Recently in wildlife Category

Giving a Turtle a Hand But Not Digits


It's not every day that one has a chance to do a good deed and lose some fingers in the process. But recently my neighbor Jan gave us that opportunity when she reported that she had saved a snapping turtle from a terrible fate that likely would have awaited it as it crossed the highway frontage road near our house. She named it Jaws, and appropriately so. Perhaps Jaws was a female who'd gotten lost after laying her eggs somewhere -- whatever the reason, the highway was no place for this turtle to be, and she was far, far from water.

snappingturtlea04-01-12.jpgJan carefully put Jaws into the back of her pickup and asked for assistance in getting the turtle back to the nearby pond from which it likely came. She jokingly offered to let me put it in my backyard pond. As much as I love wildlife, my hot-tub pond does NOT need a giant snapping turtle. Besides, with the turtle's sheer size and weight, it might have displaced all the water! Actually, we estimated that Jaws weighed around 30 pounds, a pretty good size for a turtle.


What a smile! As if it is daring us to get in range...

Wanting my sons to have all sorts of memory-making experiences with nature, I first asked them to join me to go see the snapping turtle and then asked my oldest son if he'd like to help get the turtle to the pond -- carefully, mind you. He said yes, then proceeded to spend quiet moments reflecting on all the ways he values his fingers.


Closer, please.

Common Snapping Turtles are pure prehistoric awesomeness, as I like to say. They have so much body that they seem to ooze out of their shell, and that's one reason why they are so snappy -- they can't hide back in their shell in times of danger. But they actually are quite benign creatures overall -- the powerful jaws only come into play if they feel threatened (or hungry). 

snappingturtleh04-01-12.jpgLook at the gorgeous claws.

snappingturtlec04-01-12.jpgAnd the nifty plates on the legs -- a vision in armor. Actually, take a look inside the mouth, too. For one thing, you can see whatever plant part it munched on. But you can also see its wide tongue, one of the ways you can distinguish a Common Snapping Turtle from an Alligator Snapping Turtle. Just don't look TOO closely, if you know what I mean.

snappingturtlee04-01-12.jpgJaws also had perfect little nostrils on the tip of its nose. Can you just imagine the turtle laying low in the water and muck, reaching its head up to the surface every once in a while to take a breath of air?

snappingturtlef04-01-12.jpgAnother distinguishing characteristic of a Common Snapping Turtle is its long tail.

snappingturtlei04-01-12.jpgLook how it fills the wheelbarrow. Big girl. Or boy -- apparently you can tell by looking at the base of its tail, but sometimes such information isn't worth going after, haha. Keep in mind that a Common Snapping Turtle's neck is long and flexible, and this is what makes handling one such a risky venture. It can snap out forcefully and fast, sideways or vertically, in the blink of an eye.

As much as I tried, I couldn't get a picture of just how fast the snapping turtle snapped its jaws outward while my son moved the turtle from truck to wheelbarrow and wheelbarrow to pond. Perhaps a wise person would have switched to video mode, but I feel certain that in that case the turtle would have caught fingers for real and then I'd have a Youtube moment, as well as extreme mother guilt.

snappingturtleg04-01-12.jpgAll things considered, I'm glad that Jaws has an aquatic home once again and that everyone still has their digits. Thanks, Jan, for watching out for our wildlife and to both Jan and Logan, you earn a Medal of Bravery. Me, I stayed behind the camera. For documentary purposes, of course.

Pine Cone Thief


I must have done something right if wildlife loves my pine cone treats so much that they steal them away in broad daylight. I'd covered the pine cones in a mixture of natural peanut butter, corn meal, cranberries, and quality seed (black oil sunflower, safflower, thistle, peanuts) -- yummy energizing goodness that's rich in fat, protein, and carbs for birds trying to stay warm in the cold.

pineconetreats12-9-11.jpgNormally, I'd have these pine cones hanging from a branch or hook, but the wire broke on both of them, and I got lazy and put them in a saucer outside my entryway window, it being a great spot to see our avian visitors. Maybe that's not being lazy -- maybe it's just clever! Well, except that they're getting stolen by creatures that CLIMB, so I'll go so far as to say it's a good idea that needs a little tweaking.

Well, within a day, one peanut-butter delight was whisked away to some cozy little cubby hole. Some naughty squirrel has been having quite a feast, I dare say.


Bewick's Wren

I've been hovering around, keeping my eye on the remaining pine cone. Even so, on day two there was an attempt to steal said pine cone, but I found it below the gate. On day three, I thought the pine cone was lost for good, but I happened to spot it in the middle of the yard. At least now I have a clue as to which greedy squirrels it might be -- they appear to be trying to take it toward the trees in the next yard, where they have a nest.


