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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October Wildlife Wednesday - Autumn's abundance

In Texas it is commonly held wisdom September is the survival point signifying the turning of the seasons, the pivot between the last heat of summertime and the first cool mornings of autumn. While the arrival of our transition to "cooler" felt delayed this year, September yet offered a sure progression towards that goal.

Maybe I only imagine the wild populations or numbers of visitors increase in response, but definitely we are outdoors more, enjoying what is often the nicest weather of the year.  Perhaps all the wild visitors for this ninth month on our calendar are reporting back in to their own, "the people are often spotted exiting their hive".  While advising each other to watch for "clear signs of agitation", "these people are harmless if not threatened".

Our cats are certainly paying attention.  They enjoy observing their favorite and near constant companions from behind closed or screened windows and doors.  Carolina wrens begin these shared sessions by fuss-fuss-fussing at the cats, breaking off eventually to hunt. They spend several minutes searching for bugs, spiders, and bits of web, looking intently into every nook and cranny all around our back deck.
Carolina chickadees are often seen at the feeder.  Both bird sightings trigger much cat crouching, skulking from window to window, and excited vocalizations.  Occasionally the tension builds to some agreed upon level at which point the cats unceremoniously smack each other in the face a couple of times and then call it quits, moving off for a nap.  The birds remain unimpressed.
Moving from feather to fin, this fine specimen of a Texas spiny lizard seemed to be posing, assuring I could capture his best angle and absorb the full impact of his blue patched glory.

I involuntarily spoke aloud when I first noticed this guy.  (I'm assuming maleness based upon his blue patches.)  I could not contain my pleasure at seeing him here, which was only surpassed by my appreciation for his staying still while I quietly approached.  Now I'm the number one member of his fan club.  I think he is magnificent.

We've got aphids aplenty this September, which eventually draws in ladybugs. The one in my photo is an import, Harmonia axyridis, and as such is no longer heralded. I struggle with that. I appreciate any help in keeping aphid numbers in check without my having to look very closely at or touch them personally.  

I understand these are imported lady beetles and they are taking habitat away from native lady beetles. I know this on an intellectual level, yet whenever I see a ladybug (as I grew up calling them) they uniformly trigger a response of affectionate regard.  Stopping to count the spots and realizing any particular bug in question is imported, does not serve to interrupt the emotional connection I immediately establish with the very "idea" of ladybug.
I'm always shaking my head that I don't get "many" butterflies, but when I take stock of September I see that isn't precisely true.  While I don't get masses visiting, and I don't see many migratory butterflies, I do have a steady handful of locals showing up to visit whatever is in bloom.
Fiery Skipper on H. Duelberg salvia
In September that is mostly the salvias, though mint I keep on hand serves as a reliable draw each year.  I pull most of the mint out annually but there are always sprigs that survive and I hand water them in August to encourage these popular flowers.
Fiery Skipper on mint
Gray Hairstreak on mint
Southern Skipperling on mint
I planted blue mistflower to pull in queen and monarch butterflies, but it is attractive to smaller native orange specimens as well.  Skippers and skipperlings exhibit a preference for my blue flowers, allowing me to enjoy their company and not fret that my floral efforts are being overlooked.
Southern Skipperling on Mistflower
Southern Skipperling on Mistflower
This past month I spotted several bees, some of them up to what might be considered impolite behavior in human circles.  But they are bees after all, and as noted in the song, "birds do it, bees do it..".

You've been warned.
Xylocopa tabaniformis, tabaniformis-ing.
Ahem! Moving along, a common (and by comparison so petite and so polite) visitor, the European honeybee, visiting mint...

and a not so common sight in my gardens previously, the Xylocopa micans carpenter bee.  These guys are so heavy they usually bend whatever flower spike they are visiting waaaaay over.  I was able to get this photo because I have this H. Duelberg salvia growing up through a tomato cage.
Carpenter bee, specifically Xylocopa micans.  
The cage was originally placed to support blanketflower seed stalks for finches.  Left in place out of laziness, it is now making it easier to observe heavy pollinators all the time and all the pollinators on breezy days.  Lesson learned.  I'll put the cages out and leave them there on purpose, from now on.

