Recently in butterflies and caterpillars Category

Garden Firsts


It's a funny thing how nature works. Last year we had one of the worst droughts in recorded Texas history, and this year we have some of the best wildlife viewing. In fact, 2011 was so empty of caterpillars, butterflies, and other insects that I had great concern for many of our birds, spiders, reptiles, and other wildlife that are dependent on such invertebrates. But this year, after having a reasonable amount of fall and winter rain, we've seen an amazing number of caterpillars of all species and with them a tremendous explosion of butterflies and moths. What that means is that we'll also have lots of baby birds this season, all things considered, and hopefully lots of other creatures. Needless to say, I'm having fun in the wildlife garden - so much to watch!

yellowwaterlilyb05-06-12.jpgYellow Water Lily

This spring has marked a number of firsts for our relatively young garden (I'm going to call it young until it has reached its fifth birthday). Our native Yellow Water Lily is blooming at last. I have waited such a long time for it to do so, though to be fair, it's certainly possible that it has bloomed without me knowing it. My White Water Lily still hasn't bloomed yet, as far as I know, but I shall remain hopeful!

opuntiabloomb05-07-12.jpgSpineless Prickly Pear

We were getting worried that our Spineless Prickly Pear would never bloom, but lo and behold, it's in bloom right now. Sure enough, bees and flies and other insects are getting drunk on that delicious Opuntia nectar!



Horsemint, Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, and Pincushion  Daisy are all in bloom in the garden for the first time. Were those in seed mixes I'd spread around? Or did the birds deliver them? I'd think the first, except that Horsemint and Coreopsis also happen to be growing at the entrance to our subdivision. Hmmmm. The other two are probably just all me.


Sleepy Orange caterpillar -- I love how it blends with the fuzzy Lindheimer's Senna leaves

Caterpillars I've longed for but hadn't yet seen munching on the plants we'd planted for them are at last here. With luck, they'll return as adults to lay more eggs. Pipevine caterpillars, previously present only from eggs brought home on nursery plants, have officially appeared as the result of a visiting female Pipevine Swallowtail. Sleepy Orange caterpillars have been munching on our Lindheimer's Senna, but with all the other Sulphur butterflies fluttering about, I expect there will be more.


Snowberry Clearwing caterpillar on White Honeysuckle

Butterfly caterpillars aren't the only ones in great numbers. Snowberry Clearwing caterpillars, complete with the "horns" consistent with their family, have been happily grazing on the White Honeysuckle Shrub. Lots of unnamed but equally welcome moth caterpillars have been seen in trees, on shrubs, on grasses, on veggies, and perennials. That means it should be a good food year for bats and owls and swallows and the like!

The Monarchs and Queens have returned, as have the Black Swallowtails, I report with relief. I'll feel much better once I see Giant Swallowtails and Tigers again, along with other Swallowtail species of which I am quite fond. And I think we've all been impressed by the showing of Red Admirals this year! Painted Ladies, Buckeyes, Question Marks, Checkerspots, Gulf Fritillaries - oh the list goes on.


Downy Woodpecker collecting insects

Our Mama Eastern Screech Owl returned to our backyard, and last night I saw an owlet shyly peering down at me from its nesting box. Baby birds are starting to fledge right and left, and we're watching parent birds teaching  their young how to find food. The toads are singing their nightly mating calls. And today for the first time, I watched a Downy Woodpecker feed insects from an old limb to another Downy Woodpecker on a nearby branch. Cute as can be! It's a good spring. Thank goodness!

The Skeleton Vine


My poor Passionvine looks like a skeleton. Originally I thought it had something to do with the drought, and that probably was the actual start of it, but now it seems to have more to do with this guy... and all its brothers, sisters, and cousins. Dozens at a time, all different sizes and instars -- munching and munching and munching.


It's all good -- after all, I planted the Passionvine FOR the caterpillars. However...

 gulffritcatd11-17-11.jpgMy poor plant, formerly known as "quite large," has very few leaves left on it! Now I have to worry about the little caterpillars running out of food. My babies!