 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I keep rescuing the pine cone and putting it back. In the meantime, I'm trying to find a source of more plain pine cones, but looking for them in the Christmas season is not the easiest of endeavors, I must say. I'm going to have to gather quite a collection of them next time I find myself in a pine forest.


Carolina Wren

By the way, we have a new homemade feeder at the house, and I love it!


My husband made me this wonderful log peanut-butter feeder, using a 1 1/4" spade bit and an electric drill. We filled the holes with Wild Birds Unlimited BugBerry Bark Butter that has tasty mealworms in it. I know there are birds visiting it, but so far I've only seen evidence of some food missing from the holes, and one glimpse of a bird taking flight as I approached the window. One day I'll have a picture of a bird enjoying the feeder! I suspect it will be most popular with woodpeckers and creepers.

I guess I best get out there and smear peanut butter on the birds' favorite perch from last year. I might not have pine cones left much longer!

Creature Features


This drought has been crazy. Aside from birds, I'm just not seeing the usual wildlife species that hang around the garden -- most notably butterflies are absent. I think it's just too ridiculously hot. That being said, I'm seeing all sorts of other cool creatures around, and happily so.


We came home one day to a stick insect not-so-camouflaged on our garage door. I moved it over to a tree where it seemed much more at home. Pictures got harder, though.


Check out its scorpion-like display:


Clearly I liked it more than it liked me.

Our front pond has been busy with aquatic life. Apparently, it's become THE place to lay eggs.

croakingtoad07-1-11.jpgThe male toads are singing each night, doing their best to entice a female for a dip in the pond.

toadpair07-01-11.jpg Sometimes one even gets lucky!

toadeggs07-01-11.jpg Toad eggs are laid in long gel-like tubes. The eggs are laid in mass quantity.

toadembryos07-01-11.jpg Within just a day or two, the eggs become blobs, also known as embryos.

Here's a closer view:


Soon the blobs/embryos become the tadpoles we know and love.

tadpoles07-01-11.jpgDespite the great numbers of eggs laid, very few make it to adulthood to live the life of a toad. They become food for other creatures, including the one below.

dragonflynymphb07-1-11.jpgEwww, you say? I say not! That, my friends, is a dragonfly nymph, and who doesn't love dragonflies? Other than the bugs they devour, I mean.

dragonflynympha07-1-11.jpgWe find these nymphs -- damselfly nymphs, too -- in our ponds all the time. It turns out that dragonfly nymphs can play dead. They stay very still if briefly removed from the water, but --whoosh!-- they'll zip back to the water depths the moment they feel that water surround them again.


Here's the exoskeleton left behind after an adult dragonfly emerged and flew away. Those weird-looking white strings are actually tracheal tubes that once transported oxygen. I'm so curious what kind of dragonfly completed its life cycle in our little pond. I'll never know, I suppose, but I have seen a Neon Skimmer flying around the pond. Who knows... maybe!

Back in the back, our hackberry has these nifty little leaf galls. It turns out that these are caused by Celticesis midges.


The adult midges, which are little flies, lay eggs on the underside of a hackberry leaf, and the plant tissue forms galls around them. The larvae have a miniature habitat inside the gall, where they eat and develop.

In other news, we had an sssstupendous set of ssssnake sightings last weekend. On a hike at Walnut Creek park, we decided to take paths less traveled for a change. Within moments we discovered this beauty:


It's an Eastern Hognosed Snake, flattening its head and hissing something fierce. While I didn't disturb it more than to take a picture with my camera phone, if I'd gotten much closer, this snake would have flipped upside-down and played dead. Part of me wishes I could have witnessed that, but I just don't like to stress out wildlife (more than is required for a quick photo op, that is).

In a different area of the park, we found a little snake traveling along dried-up sections of the creek.

racersnake06-11.jpgCamera phones and wild snakes just don't work well together. I really should at least carry a pocket camera on these hikes. But I think this might be a juvenile Yellow-Bellied Racer. It was very small and quickly found a hole to curl up into.

Just seeing these two snakes had already made our day, but when we returned home, we found a little snake in our hallway!

tantillasnake07-1-11.jpgWe rescued it and took it outside. I tried to get a picture, but that little snake moved to hide in the leaves as fast as its little no-legs could carry it. The best I can tell you is that it is possibly a snake in the Tantilla genus (perhaps Flathead or Plains Blackhead), or perhaps it is a Rough Earth Snake.

Just a few days later, my friend Diane shared a picture of a molted skin left behind by a friend's pet snake her family was snake-sitting. She didn't know the species, but from her description, it sounded like it might be a corn snake.


