Spring Forward: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2017

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked each first Wednesday of the month with the purpose of learning about and celebrating the diverse fauna with whom we share our world and gardens.  Fanciful or plain feathered birds, pollinators and their insect brethren of all stripes and dots, fluffy mammals, and scaly reptiles and amphibians bring our gardens to life.   Wildlife is intrinsic to the healthy operation of our environment, in both the macro of the wider world and the micro of our own garden plots.

All winter long and on a variety of plants, I’ve seen representatives of this handsome bug:

Sipping the bloom juices of Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Succinctly, this guy or gal is a Largus Bug, Largus succcinctus, and he is a true bug belonging to the Suborder Heteroptera and Family Largidae, also known as Bordered Plant Bugs.  I haven’t fretted at their mating on the entry board of the bee hives (well, if the bees don’t mind, who am I to judge??) or muddling about on stems and leaves:  I’m a live and let live sort of gardener–to a point.  Considering that these buggy sorts have been a constant presence this winter, I wonder if I should have administered, or will need to consider administering, a method of control.  If it proves necessary, I’ll probably opt for the soapy water bottle technique which entails picking off bugs and dropping them into a frothy concoction. I’ve heard of gardeners who hand vacuum for undesirable critters, cruising their garden spaces and vacuuming where necessary.  But my neighbors already think I’m a gardening oddity, so I’m likely stick to patrolling with a bug-death bath in hand.

Swim little bugs, swim!  (in basso) Bwahahahaha!

Last autumn, I’d observed and photographed some small black beetles on Frostweed and Turk’s cap which I couldn’t  identify; I wrote about them in my November Wildlife Wednesday post.  I now know that those beetles are an instar (phases of insect molt) of the Bordered Plant bugs.  These bugs have been in my garden for months and at some point, I might need to make a decision about their future endeavors as they crawl along plants and give the bees a peep show.  In a University of California ‘Green Blog’ article about these bugs, the author suggests that they don’t cause much damage and I haven’t observed any real problems like munched, crunched, or otherwise damaged flowers or foliage, but I’ll keep a keen eye on them, just in case.

This lovely bird resting on a utility cable behind my back garden is a Monk parakeet, and a member of one of several introduced colonies here in Austin.

I often see 2 or 3 fly over my house in spring–flashes of bright green against the blue Texas sky–screeching their screeches, but rarely do they land in or around my garden. Though not native to this area, they apparently haven’t displaced native fauna and aren’t considered a problem.  In spring they choose mates and build their nests high on utility poles and tree tops.

Green (Carolina) anolesAnolis carolinensis, are back!

I know, he’s not green and in fact, he never left.  Sightings of these tree-dwelling lizards are scarce during winter, but since spring sprung a few weeks early in February, I’ve spotted several. This guy isn’t green because he’s lounging on a wooden fence; he’s also giving me quite the stink-eye.   He skedaddled shortly after I took his photo; I’m sure we’ll see one another again.

Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria,  were the first native bees I observed this spring.

They’re mating:

Coupling,

RICOH IMAGING

…conscious uncoupling.

…and building their nests for their blue bee babies.

Blue orchard bees are important pollinators for commercial fruit growers, but are easy to attract to the home garden: they like to build their nest in holes.  Providing wood with drilled holes or bamboo pieces with ready-made holes is an easy way to  encourage these beauties to nest in and pollinate your garden.

My Blue Orchard bees also build their nests in the mortar of the outside of my house.

Like most Osmia bees, Blue Orchards are solitary in that they don’t build a hive or live communally.  However, they are comfortable building their nests alongside one another in a kind of condo/apartment living arrangement, if you will. The females mix plant pollen and nectar with their own saliva and then deposit the mixture for the larval food source in the brood chamber, where one egg per chamber is laid.  The mom bee then seals each one-egg brood chamber with mud, which is a combination of plant material and soil. Each female will lay 5-8 eggs, prepare and then seal the nest, and then, sadly, she dies.  The offspring created this year will emerge next year, ready to start the mating, pollinating, nesting cycle again.

Go Blue Orchard bees–see you again next spring!

No fruit trees in my garden, but the Blue Orchard bees thoroughly worked the blooms of Mountain laurel.

 

Another early bee who’s out-and-about-and-pollinating is this green metallic sweat bee working the blooms of a Dewberry bloom.

Identifying native bees is tricky (for me, that is).  My best guess is that this is an Augochloropsis metallica which is found in Central Texas.  I’ll see more of these, as well as many other native bees, during our long growing season.

 

Furry friends are also active as the weather warms.  This Eastern fox squirrelSciurus niger, played hide-n-seek with me one weekend afternoon.

Now you see me!

Now you don’t!

Scamper!

After his flirtation (no doubt attempting to distract me with charming antics), he landed where he intended: under the sunflower filled-n-spilled bird feeder for his share of seedy nosh.

In search of seeds.

 

Male Great-tailed GracklesQuiscalus mexicanus,  are in machismo, mating mode now. I wrote about a rather scraggly fellow last fall who had lost his tail in the annual molting rite common to many birds.  It’s entirely possible that this gorgeous avian hunk is the same bird as the seasonally sad specimen formerly profiled:

He is oh, so pretty as he bathes,

He’s downright sparkly.

…and preens in the tree.

What a poser!

Courting and posturing is underway and grackle exhibition will provide chuckles for this gardener and chicks for grackle moms to rear.

I continue to enjoy the visits from winter Texans, like this Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I  presume that they’re also enjoying their visits to my garden.

He positioned himself for a splash in the pond bog.  Various song birds rely on the winter-damaged limbs for  perching and because of that, I haven’t removed all of the limbs yet.

