Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, September 28, 2015

September 2015 Butterfly Bucket List - Fiery Skipper

I'm joining up today with Anna of The Transmutational Garden for her monthly Butterfly Bucket List meme.
This month I can present with confidence, courtesy of identification provided by the friendly folks at Bug Guide.  Ladies and gents, I'm pleased to introduce Mr. Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus).
A form of Grass Skipper (Hesperiinae), this little guy may have been a caterpillar in our own small patch of residual St. Augustine, however it is just as likely he was laid as an egg and then fed on as a caterpillar any of a number of Bermuda clumps I'm constantly finding.  Or crab grass.
While The Hub takes it personally when critters chew on his small patch of lawn, I'm more than happy to share ALL our Bermuda and Crab grass clumps with these tiny charmers!
Less than an inch long, these little guys are in near constant motion, so I was happy to get a few shots while this male was distracted by delicious nectar on Duelberg salvia and mint alike. Men! Give them their favorite beverage...
This is one of three different tiny yellow-orange skipper butterflies I saw for several days running, each of which was readily confused for the others to my amateur eyes.  I won't presume to point out identifying characteristics, but will encourage you to visit the links provided for further photos and information.

Common here due to mild winters and lots (and LOTS!) of grassy areas, the eggs are laid individually on grass stems, which the caterpillar rolls and lays out horizontally for protection.  After pupating, males tend to stake out likely areas to attract females, while the ladies take off in search of Mr. Right.
The Fiery Skipper! Tiny perhaps, but with a presence powerful enough to put this garden blogger on her knees in the grass, crawling to get a shot.  Thanks to Anna for encouraging all of us to go beyond admiration. It is always an adventure finding out who these amazing creatures are that grace our gardens.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Anticipating Autumn

Though the calendar reads "September" and we've enjoyed a welcome sampler of rainy spells interspersed with some cooler mornings, it is not yet reliably Autumn per se in the Austin area.  We are stuck for a few more weeks in what is more accurately described as protracted Summer.

Early signs of Autumn abound, but those have been well described and beautifully displayed in posts on multiple other (excellent) local garden blogs.

Schoolhouse and pink rain lilies popping up cheerfully in response to long awaited September rains?  Yup. Those have already been blogged about. Several times.
Turk's cap in bloom? Posted elsewhere. Beautyberry bushes and Pidgeonberry eponymously decked out?  Duly noted and reported on other sites.
Inland Sea Oat seed heads shown to their best backlit advantage?  Uh huh, saw that already. Datura blooms?  Photographed in daylight as well as in the moon's golden glow.  Garlic chives?  With and without bees. Lindheimer's senna? Various salvias and Leadwort plumbago?  All shown in flower and exquisitely documented elsewhere.

The usual suspects have definitely already gotten their fair share of the attention.

I wanted to post, but didn't see where I'd gain traction posting more (and not necessarily better) photographs of the plants already listed alongside various lame versions of "what she said".  My frustration mounted. Had I missed Autumn's boat? Was this territory too familiar, too well trod?  Had those other (better organized) bloggers covered alpha all the way to omega?  Couldn't I find one single as-yet unsung wonder left out there waiting its turn in the spotlight?

I groused, I deleted, I muttered. I was about to give up when, scrolling through my most recent photos, I saw both the plants and the light. There were a few also-rans out there not yet covered. Team captains had chosen their favorites first, but there were definitely other players remaining. So here they are, in no particular order, "latter but not least" additions, my own nominees to the lineup of late summer/early autumn stars designate for Central Texas in September.