Have you ever seen a snake skin include the head and eye areas? Holy moly, now THAT'S a creature feature.

And the harvestmen are back, this time congregating in the highest eave on my house, making it nearly impossible for me to (get my husband to) kindly move them back to the greenbelt behind the house. Hopefully visitors to my house won't look up. I'm not taking a picture. Hey, even a wildlife lover can have something to cringe about! They're good garden predators, so I don't *really* mind them. In some ways, harvestmen, a.k.a. daddylonglegs, are even kind of cool. But they do creep me out. It has something to do with discovering thousands of them bobbing inches above my head (and my big mass of hair) when I was crawling through a cave.

Instead of harvestmen, I'll end with a skipper, one of the few butterflies we do get to see from time to time even in this horrible drought.


skippera06-11.jpgNo legs, two legs, four legs, six legs, more -- they put the wild in this wildlife garden!

Helping Wildlife in the Hot Summer


On KLRU'S Central Texas Gardener this week, I get to talk about one of my very favorite subjects, wildlife. Tom Spencer and I discuss ways to help wildlife during the blazing hot summer. Despite our brief bit of rain this week, the South continues to suffer from heat records and drought, and wildlife can be hit pretty hard by the severe conditions.


Low saucers of water are great for toads.

Water sources, of course, are priority one, and they don't have to be big, fancy, or expensive. A saucer (or several) of clean water will do. We're in the process of building another one of our budget-wise small ponds, so hopefully I'll be able to report on it soon (and by typing this, I hope to ensure that it WILL be soon).


Caterpillars have specific host plant needs, like this Two-Tailed Swallowtail caterpillar munching on Wafer Ash.

Native plants are another priority, ones that serve as caterpillar hosts and/or offer seeds, fruits, pollen, nectar, nuts, or berries for the wildlife. I also supplement with birdfeeders, some with mixed seed and others with thistle, and I have several hummingbird feeders, as well. This gives birds all sorts of options to choose from.


Songbirds love black oil sunflower and safflower seeds, peanuts, thistle, and other nutrient-rich foods. Just leave out milo and millet.

To invite songbirds, I like to use a mixture of black oil sunflower, striped sunflower, safflower, thistle, and peanuts. Sometimes I add cracked corn, but if pesty English House Sparrows start to show up, I leave out the cracked corn to discourage them. I generally create my own mix, and I don't buy milo or millet because of the birds they attract.


Milo and millet attract pest birds like English House Sparrows and Starlings.

Milo and millet are favorites of English House Sparrows and European Starlings, two non-native, invasive, and aggressive bird species. By aggressive, I mean that they will kill native birds such as Purple Martins or Bluebirds, drive birds out of their nesting areas, and destroy their eggs or young. Not only that, but they'll eat all your birdseed before other birds can get to it! I've seen them get territorial at feeders, too. It's very important to discourage these pest birds (and don't let them use your nesting boxes or gourds).

White-winged Doves also love millet and milo. They are native birds, but they will quickly share the news that you are providing those seeds, and the next thing you know they and 30 other dove friends will be at your feeder all day long, taking turns with the English House Sparrows and Starlings and never letting any other birds have any.


Just the feeder should be red, not the sugar-water mixture inside.

With hummingbird feeders, I recommend easy-to-open, easy-to-clean plastic hummingbird feeders that are all red in color. Glass is okay, too, but the feeder can break easily if it falls.


This saucer-style Hummzinger feeder has a moat for water to keep ants away.

You should be able to see every spot you are trying to clean -- no nooks or crannies, and for your own ease, the fewer steps necessary, the better. Often, little bee guards (which are considered ineffective) or decorative flower attachments are a pain to clean, and that makes it more likely mold will grow.


This feeder is seen at many stores, but it is difficult to keep clean, and those yellow flowers attract bees and wasps that might sting or chase off hummingbirds.

Why are all-red feeders the best choice? Those feeders with yellow and/or white flowers or other decorations sometimes bring in bees and wasps that are attracted to yellow and white colors. But bees and wasps can't see the color red! Hummingbirds, on the other hand, love red. Bees and wasps also sometimes act aggressively toward hummingbirds and will even chase them off. My dad once witnessed a bee sting a hummingbird, and the hummingbird could not fly for several minutes. My dad watched over the bird until it was recovered enough to fly away.


Iron from rusty feeders can build up in a hummingbird's body and lead to its death.

I know that there are a number of pretty metal feeders out there, but stay away from them, please. Metal rusts, and the iron from the rust gets into the liquid and is consumed by the hummingbirds. However, they can't get rid of the iron in their tiny little systems, and it can build up to the point of causing death. The hummingbird feeder in the above picture not only has rusty metal, but it also has yellow flowers and breakable glass. A triple threat!