Syrphid flies look like bees and serve much the same purpose as bees, so I wonder why it is we don't know more about them or admire them more widely? They need a better publicist.
Most of the darners and dragonflies I saw in September were on the wing but this one Blue-ringed Dancer damselfly cooperated and posed nicely.
There were a few other new (to us) visitors.  These Large Milkweed Bugs...Oncopeltus fasciatus...
attractively color coordinated with their Tropical Milkweed host, were busily shopping for mates.  Heeding the debate, I'm wondering about the need for cutting my milkweed back the moment I hear of monarch migrators in our area.  Either way it is reportedly not desirable for these milkweed bugs to successfully establish a nursery as their presence in numbers may deter butterflies.  Even if I leave the tropical milkweed growing at all, I'm still hoping to get native milkweed plants established, which the milkweed bugs would also readily colonize.  Rather than let them distribute eggs, I dispatched them.

This similarly fashionably coordinated fellow has two names, both of them longer than he is.  This is a yellow margined flower bup, or Acmaeodera flavomarginata (part of a family of wood boring beetles). 
This Scolia dubia, also called a blue-winged wasp, dropped in on the Kidneywood tree while it was in full bloom.  I was delighted to read they predate June Bug and Japanese beetle grubs.
I've had some rough history with wasps recently.  Impressive in size, I kept a respectful distance from this one until I determined it was not only unthreatened, but past that resolutely uninterested in my presence.

One of the weirdest visitors to our spaces in September was this Walking Stick, type unknown.
While it impressed me as being six to seven inches long, when I investigated information readily available on giant walking sticks, I came up with nothing and nobody who even vaguely resembled this guy.  I found multiple photos and reports of these insects being tame and easily handled, but when I went back out to get more photos and perhaps a measurement or two, my specimen-to-be had (wisely) vanished.  Identity crisis obligation for the month... met!

And of course there is always drama lurking in the wings.  I was snapping shots of a hoverfly demonstrating why it deserves the name, wondering if it was eying the aphids as deterrent, potential competition or perhaps even as a potential meal.

Maybe the aphids and the hoverfly were deep in conversation?  The hoverfly circled and stopped, circled and stopped. When I happened to glance further down the stem I noticed another set of what seemed to be hungry eyes.
An anole! Who was after whom?  The fly moved on, the aphids stayed put, the anole ate...something...or to the rest of its kind, somebody.  It all happened too quickly for me to see.  I'm guessing some aphid-tending ant met its end as the rest of the world kept wheeling relentlessly by.

Happy Fall to those of us who are currently enjoying a return to cooler times, and Happy Wildlife to all, no matter your weather or season.  
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Thanks as always to the inspirational Tina of My Gardener Says, creator of the Wildlife Wednesday meme and native plant/wildlife guru to us all.  Be sure to visit her post for this month and visit the comments section to find links to wildlife reports from around the globe.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Deb! You had me gripped all the way through, I love the humour and your photos, I've noticed more wildlife this September too, but like you I've spent more time in my garden. Loved the description of your cats smacking each other in the face, I can just picture that happening. Your Texas spiny Lizard is a real show stopper, I wonder what you said out loud! And you must of been flat on the ground to capture the Anole, aphids and hoverfly together, nature is rather wonderful! We have native Ladybirds (Ladybugs) here, that are being predated by alien Harlequin ladybirds, I wonder if this is what you have too.

Tina said...

You have so much!! Some of what I have, but lots of other critters, too. I need to look at my id of the carpenter bee-- you're calling yours X micans--I called mine X. virginica. I'll bet you're correct...

Your Texas Spiny Lizard is a handsome devil. I used to have them accompany me on my daily garden musings and diggings at Zilker--they are so charming. Unfortunately, I don't have them in my garden.

Like you, my gardens are hosting masses of butterflies/moths, but there's almost always something a'flittering and a'flyin'--skippers always, but I'm also getting more of the swallowtails and Monarchs!! Just in the last couple of days, in fact.

Thanks for the id of the blue-winged wasp--you'll see that one in a post of mine next month--there are several visiting the frostweed and being very busy about it all.