But I'm having fun. The stone of my house is covered in chrysalises. So are the trellis around the A/C unit and the Mexican Redbud growing nearby.


This caterpillar ventured several feet along the stone of the house, looking for prime chrysalis real estate.


Soon it will make a "j" shape, and soon after that it will begin to transform.


What I find utterly fascinating is that some Gulf Fritillary chrysalises are positioned at very odd angles.


These two are showing off an apparently poorly mortared portion of my house. What creatures lie within that dark crevice, I wonder?


I guess if the previous tenant liked this spot, it was good enough for the next caterpillar. Either that or it's becoming a suburb.

I didn't get any pictures of actual butterflies today, but just to complete the picture, here's one of my favorites from last year:


I guess I'll be knocking on the door of gardeners with ample Passionvine soon. Caterpillar rescue time approaches.

Moving In, Moving Out


First of all, cheers and congratulations to Austin's newest Habitat Steward Volunteers -- the 2011 training just finished up last week! Second, everyone please be sure to go out and support your favorite local nurseries this month as an extra helpful boost for them this October. Oh and one more thing -- next week is Texas Native Plant Week. You know what I'll be doing, starting with the plant sale at the Wildflower Center this weekend. I should probably let my family know that, uh, instead of Family Game Night we'll likely be having Family Gardening Weekend.  

Thank goodness fall has arrived, and with it we're seeing butterflies and caterpillars again. I'll let you in on a little secret -- if you watch Central Texas Gardener this week, you might just learn about some of my personal favorites.

twotaileda10-11-11.jpgI was thrilled last week to finally get to release three Two-tailed Swallowtails from the Caterpillar Hotel. The caterpillars formed their chrysalises last spring and then underwent diapause, or a period of dormancy, over the summer. Finally, when the weather cooled a bit, the beautiful butterflies emerged.

Here's a picture of one of the caterpillars last May -- it was munching on Wafer Ash, which is also the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.


But wait -- who's munching from behind this next leaf?

monarchcata10-11-11.jpgMonarchs are here! I've been busily keeping several caterpillars of all sizes feasting upon milkweed, safely housed inside the Caterpillar Hotel (also known as a large mesh laundry basket).


We have 2 chrysalises newly formed today, and I expect three more will be there tomorrow -- the caterpillars have already selected their metamorphosis locations.


Next up is another sweet creature on milkweed, a ladybug nymph.


It's a fierce predator of those naughty aphids you can see farther back on the plant, and as an adult ladybug, it will still feast away on the aphid pests. Whenever I see an adult or nymph ladybug, I leave aphids on the plant for it to eat.

I'm trying to ID this next bug -- if anyone knows it, please help me out.


I've got three of them patrolling the top of my Caterpillar Hotel, trying to find a way in. They look like some sort of weevil. Could they want the milkweed? I don't know of weevils that eat caterpillars, but I only saw them on the mesh tent where the caterpillars are, not on the rest of the milkweed out in the garden. There's nothing else inside the mesh that could possibly interest them. Hmmmm...


Most of the hummingbirds have moved on, but I saw one out there yesterday.


At our peak about 3 weeks ago, we had 15 hummingbirds visiting flowers and feeders all at the same time -- I'm only just now able to show some of the pictures.

hummersb09-18-11.jpgThe feeder below was the favorite of most of the birds. At one point we counted 7 sharing the feeder at the same time, but first they had to calm their territorial instincts.



Of course, the other feeders got plenty of visitors, too.


I do miss all the hummingbirds, but they'll be back. For those birds still trying to make their way south, the flowers and feeders are still here for them (in fact I always keep at least one feeder up all winter just in case there's a hummer that didn't find its way south before the cold gets here).

The brief bit of rain last week has done the garden good. What a pleasure it is to be back outside again!

The Littlest Giant


If you've been following the story of my caterpillars, you know that I've been awaiting the emergence of multiple butterfly species from their cozy little chrysalises.

giantswallowb05-30-11.jpgAnd yesterday, to my delight, I found a freshly-emerged Giant Swallowtail, wings still damp and slightly droopy. I let it dry for awhile inside the hotel until it looked a little more ready to venture into the world. Then I let it crawl onto my finger, and together we headed into the garden to find it a perfect flower for a little nectar. A Purple Coneflower seemed just the spot.