The recommended mixture for hummingbird feeders is 4 parts water to 1 part ordinary white table sugar. Please don't add red food coloring or buy red "nectar" mixes or use any other kind of sweetener.

hummerh09-02-10.jpgTo keep feeders clean, I use water and vinegar, cleaning the feeder holes with a tiny brush and the inside of the feeder with a baby-bottle brush. I also make sure to replace the sugar mixture about every 3 days. Even with my five hummingbird feeders, the clean-and-refill task is quite fast.

The same goes with birdbaths -- keep them clean (a kitchen scrub brush with some vinegar works great) and replace the water every 3 days. This not only helps keep the birds safe, but it keeps mosquito larvae from completing the cycle to adulthood, at which point the little flying vampires would look to you for their next meal or meals.

My thanks to Linda, Tom, and the friendly CTG crew at KLRU for making me feel at home on the show. And thanks to everyone watching out for wildlife this hot summer! 

New Garden Bed Does Well Despite Drought


The drought is hitting Texas hard -- fires in West Texas, shriveled-up lakes, suffering wildlife, and many a plant succumbing to the lack of water. But my drought-hardy natives are doing relatively fine, all things considered. The garden has toughened up for the hot summer -- it has had to, because I'm just not a person to water much. Sure, the plants would look more lush if we had rain, but lush doesn't matter in a drought. Surviving does.



The butterflies have been relatively few this year so far, thanks to the drought, but the bees have been plentiful. We've seen more native bees than ever, and even our bee boxes are getting used -- yippee. In particular, the wood ones in the shade are popular. The bamboo box is in the sun and to my knowledge has not been visited by any creature, bee or otherwise.

pondbermf06-09-11.jpgWe've been adding plants around the raised hot-tub pond, bringing the dirt up in a sort of berm. I know it doesn't look like much at the moment, but it will transform over time. As the plants grow, the pond will have a backdrop of taller evergreens, and the berm itself will be covered in wildlife-friendly plants of all shapes, colors, and sizes. The leaves you see are used as mulch -- they are doing an excellent job of keeping any weeds under control and keeping the soil moist, and they are freeeeeeeee.

pondberme06-09-11.jpgTo build the berm, we used the dirt that had been dug out to form our still fantastic sun garden pathway. Amazingly, we still have at least half of the dirt left even after creating the berm -- this will become additional contour somewhere else in the yard, most likely. Actually, I should back up in this story -- first we dug out ugly Bermuda grass from around the pond, covered the area with cardboard and newspaper, and THEN built the berm. We also mixed in some well-needed compost.


Leftover flagstone from the patio project became a pathway across the berm.


Leftover flagstone was also used to create steps to the built-in pond bench. I plan to refine the steps, but they're a start. You can see that we don't water grass. Bit by bit the Bermuda grass is dying out, and the Buffalo Grass is naturally taking over, particularly in the back half of the yard. This patch is still mostly Bermuda, though -- die, die, die.

<Momentary pause as I observe all the mockingbirds visiting the birdbath in the front. Usually I see all the other songbirds visiting but not mockingbirds. Today they seem to be staking claim, those naughty birds. I wonder if the backyard birdbaths are dry. Or perhaps (and more likely) the shaded birdbath has cooler water. Hmmmm, I'll revisit the water source locations, I guess.>

I've been transplanting plants to the berm from around the garden, and amazingly they've done well despite the transplant (organic seaweed during planting helps). The Texas Lantana is happier than ever before, not doing well in its first location near the pond pre-berm. We've got Lindheimer's Senna, Mealy Blue Sage, Gregg's MIstflower, Chocolate Daisy, Blackfoot Daisy, Milkweed, Missouri Primrose, Basket Grass, Engelmann's Crag Lily, Flame Acanthus, Rock Rose, the world's tiniest Evergreen Sumac, and non-native Almond Verbena and Dutchman's Pipevine, with lots more to come once fall rolls around.


pondbermd06-09-11.jpgAbove is a young Soapbush, Guaiacum angustifolium. It was a treasured find at the last fall Wildflower Center sale, but I didn't get it in the ground right away and I'd almost given it up for dead by the time we made it to spring. However, just look at it now. It seems quite happy in the berm. Someday it will have the most adorable purple flowers.

The wildlife moved in immediately -- always a sign that we are doing something right. The sparrows flew in to see what seeds they could find in the freshly placed soil. Doves walked up the berm, and then they walked down the berm, almost like ducklings in a row. Skippers and hairstreaks and swallowtails and bees arrived to visit new blooms.The dogs love it, too. They've got a new obstacle to run laps around, and they're actually using the flagstone path to cross the berm... most of the time.

miningbee06-09-11.jpgAnd look, a little mining bee began to work on a nest in a patch of bare earth.