To kick things off, a native, Texas Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana), which is currently flaunting a scent so pronounced it demands attention.
And attention it gets.  The flower spikes open a few at a time, advancing in numbers day by day until the entire tree becomes a fully loaded, heavily scented pollinator magnet.  Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) butterflies favor it, nectaring alongside honeybees,
all sorts of native bees, bee mimics,
and even wasps.  Like this blue-winged Scolia dubia. They all spend hours darting in and out amongst the flowers, drinking their fill.
Scolia dubia- female blue winged digger wasp.
All that traffic drew even more attention, including that of the local anole population (Anolis carolinensis).
Using their coloration disguise to full advantage, they are lurking in proximity to branch ends in numbers, hoping to snap up a delicious meal all their own from amongst the winged visitors.
In fact, anoles can be seen everywhere these days including this little lip smacker perched on a flower spike of H. Duelberg salvia.
The delicate pink blossoms of Coral Vine, (Antigonon leptopus) are visited all day by pollinators of every stripe....
followed by even more anoles.  Dinner's on!
Non-native but well adapted and widely appreciated south of I-10, Firebush (Hamelia patens) comes back from the roots and kicks into high gear during our very hottest weather.  As the arrival of summer's heat was delayed, it got off to a slow start this year.  Unlike many other plants that went leggy with a vengeance, this seasonal beauty has only grown to half its usual spread and height.
I don't mind a bit.  I like it small or tall, and look forward to when glowing embers at branch ends are lighting up the bed it graces.  Hummingbirds love this plant though you'll have to take my word for that.  The delayed timing this year must be wreaking havoc with their usual feeding habits.
Beleaguered but persistent Fall Obedient plant is finally attempting blooms. Physotegia virginiana likes things wet, but the weeks of heat with no rain that followed spring's bounty took their toll.  This is a tough native however, and good year or bad, I know these will always come back for more.
This little patch of Virginia dayflower, (Commelina virginica) is blooming for a few hours daily, but it is new for me in this spot and I haven't watched it long enough to know if the current show will be reliable year to year.
Like the Firebush, October showstopper Giant Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureous), while only half its usual six foot size this year, is budding out.
Just beginning to appear, Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata) flower heads are small but expanding daily.
There you have it -  my add-ons to the pantheon of reliable late summer to early autumn bloomers in the central Texas area.  Taken in total they provide heat weary Texans with assurance weather is on the way better aligned with the calendar's insistence.

This year has certainly been one for the record books.  What about your garden spaces?  Seeing any surprises in your late summer garden after all our weird weather this year?  I'm sure there are wonderful plants I've overlooked or simply don't enjoy success with here. Lycoris radiata have been reported in bloom a few miles from me, but mine have yet to show.  Are you noticing other emerging changes?  Feel free to list them in the comments section.

Let's keep building the list!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Killing Things - Difficult Choices in the Garden

Warning:  If you are at all queasy reading about or looking at wasps, go no further.  If you are sensitive to the sight of a wasp nest that has been sprayed with poison, move along.  I'm writing about a difficult choice I made here, and I'm using my somewhat graphic photos because it felt dishonest not to.

The agaves...  Oh, the agaves.  They got larger than I thought they would faster than I thought they should. The ones I tested by growing in deep shade gained size more slowly but they all pupped prolifically.

Curbside, in full sun, the agaves are now presenting a physical hazard to pedestrians on our side of the street. Of particular concern, their potential to snag unwary elementary school children, trudging wearily up the steep hill in front of our house weekday afternoons after their bus stops at our corner. Agaves are hogging all the sunny spots, blocking the sprinkler system, extending their heavy and dangerously serrated leaves in every direction. They've simply got to go.
I was barely fifteen minutes into the removal process, sawing off agave leaves with enthusiasm and relief to finally be getting started.  Just as I began to attack the right hand side of my inaugural clump, the jiggling motion unleashed a large swarm of Polistes bellicosus, yellow and brown paper wasps.

They came speeding out, flying directly at me. I backed away equally speedily (adrenaline apparently a great lubricant for a "mature" lady's joints) and with a bit of flapping and squawking, managed to not get stung.  As I retreated ever further away, the wasps kept coming out, circling in agitated fashion. The "Bellicosus" in their name turns out to be predictively descriptive.

Regular readers may recall I was doing pruning recently on the downhill side of the driveway when I was stopped in my tracks by the presence (and agitated behaviors) of wasps of two different types in other nests.
The first was a Polistes bellicosus nest and the other belonged to red wasps, Polistes carolinas.  I managed to get the bare minimum of work done that day, approaching plants to prune from a different vantage point, and the rest of that job I relegated to an "after it freezes" timeline to avoid further disturbance or the need for eradication.
Unfortunately this job, removing the agave clumps, just won't wait that long. Unlike with bees, there are no wasp keepers to call to relocate a colony.  My hand was forced.  Sadly, I realized this nest and the wasps defending it had to go.  I reluctantly got the appropriate spray, and went back out to drench the nest, doing my best to assure the wasps were at least killed quickly.
As it was now late in the morning there were other wasps returning at intervals from foraging to their now dripping nest. They circled but seemed to understand not to land.  Polistes wasps are social, and provide many benefits to the garden.  Unless you are messing around close to their nest in some way they deem potentially threatening, they are not aggressive and co-exist peacefully with people and pets alike.