What a cute and dainty thing -- this is by far the smallest Giant Swallowtail I've ever seen! I'm going to estimate it at about 4 inches wing-to-wing (the largest ones are over 6 inches wing-to-wing).

giantswallowi05-30-11.jpgDon't be fooled by the pictures -- it might look big in the images, but it's resting on small blooms.



giantswallowh05-30-11.jpg Being small doesn't make it any less than absolutely perfect.

giantswallowa05-30-11.jpg giantswallowf05-30-11.jpg

After a few minutes, I watched the butterfly take its first flight. And just like that, it was gone!

Our latest Gulf Fritillary emerged the day before the littlest Giant.


Do you see the red stain on the mesh? That's liquid metabolic waste, or meconium, leftover from the pupal stage -- the new butterfly expels it after leaving the chrysalis. I'll have to clean the mesh with care -- I don't want to accidentally wash off one of the other chrysalises inside the caterpillar hotel.


Moments shared with a butterfly are priceless.

gulffritillaryc05-29-11.jpg gulffritillaryd05-29-11.jpg

We still have lots of chrysalises and hungry caterpillars in the hotel. It's a good thing I have no immediate vacation plans. The Two-Tailed Swallowtails haven't yet emerged -- I fully expect them not to do so for a few months, at least. How surprisingly different butterfly species can be!

Raising caterpillars has become a favorite side hobby of mine. I grow native host plants for many different species of butterflies to lay their eggs on, and most of the time, the caterpillars are on their own in the garden. But some butterflies only lay a few eggs at most, and I like to give the caterpillars a safe area where they can eat and grow, and grow and eat, without fear of becoming another animal's lunch.

twotailedcat04-26-11.jpgHere in Central Texas, some of the best known butterflies are those in the Swallowtail family -- they are large, beautiful, and quite mesmerizing as they flutter around the garden or into the woodlands. Two of my favorite species use the same host plant, the Wafer Ash, or Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata). They are the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), seen at the end of this post, and the Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata), the latter bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

In the above picture and next several photos, you can see the different stages of the Two-Tailed Swallowtail caterpillars. Caterpillar growth stages are called instars. The Two-Tailed's fifth instar stage is its final one.


When the caterpillar is young, it looks a little like bird droppings, as do many other caterpillars in the Swallowtail family.



But in the transition to fifth instar, the caterpillar changes dramatically to a beautiful lime green color, with eye spots and a black band.

twotailedcatb04-26-11.jpgThis early fifth-instar caterpillar is showing its osmeterium, a defensive response of a Swallowtail caterpillars when they feel threatened. I discourage anyone from deliberately stressing a Swallowtail caterpillar to make it show its osmeterium. This caterpillar only showed its osmeterium because I was nudging it to move to fresh foliage. You can tell the caterpillar is an early fifth instar because evidence of its once-white saddle is still visible on its back -- in time the saddle area will be as green as the rest of the caterpillar.


Another early fifth instar shows its somewhat mottled coloration as it transitions to full green.

A late fifth instar turns brown, and then the quest is on for an ideal, secluded chrysalis spot.

two-tailedcatd05-03-11.jpg twotailedcatfeet05-03-11.jpgIts nifty feet will transport the caterpillar quickly. I never tire of watching the movements of a caterpillar.


The Two-Tailed Swallowtail can take many months before it emerges from its chrysalis. So don't hold your breath for a photo any time soon! But I look forward to that follow-up post.