The drought is terrible, but there is hope for the garden. Given that the birdbaths and ponds have constant avian traffic, I know the drought is really rough on the wildlife right now. We even had a doe visit the front yard birdbath for the first time yesterday -- I've never seen one venture this close to the house before, so she must have been really desperate.

deer06-08-11.jpgYou can see her ribs, poor little skinny thing. I don't mind the deer, but I make sure to not directly feed them (I plant unpalatable plants in the front). Without natural predators, there also isn't a natural balance to the ecosystem as would be found in the wild -- no population check. But that doesn't mean my heart doesn't go out to them during times like these. She can drink water from the birdbath if she likes.

I do have to post a picture of my friend and neighbor Jan's screech owl babies. I imagine they've fledged by now, but as soon as I heard about them, I zipped down for a picture. A-dor-a-ble!

screechowlbabiesc06-01-11.jpg That makes two successful nests in the neighborhood this year! My husband made the boxes for Jan and for our own backyard owls following the Audubon building plans. We'll tweak the design a little next time for easier access for cleaning, but otherwise, they are obviously good nest box designs.

I leave you with a parting image of a House Finch watching a sunflower seed fall.

housefinch06-11.jpgOh, well, little finch, rest assured it won't go to waste. There will be plenty of birds happy to collect it from below.

Wildlife Spotted... and Spotted Wildlife


Say what?!!

screech05-11.jpgThat owl up there is driving us crazy, though I'm sure it would say the same about us. All day long it sticks its head out of the nesting-box hole and does NOTHING. Nothing except occasionally stick its head out farther to see what we're up to in the yard (which usually is us sticking our heads around trees to see what the owl is doing). Just go ahead and show us some baby owlets or bring in a rat or make an eerie screech owl noise or something, would you? We're so happy our screech owl is here, but it's just weird that it hangs out of the hole all day long.

GSfrog05-02-11.jpgThat being said, I have a feeling I've been unnecessarily blaming our frogs for causing the odd shortage of our once-abundant toads. Most likely I should be blaming the screech owl. After all, we've apparently set up a rather nice buffet table for the owl, which watches over the pond from its vantage point up in the nesting box. The male toads come out at night, innocently croaking loudly to attract a potential mate, and it's just possible that their call instead acts like a beacon to bring the silent predator from above right to them.

Check out who this green frog is watching -- someone better be careful!

Of course, it's entirely possible the pond frogs really are to blame -- they are certainly not above cannibalizing (toads are actually frogs, you know, and frogs will eat frogs). It appears we have created the ultimate frog haven in our hot-tub pond. The frogs spread themselves out across the water (so as to not get too close to their hungry neighbor, I assume), and then they wait for whatever moving morsel dares to venture close. I'm still trying to determine the species we have -- at the very least, we have both American Bullfrogs and Southern Leopard frogs, but the markings are odd on a couple of them.

And they are all getting big. The largest bullfrog is getting downright scary (cue "Jaws" music).


bullfrogb05-02-11.jpg bullfrogc05-02-11.jpg bullfrogd05-02-11.jpgI still have to get in the pond to get acorns and such out of it -- my spring cleaning is way overdue -- don't I look forward to it with Gigantic Freaka-Frogazoid there joining me! I'm just kidding -- I love frogs.

checkeredgarter04-30-11.jpgOf course, also on the toad hunt might be this Checkered Garter Snake -- it has a perfect waiting spot among the pond rocks. Our garden habitat is an ecosystem at work, that's for sure. All the same, I suggest all toads immediately head to our front-yard pond. It's smaller, but a little toad-safer for the time being. 

Here's one toad we found alive and well -- hop and hide, little one! Hop and hide!



Nearby, a cardinal flew in for a seed and a close-up. Blue Jays splash in the birdbaths, hummingbirds dance in sync together, doves play follow-the-leader... and still our screech owl sits in its nesting-box hole.

All around town, the wildlife and native plants are doing their best to handle drought conditions. Check out this beauty seen at McKinney Roughs -- it's a Great Purple Hairstreak.

greatpurple05-02-11.jpgDon't see any purple on it? That's because there isn't any. By the way, this little beauty's host plant is Mistletoe -- consider it a plus side to the parasitic plant.