I will need to prune this Yellow bells, Tacoma stans, soon, but I can hold off a bit longer allowing the birds some cover and a safe place to observe their world.

Spring.  It’s here and preparing for the season’s work.  Birds-n-bees are active, pollinators are pollinating, and gardens are awakening to new possibilities and promise.

Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Whether your garden remains in winter’s deep, or is experiencing spring flush, or perhaps if you’re Down Under, ready for autumn, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March 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!

Some Favorites: Wildlife Wednesday, February 2017

Today is the first Wednesday of February and time to appreciate wildlife in our gardens–happy Wildlife Wednesday to you all! In this fraught time, experiencing nature can be a balm for frayed nerves, as well as a respite for contemplating resistance to the specter of autocracy. To be a part of the natural world doesn’t require travel outside of your town or city if you make time to visit a municipal park or greenbelt, volunteer as a wildlife gardener at a school or religious institution garden, or set aside your own personal garden as a refuge for wildlife–and yourself.  None of these are difficult to achieve and the benefits are enormous: for you, your community, and the wildlife you share the world with.

Though the few blasts of winter’s chill has rendered my garden the muted beige and grey palette that is the Texas winter landscape, there are pops of color in the form of the resident native birds, like the Blue Jay,  Cyanocitta cristata,

…and  the Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis.

I’ve never successfully identified Blue Jays by gender–male and females look alike to me, though I assume they see differences among themselves. Cardinals however are easily distinguishable, the female Northern Cardinal softer in coloring than her stunning male counterpart.

Not quite as dazzling as her fella, she’s certainly pretty enough for this human to enjoy observing.

Typical of the drab girl-coloring common in the avian world, this female House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus, doesn’t share the splash of red that her partner enjoys.

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Though not as flushed and blushed as her mate, Ms. HF is pretty cute.  House Finches are numerous in my garden and chatty to boot.  In late spring and early summer,  their song is almost non-stop.

Another vocalist in my garden–and a species where the males and females are indistinguishable to me–is the Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.

These little guys and gals are real charmers.  Males sing beautifully, often, LOUD, and with a variety of song. The adults scold with a tchtch, tchtch, tchtch  when nestlings are threatened or feeding is interrupted and that is a frequent backdrop of my garden’s bird song symphony.

The White-winged DoveZenaida asiatica, wins the award for birds a-plenty.  These are birds that I rarely photograph because  my familiarity with them breeds a certain level of…yawning boredom.  White-winged Doves are everywhere, every day, all the time.  According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this species was originally a bird of desert thickets, feeding on the seeds of grasses and berries in trees.  Year-round residents in Texas, White-winged Doves are one species that most non-gardeners and non-birders recognize because they’re generously represented in cities and suburbs. While I’m not a huge fan, I tolerate them, even when they land along the edge of the bird baths–backwards with tail in, or over, the water–and immediately poop in it.  Yuck!

Typical for doves though, they have a rather sweet  appearance, as this one demonstrates while resting on a bed of fallen leaves during a chilly day.

White-wing Doves are known for their “blue eye-shadow.”

 

Butter Butts are back!  Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata,  are winter Texans and very welcome in my garden.

They hop along the ground, looking for seeds, but they also enjoy the suet I’ve placed in a couple of spots.

I think this one is voicing opposition to my taking this photo.

I think the two that I’m seeing regularly are females, but last year there was a male in the mix. These seasonal warblers will hang around until March or early April. I hope that I can identify individuals by the time they leave for their summer breeding grounds much farther north in Canada and the northern states of the U.S.

 

My newest favorite bird species and one I think has visited my garden before, though I’ve only definitively identified it this year is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula.  A rapid-fire flyer, itty-bitty, and oh-so-darling, these song birds are fond of insects and suet. They flick their tails as they flit from branch to branch and are stationary only for very brief periods of time.  I’ve seen both a male and female in my garden and though they look similar, there is one striking difference.  Okay, probably more than one, but one that I can readily see.

This Ruby-crowned is diving into the suet.

The two in my garden take turns snitching suet from the feeder.

After feeding comes a bath in the bog area of the pond.

The male is identifiable because of the startling red feathers on top of his head that he fluffs up when he’s issuing a warning or flirting with a girl. In this photo, it’s a barely visible suggestion of a red stripe.

Along with flirting and blustering, bathing is included in the list of what elicits the ruby-crowned flash,

…and after-bath fluffing revs up the red feather action, too.

The ruby crown looks like he’s sporting a little campfire on his head.

It’s remarkable just how RED that crown is when it’s up and flashing.  When it appears, it’s truly a ruby jewel in the garden;  when the sun spotlights the ruby crown, it positively glows.

Those aren’t great photos and I’m working for better during his winter stay. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are so fast that competent captures of these little birds has been a challenge.

Another winter warbler who visits daily is (at least) one Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata.  He/she/they (there might be more than two) are shy and are often chased around the garden by the larger Yellow-crowned Warblers.  I’m not sure why, but I observed that behavior of Yellow-rumps toward Orange-crowneds last winter too.

Birds are bullies sometimes, just like people are bullies sometimes.

Orange-crowned Warblers sing a sweet cheep cheep and that’s usually how I find them in the oak trees. They favor flitting through the shrubbery, snipping off insects and are more reticent at the feeders than either the Butter Butts or the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Such a sweet face!

 

Toward the end of the month, the Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum,  appeared in their usual flocks of many.   This beauty is an anomaly as he sits quietly and alone, proudly perched in the Red Oak.

There should be ample opportunity to see and hear these beautiful birds before they leave in late spring for their summer breeding grounds.

I hope your garden is full of wildlife and that you observe, learn, and appreciate their place in the world. Let your garden be a place of renewal and strength.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for February 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!