Moving on to the Giant Swallowtail, I get to start first with the eggs this time. A Giant Swallowtail egg is a tiny orange sphere that darkens with time. There are two in the image below. Guess which one hatched first.

raisingcaterpillarseggs05-07-11.jpgNote the foliage setup at this point -- I collected the leaves with eggs and placed the petioles in a little floral water tube, making sure there were plenty of extra leaves to fill the space in the hole. The advantage to this is that the eggs and tiny caterpillars get their own area in the Caterpillar Hotel -- the larger Swallowtail caterpillars would eat the eggs (and baby caterpillars) if they ran across them on their leaves, so it's best to keep the "nursery" leaves out of their reach.

tinygiantswall05-09-11.jpgWhen the baby caterpillar emerges from the egg, it consumes the remaining shell before getting its first taste of the host plant. Can you see the tiny caterpillar as well as the second egg?

giantswallcatsb05-22-11.jpgAlmost two weeks later, the first caterpillar is about 1/2-inch long, and the second egg's caterpillar is now the tiny one -- both officially are looking like bird poop. They are just a few days apart in age. FYI, even though I grouped them for the photo, it's best to keep young caterpillars separated if you can. They sometimes don't play nicely if they happen upon one another.


A slightly larger Giant Swallowtail really exhibits that bird poop look.

giantswallcatd05-03-11.jpg   The final instar means its time to go to chrysalis.

giantswallcate05-03-11.jpg Up to the top of the hotel the caterpillar climbs. The hotel is getting as crowded as if it were SXSW in Austin.

2chrysalisl05-22-11.jpgHere are the two species' chrysalises side by side. Remarkably different, eh?

And as another comparison, here are the Giant and Two-Tailed caterpillars side by side.


Note the difference in coloration, particularly at the end of the caterpillars. The Giant has two large areas of white, while the Two-Tailed primarily has just the saddle on its back.

We have one more species in the hotel right now -- not a swallowtail, but a Gulf Fritillary.

gulffritchrys05-22-11.jpgNormally we have many, many Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the Passionvine, but I happened to be out by the vine when I saw a hunting wasp getting really close to this one. I had to save the little guy, and within a day it went to chrysalis in the hotel.

The Caterpillar Hotel is simply a collapsible mesh laundry hamper. There are some very nice butterfly tents on the market, including ones with side openings, but the laundry basket was only $10 and thus much more reasonable for the budget-minded.


If you look inside, you can see the different methods I've experimented with for keeping the foliage fresh. Aside from using the floral water tube for small caterpillars and eggs on single leaves or leaflets, I like sticking leaf stalks and branches directly into damp soil. The leaves stay fresh, it's easy to add water or replace foliage, and the caterpillars can crawl safely over the surface.

I can't recommend the jar of water with a plastic wrap cover (held by a rubber band with foliage stalks or branches poking through a hole in the center). If the hole rips too wide, a caterpillar could fall into the water. I almost had two caterpillars drown when they got zealous in their foliage feasting and fell into the water -- luckily I saw them in time (barely) and they survived (and are in chrysalis stage as I write this). Needless to say, I don't use the jar method anymore. I also don't like to place leaves in a bowl with little caterpillars -- the leaves dry out too fast. Floral water tubes and damp soil in a planter are it for me now!

I'll continue to play nanny to the young caterpillars, protect the chrysalises, and patiently wait for new butterflies to emerge in the Caterpillar Hotel.


Someday, if all goes well, I'll have giant Giants (like the one above) and Two-Tails with two tails to introduce to the world!

I was out working in the garden this afternoon when I was happily driven back inside by RAIN! 

mxredbud05-17-11.jpgI stopped to do my happy rain dance, then I figured I might as well take a moment to finish the blog post I started yesterday. So...

I grew artichokes... again. I didn't manage to eat them... again. I missed that window between "not ready to be harvested" and "you blew it, the ideal picking time is over." I can't remember what was going on-- maybe Earth Week (busy at my son's school) -- but whatever it was, the artichokes declined to postpone their harvest date for me. However, sometimes such vegetable garden tragedies can lead to something good.

In this case, I discovered that artichokes left to flower produce a gigantic lavender bloom worthy of their prehistoric-looking foliage.

GSartichokeflowerb05-17-11.jpgIt's giant, it's purple, it's spectacular, and it's in my garden! The bees love it. They dig deep past the petals to reach the pollen, and their cute little bee butts stick out. I wish I'd caught a picture.