This next image is of a beautiful little Southern Emerald Moth -- however, its wings were up instead of laying flat, and it didn't seem able to fly, poor thing. This is the second time I've seen this moth in the same condition at the same locale, Hornsby Bend.

southernemerald04-30-11.jpg southernemeraldb04-30-11.jpgThe Retamas (also called Jerusalem Thorn) lining the ponds at Hornsby Bend are in full bloom right now. These airy-yet-thorny native Texas plants tend to spread when they get plenty of water, but the bees and birds sure love them. It's understandable. Beautiful yellow blooms and thorns for protection -- sounds great to me.

retama04-30-11.jpgBees, generally speaking, do love the color yellow. Bees visiting Prickly Pear blossoms go a little crazy with it -- they act almost drunk.

pricklypear04-23-11.jpg pricklypearb04-23-11.jpgBut the winner of the bee-attracting flowers right now is the blooming century plant down at Natural Gardener.

centurya04-30-11.jpgI think several hives of honeybees came to visit.


Too bad I couldn't climb up there to get a closer look. To put the height in perspective, take a look at this:


Time to get back out in the garden while the temperatures are still pleasant with our temporary cold front -- hopefully more wildlife will join me!

Cute Squirrel Overload


Guest photos from my friend Christopher Denton! Talk about the perfect tree hollow and squirrel playground. This family of five will have me smiling all day long and then some. 


Wait a minute, I see only four. Where's number five?

Not here.


Or here.


Aha, here it is, sharing the hollow.



  Wait a minute, is that guy getting closer?

CDsquirrelsi04-10-11.jpg What, is he nuts?!!

CDsquirrelsj04-10-11.jpgChris and many other friends have converged from both coasts to visit us here in little ol' Austin, and we've been having days and days of fun. Thank you so much for letting me share your photos, Chris!

The Improved Improved Feeders


Our seed feeder fell a few days ago due to a faulty temporary hook, and it suffered an unfortunate crack in the tube. I have to give out kudos to Wild Birds Unlimited's lifetime guarantee. Eddie at the north Austin store repaired my feeder on the spot for no cost, and the only trouble I had was trying to get myself to leave the store without wanting to buy every feeder they had in the store.

I came home determined to go back to the original hook we'd used for years, and I intended to improve the cattle-panel cage we'd created to keep the doves out. Smaller, removable -- and it now fits nicely under the protection of the dome. FYI, WBU sells a very nice cage that works with their feeders -- I just had excess cattle panel available at no extra cost to me.

feedera08-17-10.jpgAnd sure enough, the doves have officially been fully thwarted. The new and improved cage keeps the doves out -- and the squirrels in, haha (one squirrel panicked when my family was heading out to the car and it couldn't figure out how to go back through the cage openings the way it came in -- I had to rescue it by lifting up the dome with a broomstick).

With the smaller cage, we've seen an expected slight reduction in the sheer numbers of little songbirds that hang out on the cage at a time, but they don't have any problem getting seeds. Cardinals and their companions just go right in, and blue jays can now hang from the outside of the cage and grab peanuts from any of the holes they want. They also can fit in the feeder, but it's a tighter fit than before. The only ones unable to use the feeder are the doves.


I'm just happy because the cage is nice and compact now, and there are no longer excess wires about. And it's back on its nice sturdy hook. Though I didn't take a picture of it, I used 16-gauge wire to create a pseudo cage on the top of the cattle-panel cage, so that the cage can rest on top of the tube and still be easily removable when I'm filling the feeder.

The finches now enjoy their thistle feeder in front of our kitchen window -- it hangs from a shepherd's hook, along with a hummingbird feeder (so now we get to enjoy hummingbirds from the kitchen, too).


FYI, I took down the pretty hummingbird feeder my aunt gave me (she knows). See the rust on the top of the feeder? That same rust formed on the inside of the feeder, and that is very dangerous for hummingbirds. Iron contamination kills hummingbirds, and it doesn't take much. As soon as I saw rust, that feeder came down. 

badfeeder08-17-10.jpgThis is a case where it's ok to buy plastic (glass feeders are more expensive and they can break, but they are an option, too). Pick a feeder that has zero metal, including copper, and make sure that it is easy to fully clean inside and out. Stick to white cane sugar to make your nectar -- for the same reason as above -- other sugars can contain iron and hurt the hummingbirds.

With the sun being so hot these days, I'm glad I have so many water sources available to the wildlife, and I've seen birds visiting every single one of them lately. I try to be really good about replacing the water every couple of days. Not only is that important for the birds' health, but you want to prevent mosquito larvae.

birdbatha08-17-10.jpgI'm very happy with all the changes. And the doves are back to foraging on the ground.