You might have been late today (you weren't), but you certainly didn't lack for subject matter. Thanks, as always for your contributions and participation!

Kris Peterson said...

You captured (figuratively speaking) a large number of wildlife visitors again this month, Deb. I'm seeing a lot more butterflies now, especially sulphurs, but I don't even try to catch photos these days - I think it takes more patience than I seem to possess. I was pleased to see that one of your anoles managed to arrange an appearance on screen.

Hannah said...

I grew up in Texas, so it is a sadly nostalgic visit down memory lane to see your lizards and various insect photos, Deb. Your spiny fence lizard is quite the magnificent fellow! And I miss the Anoles doing their push-ups. But I do have skippers in my garden here, I love your photos of their cute facial expressions and large eyes.

TexasDeb said...

GardeningJules/Julie: Thank you! I won't repeat what I said in entirety, but I started out with "well HELLO there!" and proceeded into a bit more, ahem, salty territory. When startled I often retreat to schoolyard vocabulary. I should probably warn neighbors about letting their children play outside on the other side of the fence from where I garden.

It was my vague impression the Asian ladybugs "outcompeted" the natives and I'm allowing that information gap to continue intentionally. I don't buy bags of them to release now the issue has been raised and we leave it at that. The rivalries between species exacerbated by our human introductions of populations as "control" methods always seems to go awry some way. It would be comical if the consequences weren't so often dire for the creatures involved.

And yes - it seems you and I share a willingness to get down and dirty (or wet in your case!) to capture a shot. Makes for more interesting laundry days! Thanks for dropping by!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: I honestly never think I have very much until I start organizing the photos (never far enough in advance either which is pushing my posting times later...and later...). This meme is useful in so many ways but perhaps that is an unanticipated positive takeaway for me. These posts are clearing up misperceptions of what sorts of visitors I'm getting and what is drawing them in. Makes plant choices and planning decisions a lot easier, having these records on hand! Now I'm thinking I might start keeping a running tally of butterflies and birds that I see but don't get photographs of. I realize the kids say "pics or it didn't happen" but realizing how many (butterflies especially) visitors I miss, it might be helpful to have a record that is not reliant upon my awful spotty memory!

Your blog! Your meme! I hope you are taking time to experience and enjoy and be appropriately pleased with the inspiration you are supplying and the positive impact you have!

TexasDeb said...

Kris: I am happy you are seeing butterflies, I'm certain their populations are incredibly stressed in your area between drought and loss of habitat. But I completely understand you not stopping to chase them with a camera while you are yet in the thick of your lawn removal process. Hard hard work.

The plants you are supporting must seem like such a cornucopia compared to what the dry lawns surrounding you have to offer. I can only imagine how much wildlife you are helping out with your lovely garden beds! A visual feast for our eyes and a literal feast for many wild creatures. No photos needed to know that!

TexasDeb said...

Hannah: Skippers are especially adorable, I agree. I suppose gardeners in Texas do tend to take the anoles for granted, common as they are. But then horny toads used to be everywhere as well... If I saw one now it would move me to tears.

That spiny lizard is a species I'd only hoped to catch occasional glimpses of - it has only been very recently that there are either numbers large enough for us to be seeing them more or perhaps they have relaxed in our proximity at long last, realizing we pose no threat (other than getting an unflattering angle...). I'll admit I spent quite a while just admiring that big male. I love anoles but that spiny guy....SO handsome! I'm smitten.

Thanks for dropping by, and also for commenting. It is always fun to hear what readers think. Hope you'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures! I especially like your spiny lizard - he seems indeed to be posing for you! And the behaving of the cats towards the birds was really funny, and also true.

TexasDeb said...

Botanically: Thank you! That lizard did seem to be staying still "for" me. Usually these shy creatures run at our approach. Presumably his size (indicating some age) means he was not threatened and/or had learned the thing with the large black contraption in front of it creeping up ever closer was not interested in feeding. As to our cats - they aren't particularly "wild" to us, but in their own minds? Fierce and wild and free! Glad you dropped by.

