Conversations at the Water Cooler

I’ve come to realize that our backyard pond is one of our greatest assets. From the get-go, it’s been a wildlife attractor — the sound of the waterfall has called to toads, frogs, birds, dragonflies, and the like. But the raised pond, formerly someone’s discarded hot tub, also provides a type of wildlife protection that regular in-ground ponds don’t.


It is a pond with a view, allowing birds and other creatures to drink safely while avoiding ambush. Furthermore, the deeper water stays cool in the hot summer, and we have minimal evaporation (as well as minimal maintenance) all year long. Win-win!


Nashville Warblers

Granted, it’s migration season right now, but I’ve never seen so many birds in our yard all at one time. I’m saving hummingbird photos for the next post, because the warblers have me obsessed right now — not that I don’t love my little hummingbirds, but they got the attention last time!


Can you spot the Nashville Warbler in the Lindheimer’s Senna?

So far I’ve seen at least four warbler species, and at least a couple of vireos. The Nashville Warblers are the most numerous. They have an insect buffet in the Lindheimer’s Senna and nearby plants, and then they move over a few feet to have a (cool-water) hot-tub party.




Sometimes they invite friends.


Yellow warbler, maybe?



Wilson’s Warbler

How about a size comparison?


Seeing a warbler in the trees can be very misleading — they are much smaller than one might realize. Since most of us know cardinals, and because a cardinal and warbler both decided to pose for me in a moment of gracious cooperation, let’s compare. A Northern Cardinal is about 21-23 cm long and 42-48 g, while the Nashville Warbler is about 10-12 cm long and weighs a mere 7-12 g. That the cardinal is considered “mid-sized” is plainly obvious in the image.


A female cardinal then took a turn as a model. For whatever reason, the lady Cardinals have all had their crest feathers in a pronounced up-do lately. Did they all go to the same salon?


Black-Throated Green Warbler?


Hmmm — this one has me stumped. Could it be a Warbling Vireo, maybe?


Likewise, here.

At least I know this next one, a Bewick’s Wren. Seemed less skittish than my Carolina Wrens, so I got far more Bewick’s pictures in 2 minutes than I’ve ever gotten of all my Carolinas put together (not including babies in a nest that couldn’t fly away from my camera). I’ll just show one, though.


I just love watching the way wrens look for insects in their very efficient, no-nonsense manner.

Other new visitors to the garden have been a White-Eyed Vireo, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, a Broad-Winged Hawk, and another much more speckled hawk that the Blue Jays aggressively chased away, but all I have to show for all of them is one rather sucky picture of the gnatcatcher that I’m not bothering to post (actually, several very, very sucky pictures of the gnatcatcher, with only one picture slightly less sucky than the rest). Needless to say, you get nada, zero, zip.


But I promise to hop out there to try again.


Black-Crested Titmouse

Enough chattering! Get back to work!

The Hummer’s Tongue

Hummingbirds are once again in migration! Ruby-Throated hummers and Black-Chinned hummers are building up their energy stores as they head south, and I’m really loving the activity in the backyard right now.


Did you know that a hummer’s tongue is quite long, very flexible, and forked? The tip separates just as the tongue enters the nectar. The tongue is also covered in hairlike extensions called lamellae, which trap the nectar as they roll inward when the hummingbird draws back its tongue from the flower or feeder. The hummingbird also can flick its tongue into the nectar about 20 times per second! No wonder it can get nectar so easily from long tubular flowers and and reach that last bit of sugar-water from almost-depleted feeders.


 With hummingbirds on the move, be extra sure to have your feeders out, clean, and filled with clear sugar-water in the ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Native blooms are scarce in Texas right now because of the severe drought and wildfires, and properly-used feeders are especially important this year to help the migrating hummers make it to the coast and their winter grounds. If you’d like more tips about helping hummingbirds, please visit these earlier posts:

Tips on Hummingbird Feeder and Cleaning

Ways to Help Hummers and Other Wildlife During the Drought

FYI, the Rockport Hummingbird Festival is this weekend!


Go, go, hummingbirds! You can do it!

You Are Not an Oriole

With all the devastating fires going on around Texas and the near-miss we had ourselves today with a brushfire near our house, I feel the need to report something more heartwarming.

Yesterday I was ecstatic to see a Baltimore Oriole couple visiting one of our hummingbird feeders. The hummingbirds were completely at a loss about what to do with these giant birds (giant to them, that is) on their feeders. Of course, the camera was nowhere nearby, and I missed capturing a picture. But I did rush out with a pitiful offering to my newest avian visitors: one small Clementine orange. Guess who showed up instead?


You naughty squirrel! I roll my eyes at you!


Also arriving to tease me but still thrill me was this Nashville warbler. Peekaboo!


The female Oriole later came back, and I ran and got the camera and ran right back, snapping a ton of pictures. Then I realized that idiot me left the compact flash card back in the computer.

In the end, I finally got this pitifiul picture of the male Baltimore Oriole staying just far enough away to allow for any sort of decent image.


Well, it still counts, Mr. Oriole!

In the Line of Fire

To all our friends and fellow Texans in danger from the vicious spread of wind-fueled wildfires across our drought-stricken state this Labor Day Weekend, our thoughts and hearts are with you. Texas Forest Service reports that 63 new fires began in 17 counties yesterday, with the biggest of all right right here in Central Texas at Bastrop. Brave firefighters are fighting blazes many miles wide, with hundreds of homes already destroyed, and many thousands of people evacuated. Wherever you are, please be safe, all.

Thank you to the brave heroes working non-stop to curtail the spread of flames and protect as many homes, people, and animals as they can.

CNN article about the Bastrop and other Texas fires

Info for donating or volunteering with the Red Cross of Central Texas

 Edit 9/6/11:

More info on ways to help

Adopt a pet to help make room for evacuee animals!