Wildlife Wednesday: September 2015

Lately it seems that before I can turn around, another month has gone by. Does it appear that way to everyone else? I’ve always heard that the older you get, the faster time flies. I hate to see what it might be like in another ten years! Anyway, it’s the first Wednesday of the month once again and time for Wildlife Wednesday, hosted by Tina and her blog My Gardener Says. I’ve been a bit neglectful of my blog over the past month. There really hasn’t been that much out of the ordinary wildlife in my garden and the hot temperatures have kept me mostly inside except for early mornings. The one example of wildlife really worth celebrating this month has to be the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) that have been making their presence known. I hope you’ll excuse me if I go overboard!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Though I’ve had feeders out all summer, the Hummers have been busy ignoring them and keeping themselves busy feeding on the flowering plants, most notably Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) and Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus). The blooms on both of these have about gone to the wayside, finally inducing these little garden denizens to take a chance on the magic liquid contained in the feeders.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Have you ever just settled down in a chair in front of a window or on the porch and watched Hummingbirds go about their business? If you haven’t then you’re really missing out on a spellbinding experience. These little (immature) guys or gals have been zipping around our garden, chasing each other and visibly staking out their territories.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Once they find a prime feeding area they stick close by, usually within just a few feet or so of a feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

They invariably perch on the same little twig in order to keep an eye on their food source.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

If another of their kind happens by, a wonderful-to-watch chase scene ensues. If only I could have captured one such flight with my camera! I envy those who’ve been able to do so.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department conducts an annual survey of Hummingbirds called the Texas Hummingbird Roundup.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

For those of you living in Texas here’s a link to information about the Texas Hummingbird Roundup as well as a link to the Texas Hummingbird Roundup Backyard Survey.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

While I see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds throughout the day, they seem to be most active in the early morning  and late evening.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Look at the length of that bill!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

They’re such tiny birds, measuring from about 2.8 inches to to 3.5 inches in length and weighing just fractions of an ounce!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

For information on the Ruby-throated Hummingbird be sure to visit this page at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

So what other wildlife did I see in my garden this month? Here are a few other birds…

…a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) hopping around on some deck furniture. For being so small, these birds have a very loud voice. Carolina Wren pairs stay together for life!

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

…a White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) sunbathing. The colors of this bird’s feathers form quite a contrast. Many birds exhibit colors in flight, or in a posture such as this, that you don’t normally see when they’re just perching on a utility wire or hopping around on the ground. White-winged Doves are now seen as far north as Alaska!

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

…a European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in the transitional juvenile form. Starlings can learn the calls of up to twenty other species of birds!

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - Transitional Juvenile
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) – Transitional Juvenile

…a couple of juvenile Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). We didn’t seem to have many Mockingbirds this summer, yet young ones are beginning to prance around the yard in numbers. These two have been keeping fast company — perhaps they’re siblings? — and still exhibit some speckling on their upper breast and throat areas. Mockingbirds feed on insects and fruit!

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

And here are a few bugs…

…an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) Dragonfly. I haven’t seen as many Dragonflies lately, but this one hung around long enough for me to take a few pictures.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

…and a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) Butterfly. These seem to come and go in small bunches. They visit for a while, disappear, then return.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

That’s my Wildlife Wednesday post for September 2015. Please check out Tina and her blog My Gardener Says for more Wildlife Wednesday posts!

 

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Wildlife Wednesday: August 2015

Wildlife Wednesday, hosted by Tina and her blog My Gardener Says on the first Wednesday of each month, really sneaked up on me this time around! The day was half over before I finally remembered what it was that I’d been trying to remember all morning to remember to do… Wildlife Wednesday offers us gardeners — and everyone else, too — a chance to celebrate the wildlife in our gardens through pictures and prose. A multitude of thanks goes out to Tina for hosting this wonderful meme each month!

Summer has finally arrived in North Texas. Prior to today we had hit 100°F only three times this year — a mark that is way, way, way below average. This week, unfortunately, things will be back to “normal”, with the forecast for the next seven days calling for high temperatures ranging from 102°F to 106°F (approximately 39°C to 41°C) and heat indexes of 105°F to 112°F (approximately 40°C to 44°C). Blech! Not only will I not be venturing outdoors much over the next week or so, especially in the afternoons, neither will any wildlife that has any sense at all! So I guess it’s a good thing I’ve got a few critters to share this month — before we all start hibernating.

My garden visitors during the past month have been mainly birds and bugs. During the early part of July we were fortunate to receive a few inches of rain. Birds take cover where they can during downpours — these three found a perch atop a downspout coming off the roof.

Birds On Downspout
Birds On Downspout

The bird below appears to be a Juvenile White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica).

Juvenile White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Juvenile White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

Here’s another White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica). He looks so pretty against the bright blue background of the sky.