According to Eddie at Wild Birds Unlimited, doves need seeds without the shells, so when they consume the traditional sunflower seeds, they don't get the nutrients they need, and that's why they always seem hungry -- they eat and eat and eat and come back for more. They do like millet, but millet is not a recommended seed for home feeders. Not only does it attract the pest birds that never leave -- doves, house sparrows, and blackbirds -- but because it's wasted by other birds, it can harbor bacteria when it sits around too long. If you must use millet, only sprinkle it on the ground, and make sure to only use enough that can be consumed in a day. I don't buy millet at all -- the doves will have to make do with the peanuts and corn. The cage has really helped -- we are down to a very manageable number of doves.


Bird Brains


I wouldn't have thought it, but doves are smart.

dovesa07-11-10.jpgThey have been determined to find a way past the cage we put around the birdfeeder --pretty much since the very moment it was first up there.

The cage is there because the doves had flocked to the feeder between 20-30 at a time, all grabbing as much as possible from the feeder before the next birds shoved them off. We just couldn't afford to fill the feeder twice a day, which is what was starting to happen. And the little songbirds couldn't get through without a pause in the dove line-up.

The cage worked beautiful, and the doves struggled to find a way in. They had trouble landing, and they weren't keen on putting their large bodies through the cage "windows." Instead, they had to accept the food we sprinkled on the ground for them. And suddenly we weren't having to fill the feeder more than once in 3 days. Heaven.

dovesd07-11-10.jpgBut the drive for the treasure of seed inside the cage kept those persistent doves trying. They'd observe the other birds patiently. And finally some figured out how to land just right to get their body through an opening. They could either hold onto the cage precariously, stretching their neck through to grab some seed...

dovesf07-11-10.jpg or if they landed just right, they could hop through the window and walk on the tray below.

dovesc07-11-10.jpgWell, now they are used to it and we are back to two doves at a time sometimes on the feeder. Still better than the 20ish that would fight over the feeder -- at least the cage prevents that!

The thistle feeder is getting plenty of use now. Lesser goldfinches must be living nearby, because several of them visit regularly now.

lessergoldfinchesa07-11-10.jpg lessergoldfinchesb07-11-10.jpgAnd of course, our lovely resident house finches enjoy the thistle, though they go for the big feeder whenever it's available.

housefinches07-11-10.jpgWhich it mostly is, except when these bird brains show up -- squirrels.

squirrelf07-11-10.jpgBut the squirrels don't eat a lot, so we mostly enjoy watching their agility and cleverness.

squirrelb07-11-10.jpg squirrela07-11-10.jpg squirrelc07-11-10.jpg squirrele07-11-10.jpgsquirreld07-11-10.jpgSometimes birds will share the space with the squirrel... usually on the opposite side of the feeder. The squirrel never seems to care.

squirrelg07-11-10.jpgAnd the cage has really been amazing -- it's a constant show of songbirds now, all sharing the feeder and taking turns. Chickadees, Cardinals, Finches, Titmice, and more. They all gather up.

birdsa07-11-10.jpg birdsb07-11-10.jpg

birdsd07-11-10.jpgClever birdies.

So I guess if someone calls you a bird brain, you should consider it a compliment -- because these birds are smart!


Content Again


My initial shock and dismay over the vast destruction laid to my Cinnamon Sun sunflowers and Zexmenia by millions and gazillions of caterpillars all at one time were fortunately temporary emotions, and I've adjusted to this new level of habitat. I'm back to feeling happy, content, and utterly pleased. The butterflies fluttering about the garden today are more numerous than I'd ever dreamed of (I'm still astounded by this, I admit), and they swept me up in waves of joy and peace. Soon, all those hundreds of ravenous Bordered Patch caterpillars that caused me momentary freak-out will create an even more amazing butterfly scene -- who can argue with that?

So I won't dwell on the skeleton leaves and plant carcasses they are leaving behind and I will instead rejoice in the fact that most of the plants so far are surviving and putting on a beautiful bloom display -- 30 blooms almost entirely on one Cinnamon Sun plant alone. I get to report on new butterflies in the garden, as well, and also bees and spiders, and this habitat mama is happy as a clam.

If ever there was a question about sunflowers being so aptly named, I present this photo as a clear argument for the appropriateness. It shows the fiery side of the sun in flower form. In fact, I almost named this post Sunrise or Sunset after this shot, because that's what it makes me think of, but I actually took this in the middle of the day, so it would be cheating.


As I hovered around my sunflowers, alternating between pictures of blooms and caterpillar damage, I was joined by hummingbirds just a few feet away at the Standing Cypress, flying closer to me than ever and completely ignoring me. I missed the snapshot, though, because the two hummingbirds suddenly had one of their feisty spats and flew off. I'm not sure they even realized how close to me they were.