GSmonarchonmistflower05-17-11.jpgA lone male monarch stopped by -- I was glad to be able to offer it nectar beverages, as its wings were not in the best of shape. It looked like the wings had been that way since emerging from the chrysalis. Poor thing, that must make flying long distances a challenge.


Above, the monarch rests on Purple Coneflower, which are the tallest they ever been, not that you can tell from the picture. But I know this to be true -- third year's a charm!

The hummingbirds are busy, busy. They are in full feisty mode, with the males going at each other to lay claim on the feeders, while the females sneak in for a drink.


We hung a new feeder on the patio -- it's so pleasant to sit and relax and have the hummers come hang out with us.


We've had numerous fledglings visiting the feeders. This young male cardinal is rather mottled-looking as it transitions to its bright red colors.

cardinal05-17-11.jpgSee its dark beak? Baby cardinals' beaks start out dark, then become orange as they get a little older.

Our baby owl has fledged, by the way. We knew that Screech Owls fledge soon after they appear at a cavity's entrance, but that didn't stop us from hoping our little cutie would hang around for awhile. Here's the last picture I took of it on the day it fledged.

GSscreechowlbaby05-17-11.jpgFly well, little Screech Owl!

Meet the Crimson Patch


 We've been raising caterpillars again. With the severe lack of rain, I'm feeling concerned about Texas butterflies this year -- we've had a definite drop in butterfly numbers, and it doesn't help that wasps have been plentiful and on a very big caterpillar hunt lately. So the Caterpillar Hotel is back in business!


A Crimson Patch Caterpillar rests on a Flame Acanthus leaf.

At last month's Austin Butterfly Forum meeting, the subject of the evening was the very same -- raising caterpillars. Some members kindly brought caterpillars in for show and tell, and they offered to share the caterpillars with those who had the proper host plants at home. That's how we came to have Crimson Patch caterpillars to raise -- we have plenty of Flame Acanthus, their host plant. I don't know whether these beautiful butterflies have visited our garden before -- we often see the similar Bordered Patch butterflies (seen in the Caterpillar Hotel link above), but the Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais) is recently extending its range into Central Texas. It is more commonly found in South Texas. Regardless, I hope these young ones will stay.


Crimson Patch caterpillars are relatively small; they are whitish-gray in color with black spines. As small as they are, they can quickly be lost as they wander off to form their chrysalis or to molt as they develop. Our first two caterpillars formed yellow chrysalises -- the one above has a "clear" area on the chrysalis, but the butterfly emerged just fine. We have another chrysalis that is more white-gray in color -- such variations are normal.


It only took about 8 days for our first Crimsons to emerge from their chrysalises. The shells left behind were just as beautiful as the newly formed ones.

And here is the adult Crimson Patch, still drying its wings after we moved it to a Texas Lantana for nearby nectar.


The dorsal hindwings sport the spots for which the Crimson Patch gets its name, though the patches are more red-orange than actual crimson in color (in contrast to the "spots," the Bordered Patch's red-orange color extends as a band across the upperside).


We're looking forward to releasing the next set of Crimson Patch butterflies soon. Do stay tuned for some other very special caterpillars in our Caterpillar Hotel!

Around the Garden


The garden is shaping up nicely. You know you've been doing a good job when all your fingernails and toenails are caked with dirt and compost (at least, that's my theory). Oh, I have gloves. But they are too bulky for some of the tasks in the garden, like feeling for the sneaky roots and little nuts of the annoyingly invasive nutsedge, or transplanting a tender young seedling of a desired plant. And so I often garden whole-heartily with all my uncovered digits, running my fingers and toes through the earth just the way nature intended. Keep in mind that my husband is the complete opposite -- he won't step foot into the garden without his gloves and mud shoes on! Heaven forbid dirt smear his leg or something. And he calls me a delicate flower? 

 GScoralhoneysuckle04-11.jpgThe vines are all abloom, and those that aren't yet are at least exhibiting major growth spurts. The Coral Honeysuckle is becoming a bit of an octopus -- I keep trying to train it to go over the fence, and it keeps sending out more arms to reach for the pathway instead.