Island Threads said...

the lizard is wonderful Deb, you have taken some beautiful close ups of the wildlife in your garden, I love the photos of the butterflies/skippers, but oh all that green fly, I hope it doesn't do too much harm, love the cat fight story, aren't cats wonderful, Frances

TexasDeb said...

IslandThreads/Frances: Thank you! I do enjoy stalking wildlife with my camera. Our cats are an important part of our family, we love them as much because of as in spite of how silly they can be. By "greenfly" I suppose you are referring to the aphids and they seem to have disappeared as abruptly as they appeared. Thanks for your concern - any damage done looks negligible so far!

Debra said...

Ooooh. Great photos as always. My heart nearly broke at the cuteness of that skipper. And I loved the anole drama and well all the little stories here. Spiny lizards look so exotic to me. I can totally imagine them as miniature dinosaurs. I recently learned that tropical milkweed has more of the toxin that monarchs need than A. tuberosa offers. Argh why is everything always so complicated? I decided to leave mine untouched for now.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Thank you! There seem to be entrenched camps setting up on either side of the tropical milkweed debate. Since I have yet to see a single monarch here (and I'm stating that, not complaining) I'm content to leave mine up for now. It is in bloom, it is currently aphid-less after weeks of hosting those teenies, and it dies back on its own each winter so I'm leaving mine untouched.

I am over the moon with the spiny lizards we are seeing. I'm sure there is some downside to their mini-population explosion but I can't figure out what that would be so I'm just indulging in unabashed delight in their presence. We also saw two snakes here yesterday - one was probably a rat snake and the other a garter, so I'm pretty excited about that, too. We aren't seeing many amphibians but at least we're getting some reptile action!

Dee Nash said...

Hi Deb, I enjoyed reading your post, and I, too, have trouble with all the debates we see about things from Asian lady beetles to tropical milkweed. Of course, our tropical milkweed doesn't overwinter so it's not so much of an issue for us. Those big-eyed skippers make me smile, and I love lady beetles, native or not. ~~Dee

Pam/Digging said...

That IS a rather magnificent Texas spiny lizard. Congrats on the photo capture. I saw a big one in my garden recently too, but lacking a camera at hand, I have only the memory, along with the hope of seeing him again. ---Pam

TexasDeb said...

Dee: Welcome! Thanks so much for dropping by and for commenting as well. I'm honored. It amuses me at least a little that some of the topics roiling the garden sites are absolutely un-noticed by the world at large. Even in my own family I've been gently rebuked that anyone who isn't actively gardening often finds these issues particularly riveting. A certain form of nerdery...you have to choose your audience carefully!

TexasDeb said...

Pam: I promise you he was posing. I've never seen anything quite like it. Do you suppose word is out that there are photo ops to be had at our place? All the (very!) local celebs are apparently slithering over to get their piece of the action.

Weather for the tour is looking promising - I'm sure you'll get good crowds!

Donna@LivingFromHappiness said...

You have so much wildlife there...I would love to see your garden alive! That Fiery Skipper is gorgeous...I really need to pay attention to skippers next year...so underrated.

TexasDeb said...

Donna: As much as I oooh and aaaah over the bigger butterflies, it is these teeny tiny skippers and skipperlings that I see most often. I've come to appreciate their wide-eyed look and really enjoy their company in the garden. We do see a lot of wildlife for a suburban lot but we've nearly eliminated the use of all chemicals and plant/prune and remove brush in ways that keep their needs in mind. I'm deeply grateful for all our visitors (with the possible exception of the munching deer!).

Unknown said...

Your spiny lizard seems like he belongs in some prehistoric era full of dinosaurs! What a striking looking fella! And that walking stick is so cool! I've yet to see one in my garden, but if there is one thing that I've learned... it is that once other gardeners spot a certain critter in there gardens, I always seem to find one as well in my garden not too long afterwards, so I'll keep a look out!

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: I have the same thing happen but usually with bloom times. For whatever reason my bulbs especially seem to run several weeks later with bloom times but I know to watch when I see them on other blogger's posts. I saw a second walking stick just last week (before the rains!) and so you should definitely keep an eye out. It seems they are on the move!