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!

 

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.