And though most of the Crossvine blooms have already come and gone for the season, the vines are taller than ever.  

GScrossvineb04-11.jpgGScrossvinea04-11.jpgEven though it's considered a hummingbird vine, I have yet to see one of our hummingbirds visit a crossvine bloom -- they go to other plants or the feeders instead. But the bees sure went crazy for the Crossvine this year, so it must have plenty of nectar! Those finicky hummingbirds...

GSblack-chinned04-11.jpgSo far we've had male black-chinned hummingbirds this year -- I'm sure they are awaiting the arrival of the females even more than we are. I wonder why I haven't seen any Ruby-Throats yet -- they are our usual visitors.

Each year I'm amazed at the differences between the Crossvine "Tangerine Beauty," seen in the images above, and the wild one below, which is opposite in color, having yellow petal lips and a red throat. I really need to start collecting seeds or making cuttings from this native beauty.


The poppies have arrived, the first I've ever grown. Given that all I did was sprinkle seeds on the ground some unknown time last fall, I'm pleased that they did their thing without any help from me. A couple of blooms so far...

GSpoppy04-08-11.jpgwith more on the way...

GSpoppyb04-08-11.jpgWe've got a ton of caterpillars -- countless Gulf Fritillaries on Passionvine, with many already to chrysalis stage. Giant Swallowtail caterpillars are on the Wafer Ash. Here's a grown-up taking a rest on the Coral Honeysuckle after puddling on damp ground below.

GSgiantswallowtail04-11.jpgAnd we've seen a new caterpillar -- Henry's Elfin -- on one of the Mexican Redbuds, shown in the picture below. Now I just need to see the butterfly...


This frog keeps staring at me whenever I walk by. Actually, we have at least 3 in the backyard pond, likely more based on the number of splashes when we approach. And the male toads have been croaking at night on the pond rocks. I still haven't figured out whether the toads and frogs play nicely together. Hopefully the frogs are not eating the toads, but I have my concerns. The one in this picture is getting awfully big...


Don't stare too long -- it's hypnotic.

The artichoke is about waist-high now and growing. I'm rather embarrassed to admit this, but I've never eaten an artichoke in my life. I'm growing them A) to actually see what they taste like, B) because this plant is so awesomely prehistoric in appearance, and C) because it's actually a perennial veggie, which means I don't have to do much. I'd thought I'd be trying to eat an artichoke last year, but the plant stayed small.


The Goldenball Leadtree is covered with little puffballs-to-be. I keep watching and waiting, as they are going to be amazing. Wow, I love this airy Central Texas native. I'm seriously considering getting a second one (in fact, I think I just decided for sure). Then today I discovered a sneaky golden puffball that had already opened. You can see that the little buds just go "poof" and get huge. Ohhh, I can't wait. This is going to be the year of the Goldenballs!


Speaking of puffballs, the Fragrant Mimosa, also a Texas native, is putting on puffball displays daily. It turns out that Fragrant Mimosa is, in fact, quite fragrant. I carefully take a sniff each time I walk by, being quite cautious not to get a pointy prickle up my nose.

GSfragrantmimosa04-11.jpgNearby, the native White Honeysuckle has officially become a shrub, and it has more blooms than ever. The scent is divine.


We have wren babies and nesting squirrels and a screech owl hermit, too... but those posts will come another day. Loving being out in the garden again!

Hornsby Bend Birds Fit the Bill


GSshovelersa03-17-11.jpgJust when I thought I was starting to get caught up, time slipped away again. Take this post, for instance -- I visited Hornsby Bend more than two weeks ago and am only just now getting to show the photos. And it's been driving me crazy to be so far behind -- there are some really cool photos on my flash card right now, and I can't wait to post them!

One quick note -- today was the Trowel & Error Garden Symposium benefitting Mayfield Park. I had a great time talking about native plants and wildlife, and I enjoyed seeing friends, meeting new ones, spreading native plant love, and getting to spend the day with gardening folks. What a wonderful day!