While I used to feel slightly nervous in their presence, now I welcome their ongoing patrols for pests to take back to the young in their nests. From what I've read, the spared foragers from the nest I destroyed will either go out to start their own nest or join a sister's nest as subordinates.  As I stood watch from a safe distance, I felt both defeated and sorrowful.  I say I garden for wildlife, and here I was, taking life.  It was and still is unsettling and unpleasant.
There are those of you out there who will strongly feel I was wrong to poison the nest.  (I first wrote that sentence using several different euphemisms but poison is what I used and poison is what I did.) Life is life.  An argument can be made that I have no right to kill insects when they were only defending their nest and young.  As a mother, I hope I would do no less.

There are also those of you out there who will think me silly to be bothered by killing a nest of wasps.  These are not human beings after all, they are insects. There are plenty more wasps where these came from.  I know of at least a dozen other nests and have no doubt there are others I have yet to encounter, all within the bounds of our small suburban lot.  The two nests I discovered further down the hill were both spared after all, and some might find that a more than reasonable compromise.
I'm fairly certain once I'm able to replant the soon-to-be cleared areas I'll rediscover the joy gardening more often brings, with its focus on growth and life.  I understand wild creatures live and die all around us every day.

I just don't like being the direct cause of their dying.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Too hot to garden?

September may have arrived with the promise of cooler temperatures, but you'd be forgiven if you didn't believe in that promise.  So far this "end of summer" month has delivered mostly more of the same.
That won't keep intrepid gardeners from getting out and getting busy in preparation for the post-heat pre-freeze growing season, but it does mean we'll all need to take a few more breaks to cool off and rehydrate.
During any breaks in the action, I have just the thing for you to watch for inspiration!  Earlier this year I was thrilled to spot the KLRU Central Texas Gardener's crew filming in the nearby Rollingwood Municipal Waterwise Gardens.  That tour segment is now online, part of the Butterfly Gardening by Color episode.
Woot!  Be sure to take a look.  Viewing online gives you the comfiest possible ringside seat as one of the garden's designers involved (and currently the Chief Maintenance Officer!) Scott Ogden, gives Linda Lehmusvirta the skinny on our local showplace.
If you'd prefer to watch on YouTube, here is that link. Scroll right down to the "Rollingwood Lawn to Garden" segment.
And if video doesn't appeal, here is the link to the Central Texas Gardener blog. As you enjoy the post, going down the page you'll be able to take a more leisurely look at photographs demonstrating some of the larger gestures made in this City Hall's movement from lawn, to lovely.

Video or photographs, the images are sure to inspire.  Thanks, CTG!  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

August in Austin - September's Wildlife Wednesday

I was under the distinctly mistaken impression that the heat of August meant the numbers and types of wildlife visiting our outdoor spaces last month would be sparse.  When I went back to gather up images however, I realized I had vastly underestimated on all counts.

Despite the heat, lack of rain, and relatively wilted plants on offer, the activity here in August went on unchecked, no matter if humans felt comfortable outside or not.  Common things being common, many of our visitors last month are part of a core group, what we think of as our "usual suspects".  So to keep the number of images manageable this month, I decided to skip over photos of Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Titmice and Squirrels. Similarly shots of anoles, honeybees, carpenter bees, Gulf Fritillary and Question Mark butterflies have all been set aside, they will all wait for another post.

In their stead I'd like to offer up a few of our less frequently observed visitors, which as you may suspect, means there are a few identification questions left open.  Wide open.  Gaping, even.

I've done my best to at least narrow the possibilities, and will ask not only your indulgence, but your participation.  If you spot anything I've either mislabeled or that you can identify with certainty, I hope you'll speak right up in the comments section.  With that invitation on the table, let's begin, shall we?

Boy howdy, do we ever have ants in our plants. Ants of every type and description, including these itty bitties that are marching up and down the tropical salvia plants all summer long.  Why?  Have you never heard the song? They all go marching...down...to the ground...to get out...of the rain.  We haven't had a drop of rain for weeks and yet the marching, it never ceases.

Because. They are ants and that is what ants do! (Sidebar: If you are new here and it is strictly scientific information you are seeking, this is not your post or post-er. I love science as much as the next gal, but there's more to wildlife than the science alone. There will be sciencey stuff later, I promise. Sit tight.).
Though we host honeybees and carpenter bees aplenty all summer long, these metallic green sweat bees are a rarity.  Which is a shame, because they are some of our most striking visitors.
Red Paper Wasps, (Polistes carolina) are common visitors but not ones I commonly photograph.  More aggressive than other paper wasps, they feed on caterpillar "meat" (that is the term the site used...creepy, yes?) and nectar.
While initially tempted to label this as a tiny bee, a closer look reveals it to be a tiny wasp or fly, not a bee.  How do I know?  There are three giveaways.  One is the single set of wings, bees have two.  Also, the antennae do not seem to be jointed and bee's always are. To make it a hat trick the absence of pollen carriers on the hind legs says this is something else passing as a bee.  Such mimicry is called Batesian, when something harmless benefits from presenting a similar appearance to something packing more offensive capability.  (See? The science was coming, I just had to get warmed up.)
Do I know what this is posing on the mint?  No I do not.  But I know what it isn't.  It isn't a bee.