White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, ooh, ooh
Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh baby, ooh said, ooh

“Edge of Seventeen” — Stevie Nicks

Bet you didn’t know the White-Winged Dove made it into a Stevie Nicks song! My Hubbie’s a fan. What else can I say? 🙂

Here’s a Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) in our neighbor’s Live Oak Tree (Quercus virginiana). As one of the tallest trees in the neighborhood it affords these Kites a “birds-eye view” of their surroundings.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensi)
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensi)

Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) are an extremely common sight around my yard — especially since I finally noticed them and found out what they are! Quite a few broods have been hatched and raised in the Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) in our front yard. Below is a parent and a juvenile. The belly area of the adult is a deeper yellow than that of the juvenile.

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

Western Kingbirds are flycatchers, which makes them insectivores. In the photo below one of the parents (at bottom) is feeding the young ones. You might be able to make out a yellow grasshopper leg hanging from its mouth.

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

My favorite birds of the past month were by far the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Even though I have several feeders available for them, I’ve only seen them feeding on flowers.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

This is either a female or an immature bird.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

She — or he — spent the large part of a recent afternoon zipping around a Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus).

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times per second. No wonder my camera setting couldn’t keep up!

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

These small birds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers. I guess that’s why they’ve been so fond of the Turk’s Cap and the neighbor’s Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans).

Now for the bugs…

Common Whitetail Skimmers (Plathemis lydia) have been very…well…common this summer! Here we have an adult male, an immature male and a female. The wing pattern of the female dragonfly is just the opposite of that of the male.

This appears to be a female or juvenile male Eastern Pondhawk. The male of this species of dragonfly gradually turns blue.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

I’m not sure what species of Dragonfly this one is…

Dragonfly
Dragonfly

Here are a couple Damselflies. Maybe one day I’ll have the time and make an effort to identify them.

I think this is an Halictid Bee (Augochloropsis metallica). These are also called Sweat Bees.

Halictid Bee) Augochloropsis metallica)
Halictid Bee (Augochloropsis metallica)

How about a Red Footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes)? Ewwwww!

Red Footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes)
Red Footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes)

And last but not least, I have an update on a recent post — Picture Perfect Monday: Nameless Beauty. This pretty little fly now has an identification. Its called a Feather-legged Fly (Trichopoda pennipes). Very apt, I would say!

Feather-legged Fly (Trichopoda pennipes)
Feather-legged Fly (Trichopoda pennipes)

That ends this month’s Wildlife Wednesday. I hope you enjoyed your visit and I’m glad you stopped by! For more wildlife head over to My Gardener Says. Thanks again to Tina for hosting this wonderful meme!

Twilight Zone Of Summer

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…..the twilight zone.” (Introduction to “The Twilight Zone” TV series)

…and that’s where my garden is right now — in the twilight zone of summer! It’s in a place “between light and shadow”, striving to survive the hottest and driest part of the year in North Texas, and it’ll remain that way at least through the end of August if not longer. It’s a time when most annuals have already withered away, perennials are struggling to survive and the greens of spring are rapidly disappearing.

Since my garden and I are currently in this zone, I decided to post a montage of some of the flowers that graced my landscape during the spring along with a few that are still blooming, albeit somewhat reluctantly! Just a bit of nostalgia…sigh.

Our strange gardening year continues, weather-wise. Oh! If we were only blessed with periodic rain showers instead of one and done storm events! The month of May brought us 17 inches of drought-busting rain in a seemingly continuous onslaught. June brought us 4.19 inches, slightly above the monthly average, but most of it fell during one week in the middle of the month. So far in July we’ve received 2.59 inches, a full inch over our monthly average, but again most of it fell during a brief period earlier this month. Even with this rain huge cracks mottle the ground, which is parched and concrete-hard though moisture lurks below.

Will we have a wet Autumn? Hopefully. I’ve read that the effects of El Niño will continue through this Winter and may actually last into early Spring of 2016. Of course, that prognostication could go by the wayside at the snap of a finger, but it’s cheering to the soul to think we might enjoy an above average abundance of rainfall and slightly colder cooler less hot weather well into next year.

What a difference four years makes. The 2011 calendar year (the first official year of our drought) saw 12.97 inches of rain and 100 days of temperatures reaching at least 100°F. This year, through July 18, we’ve received 31.89 inches of rain and have had 0 (zero, zip, zilch) 100°F days. Texas weather. What can I say?

Hummingbird Visiting Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Hummingbird Visiting Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

A pair of hummingbirds have been hanging around the neighbor’s Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans). They ignore my feeders but they love these blossoms. Can you blame them? I’m going to hazard a guess and say this is a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

Here’s a close-up.

Hummingbird Visiting Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Hummingbird Visiting Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

She doesn’t seem to mind the twilight zone my garden has disappeared into. I don’t really mind either, as I’ve become accustomed to it over the years. I just miss the daily enjoyment of getting out amongst the plants, digging in the dirt and watching nature take its course. But the dog days of summer won’t last forever — only 67 days until the first day of Autumn!

Wildlife Wednesday: July 2015

Today is the first Wednesday of the month — time for Wildlife Wednesday, a meme hosted by Tina and her blog My Gardener Says… as a way to celebrate the wildlife in our gardens. Following the wonderful yet prolonged rains of the previous month, June popped with every kind of wildlife imaginable! Here’s what was happening in my garden.

Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) were quite abundant this June. To be quite honest, I’d never heard of this bird prior to taking a couple photos of it and researching it at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

The Western Kingbird is in the Tyrant Flycatcher (Tyrannidae) family. They prey on insects. The one below swooped down and caught what looks to be a grasshopper in mid-air.

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

Western Kingbirds can be found throughout the western United States during the summer. Their winter migration takes them to Central America. In size they’re a bit smaller than an American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

It appears this Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) might still be a juvenile. His plumage doesn’t seem to have completely filled in and his crest certainly seems more black than blue!

Below is a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). His warm chestnut color isn’t obvious due to the cover of deep shade.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Here’s a White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) on her nest…

White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
White-Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

…and a nest full of American Robin (Turdus migratorius) youngsters!

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

From birds we’ll jump to bugs! Damselflies have been prolific this spring and early summer, more so than usual, due mostly to the damp and unseasonably cool weather. Below is a slideshow of the ones I was able to get photos of. I didn’t even attempt to identify any of them! If there’s a Damselfly expert out there — go for it!

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June 15-21 was National Pollinator Week. Though I’ve been unable to identify most of them, there’ve been lots of pollinators in my garden! I believe the one pictured below is a Leaf Cutting Bee (Megachilidae).

As for the rest of them, your guess is as good as mine. Here’s one on a Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)…

Pollinator
Pollinator

…on a Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)…

Pollinator
Pollinator

…on a Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)…

Pollinator
Pollinator

…and on a weedy wildflower.

Pollinator
Pollinator

I noticed the other day that we have toads in the garden. Toads are amphibians and are members of the Bufonidae family. As I was doing some weeding I kept hearing a shuffling underneath some flowers. Taking my life into my own hands…I stuck my hand through the foliage and pushed it aside. Actually, I figured it might be a baby bird. But it was a toad! He waddled off and hunkered down in a hollow in the cement frame beneath the fence. I continued weeding and he eventually reappeared, not looking quite as anxious. Perhaps he was gobbling up all those mosquitoes that were trying to gobble me up. I hope so!

Toad
Toad

Another visitor has been this gecko.

Gecko
Gecko

He’s most probably a Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus).

Gecko
Gecko

And lastly…we have a turtle. This tough guy looks likes he’s been through a ringer!

Turtle
Turtle

We had a turtle in our back yard on-and-off for about 6 years, until just before the beginning of the drought five years ago. Could this be the same turtle? The fact that he wasn’t seen for a number of years doesn’t mean he wasn’t actually around. This one has been hiding in the leaves and mulch beneath the shrubs along our back fence — a nice, comparatively cool place. So, who knows? I wish turtles could talk.

Thanks for stopping by to take a peek at my Wildlife Wednesday post for this month. Be sure to stop by Tina’s blog at  My Gardener Says… to check out the wildlife that other folks have hosted in their gardens during June.

A Kite Up A Tree

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

Mississippi Kites are a common sight around our neighborhood. We’ll generally find a pair nesting in one of the tall trees in our front yard every year. The bird in these first three photographs landed at the highest point in a Live Oak Tree (Quercus virginiana) in our neighbor’s back yard and hunkered down to survey the territory.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

Things get very quiet when these birds are around. Smaller birds head for shelter as soon as the first warning of their appearance is sounded, usually by Blue Jays. The raucous cacophony of a swarm of jays is a great early alert system! But that doesn’t mean everybody runs and hides.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) and American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) and American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Mrs. Robin (above) didn’t take kindly to the idea of this guy hanging around and she let her feelings be known in no uncertain terms, haranguing him unmercifully. Not that Mr. Kite seemed to pay her any mind! He finally took off for greener pastures. Mrs. Robin was just a streak of color as she took off after him!

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

What is there to know about Mississippi Kites?

  • Mississippi Kites are raptors of the Accipitridae family and are related to a wide variety of hawks and eagles.
  • They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, making it unlawful to tamper with the birds, their eggs or their nests.
  • Mississippi Kites average about 12-14 inches in length with a wingspan of about 3 feet.
  • They feed mostly on large insects such as locusts and grasshoppers, catching them in flight. They may also eat small birds and small mammals such as mice.
  • Mississippi Kites are common in the central and southern United States, though they have been found as far northeast as New England.
  • Their winter migration takes them into South America.
  • They are more common in the southern Great Plains than in Mississippi!
  • Incubation of the eggs of the Mississippi Kite takes about 30 days and the young are fed by their parents for about 8 weeks.
  • Mississippi Kites make a distinct high-pitched “tweee-toooo” sound as they soar in circles looking for prey.

Below is a slideshow of a Mississippi Kite that was doing some acrobatics in a tree the other day. After a few minutes of jostling among the limbs he flew away with a twig in his mouth. I would hazard a guess that he’s making a nest somewhere close by and needed some building materials!

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