And then I saw the bees at the sunflowers, and my attention turned back to the fiery blazes before me. These weren't honeybees -- they were "Yellow Butt Bees" as I called them when I first saw them (Please don't think that's their real name! I was just distinguishing them from the similarly-sized honeybees we all know. Besides, perhaps "Yellow Belly" would be more appropriate; I can hear Yosemite Sam now calling them Yellow-bellied Varmints... except they are no varmints!). The best I could do was try to get some pictures in the poor light so that I could ID them later. I believe they are the species Megachile perihirta. Western Leafcutter Bees. Texas natives, woot.

cinnsunbeeb07-05-10.jpg Why are they called Leafcutter Bees? Well, they cut small little circles out of leaves and use the pieces to fashion little nest cells, adding to them some nectar and pollen for the eggs they'll lay. These solitary bees are some of the bees that benefit from Bee Boxes.

cinnsunbeec07-05-10.jpgAt one point, one of the bees looked straight at me. The little bee looks so cute that it seems unreal -- my son actually thought I stuck the bee image onto the photo. I like to think that it was posing for the camera and not considering me a momentary threat. In any case, it was cute enough to become a header shot for the blog page (scroll up and click refresh if you'd like to see it).


At the same time as their larger cousins, tinier native bees were also busy at work. They are harder to see, crawling in and out of the little flower parts.

cinnsunbeed07-05-10.jpg cinnsunbeee07-05-10.jpgThese native bees are the best pollinators a garden could ask for. Hugs to them all.

Back at the Gregg's Mistflower in the Spider's Favorite Locale, a spider reigns queen predator. I believe she is a Banded Garden Spider, Argiope trifasciata. And I think she might be the very same spider I found in the same spot a couple of weeks ago, perhaps then a juvenile and now mature (I've edited that post). She's a beauty, and highly successful in her predator talents. She had four wrapped-up carcasses that she was very focused on, and within hours she had consumed them, removed them, and repaired the web, ready for more.

She's as beautiful on her upper exterior...

  bandedgardenspidera07-04-10.jpgas she is underneath. In fact, I shot the picture below first before I even realized she was facing away from me.

bandedgardenspiderb07-04-10.jpgI spy what might be pollen seeping through the silk encasing -- might that be another bee? Gah. The nature of nature, once again.

To follow up on the Bordered Patch butterflies, I'm happy to report that they do eat Straggler Daisy, or Horseherb. In fact, there are already other groups of them out there munching away. The ones in the picture below are a little too small for me to identify for sure as Bordered Patch, but they are surely related, at the very least.

caterpillarsonhorseherb07-04-10.jpgI took a few of the more severely devasted sunflower leaves still covered with tons of caterpillars and relocated the little crawlies to the Horseherb for a dietary change, and so far so good. There are still many dozens on the sunflowers, but I feel better about all the plants' chances at this point. And as I mentioned last time, I've got plenty of Horseherb to go around. I also discovered even more groups of young caterpillars on the Zexmenia, but those plants are fairly well established and are thus on their own. I read that one Bordered Patch female can lay 500 eggs -- now I understand why I have such an invasion of munching munchers.

The older caterpillars are looking quite interesting, now that they are getting large.

borderedpatchcat07-05-10.jpgHmmm. Another caterpillar discovery. I have Genista moth caterpillars munching on one of my Texas Mountain Laurels, and eggs on another. But from what I read, the laurels should be okay. There are so many mountain laurels here in Austin, Texas, and they all do okay, right? The damage is ugly, though, but not devastating. I think. Hmmm, I feel the inkling of worry again...

genistacaterpillars07-04-10.jpg   genistacaterpillarb07-04-10.jpgI'm not sure whether these are Genista eggs, but I suspect they could be.

eggsonmountainlaurel07-04-10.jpgWhile I was walking around outside, something large moving by caught my eye. At first I thought it was a bird, but then I realized it was a butterfly. From a distance I couldn't tell whether it was a Giant Swallowtail or an Eastern Tiger, but it was definitely huge. And then it came down right by me for a nectar feast on the butterfly bush. An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Yay!


It's the first time one has stayed still long enough for me to get a non-blurry picture. The sun was too harsh, but I'll take what I can get. I continue to have a wary eye on the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii, a non-native with a questionable reputation), but it earned big points when that Eastern Tiger landed upon it.

easterntigerb07-05-10.jpgI'm still waiting on my Giants to emerge from their chrysalises. I'm getting nervous, as I always do. 

Buckeyes are here now! New visitors to the garden. So beautiful.

buckeye07-04-10.jpgAnd I still can't resist the charm of the Cinnamon Sun sunflowers. More pictures must be posted.

cinnsunc07-5-10.jpg cinnsunb07-5-10.jpg

cinnsund07-5-10.jpgSee what I mean?

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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