photos of this bird and not fretting over the less than stellar quality!

Look at that red, albeit smeared, head!  Males like to flash their color when they’re defending territory, impressing ladies, or expressing annoyance.  This one likes to bathe in the bog, then fluffs-n-dries in the adjacent Yellow bells shrub.  When he’s fluffing and drying, he’s as still as he gets; otherwise, he’s constantly on the move for insects.

This shot of him in the bath is, well, at least clear!  I assume there’s no red crown because he’s relaxed and enjoying his bath.

I’ve seen two of these itty-bitty birds simultaneously, but usually there is only one in the garden or at the pond at any point in time.

 

Other little birds regularly visiting are finches.  Lots of finches.  One American GoldfinchSpinus tristis.  

He has the food bar all to himself.

Two American Goldfinches.

Share nicely!

Two Americans, plus a House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus.

This food bar is becoming popular!

Three Americans, a House, and an upturned tail feather owner–probably another House Finch.

The sign of a successful eatery: long waits before seating!

I can’t help wondering what rhyming silliness Dr. Seuss would posit about these feeding finches.

The resident birds and winter visitors represent garden life in this dormant time of year, adding color, interest, and activity.  Who’s visiting your garden?  Please share your photos and stories of wild critters this past month.  Remember to leave a your link when you comment.

Happy wildlife gardening!