GSshovelersb03-17-11.jpgNot that these Northern Shovelers would have cared -- they're too busy scooping food from the ponds at Hornsby Bend. Fellow Beautiful Wildlife Garden blogger Carole Brown and I visited Hornsby Bend during her recent trip to Austin, and we delighted in seeing numerous migratory birds, as well as getting our first glimpses of many different early spring wildlife. Of course, that was 2.5 weeks ago, so I'm sure the numbers have increased tremendously. For my previous visits to Hornsby Bend, check out this and this -- oh, and this little weirdness.

GSshovelersd03-17-11.jpgNorthern Shovelers are dabbling ducks. which means that they primarily feed at the water's surface or by tipping upside-down to get food underwater. Their spoon-shaped bill allows them to strain and filter the water for food.

GSshovelerse03-17-11.jpgA curious behavior of the Shovelers is the way they will circle in a group to churn the water and bring food to the surface.

But they spent much time showing off their unique ability to walk on water... or at least stand on a hidden barrier in the water and look like they can walk on water.  


Clearly I enjoyed taking pictures of the Shovelers. How about for a change of pace, we look at pictures of... other ducks!

GSbluewingedtealf03-17-11.jpgTake a look out on this island -- see that blue on a duck's wing? That patch of blue earns this species the name "Blue-Winged Teal." Note the Least Sandpipers hanging out on the island, too.

  GSbluewingedtealbf03-17-11.jpgRuddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, American Coots, Snipers -- these are just a few of the other water birds we glimpsed during our visit. But that's not all -- the Yellow-Rumped Warblers were too numerous to count, the swallows hid along the bank, Cardinals sang from the river pathway trees, and White-Eyed Vireos looked down upon us.

Not the least bit concerned by our presence, the Least Sandpipers stayed really busy gathering food along the wet shores. Well, at least I'm not resorting to bad jokes again... to say the least...

GSleastsandpiper03-17-11.jpgAnd Hornsby Bend is a haven for multiple sparrow species. We saw Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and many others. I'll just pretend that we didn't also see House Sparrows. They didn't earn a photo spot, at least. Oops, there's that word again. At least that time was an accident! (that last might be a different story, though).


Here's a Savannah Sparrow, kind enough to pause for a close-up:


The most unusual bird of the day goes to a leucistic sparrow seen foraging between two of the Hornsby ponds. Quite unusual in nature, and an even bigger rarity for the average birdwatcher.


   We followed this leucistic sparrow around for some time -- I was determined to get a picture -- as it was, I had to use a zoom from far away and really crop in to get a decent look at it. Oh, how I long for birding binoculars. But I feel lucky to have seen a leucistic sparrow at all, with or without gadgets. Then again, even luckier to have managed to catch semi-acceptable photos of said leucistic sparrow.

Other wildlife happily enjoyed the start of spring, Monarchs included. Here's a Black Swallowtail on Henbit:

GSblkswallowtail03-17-11.jpgAnd a Pipevine Swallowtail, too:


A White or Common Checkered Skipper took a rest on Velcro Plant. Hope it didn't get stuck to it.... Apparently you can only tell White and Common Checkered Skippers apart by dissection. Well, it was this skipper's lucky day. I wasn't going to go that far to ID it.

GScheckeredskipper03-17-11.jpgCheck out this hard-working ant carrying a berry in the picture below. There's a lesson to be learned there.

GSleafcutterant03-17-11.jpgAllright, enough with the longer photodocumentaries -- on to new things! Lizards, bird babies, and more, coming soooooooon!

Don't They Know It's Winter?


This is certainly the last thing I expected to see going on in my backyard in the middle of December, but go figure. Gulf Fritillaries, doing their thing.


Sometimes the outer wings would open, revealing the brilliant orange of that butterfly's upperside.

gulffritg12-16-10.jpgI wish the camera could have captured the full beauty of the metallic sheen on their underwings, but some of the lustre was lost in the image. Still, wow.


gulffrita12-16-10.jpg  The features on this butterfly give it such personality!


I didn't tell the butterflies that it's just about winter here. They didn't seem to care.

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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