Small as the mimic above may be, the visitor to follow is even smaller.  So small I can't get any sort of handle on identifying marks or characteristics.
In fact, in case you don't spot it immediately, I'll direct your attention to the upper middle outside edge of the flower cluster, just to the right of center.  There, do you see?  A teensy tiny something, and welcome whether or not I have any idea how to politely introduce him/her.

We don't have a pond or water feature per se, but we do have a swimming pool.  Whether or not it is responsible for drawing in a variety of dragonflies I cannot say.  I see as many of these deft aerialists out front in the high and dry as I do anywhere near the water.  A few of them I recognize (or at least think I do).

I believe both of these green bodied beauties to be Eastern Pondhawks.  They both have what appear to be (ahem!) "claspers" at the tips of their tales, which leads me to think they are both males.

The images that follow are two examples of a not-so-flashy dragonfly, what I believe to be Wandering Gliders, so named because they are found all around the globe.
Brown all around, these dragonflies are dressed for Fall.
To wrap up the dragonfly parade, here is a set of photos of a dragonfly I can identify with certainty, thanks to corroboration from the great folks at BugGuide.  The following are all images captured of a female Checkered Setwing (Dythemis fugax).
Typically when I'm attempting to photograph a dragonfly I get too close.  The dragonfly will take wing, fly around a bit, and then resettle either exactly where it had previously been, or very close by.  I've learned if I can move in and then remain still, I will often get a decent close shot.
On this particular afternoon, the breeze was gusting quite a bit.  This dragonfly apparently decided it liked that agave spike enough that with the wind it was just too much trouble to attempt multiple landings.  So it gambled I was low risk, and stuck tight as I circled, while the wind continually rearranged its wings.
So much for certainty.  To follow is yet another mystery visitor, a larger one I felt fortunate to observe, much less photograph.  When I first saw this beautiful bird, I thought, "A Ladderback Woodpecker!" and was filled with joy.
When I started looking closely at photographs and detailed information on birding websites, my joy remained unabated but my certainty over the proper identity of this bird waned.  Maybe not a Ladderback.  Ladderbacks look similar, and are found in Texas, but they nest and forage in cactus.

Perhaps this is an adolescent Golden Fronted Woodpecker? We are solidly within their year round range, and the call is one I've heard many times when working out in the garden.  But did I hear that call that afternoon?  I couldn't be sure.

I've tried photographing Golden Fronted woodpeckers before when they visited (and, joke's on me, think I probably mis-identified them as Ladderbacks).  They were hard to photograph, working high up in the tree canopy and constantly on the move.

I spotted this bird perhaps fifteen feet up.  It remained stationary for long periods, intently watching the ashe juniper trunk just above.  Had the heat gotten to this bird, or had I gotten the identification wrong a second time?  At one point I made too much noise and the bird looked right at me.  Thinking it would immediately fly off I put down my camera.  Nope.  It moved up the trunk a bit but didn't go far.  So probably not the shy Golden Front after all.
Back to the web sites. Could it be a Red-Bellied Woodpecker?  Though often described as a bird of the "East" United States, we are at the far south and west edge of their year 'round range, and listening to the call I am certain I've heard it many times over the past few years.  Also compelling was the description of their foraging habit.

Red-Bellied woodpeckers spend more time searching and pecking at bark rather than drilling into it.  While I've heard woodpeckers drilling into trees all summer long, I didn't see or hear any such behavior that afternoon.  This case of identity remains unsolved.

As for me?  It is time for me to emulate this sturdy fellow and exit, Stage Right.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
That is it, the full roundup of not-so-commonly seen wild visitors to our spaces, here just west of Austin, Texas, looking back at August of 2015.  My deepest gratitude as always to our hostess Tina, of My Gardener Says.

I deeply admire her unflagging support of and advocacy for wildlife gardening. You should run not walk, to visit her website and read her own Wildlife Wednesday post recapping August, without fear of one iota of stridency or scold.  Her post this month is especially whimsical, and expresses contagious delight for a garden well populated with wondrous creatures.

While you are visiting My Gardener Says, be certain to check the comments section of today's post for links to any number of Wildlife Wednesday reports from all around.   And who knows - maybe when I check there I will find a link to your post, too.  That would be grand.