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Master Naturalists: Summer has its own results in a naturalist habitat

By Paul and Mary Meredith
July 19, 2012 at 2:19 a.m.

Common buckeye, junonia coneia, is one of two brown-brushfooted butterflies found in Texas.  They're found all over Texas.  They are distinctive with three large eyespots on their upper wing surface.  Experts think the eyes are used to confuse predators.  Preferred habitats for buckeyes in Victoria include fields, roadsides and gardens - any open area.  Males are feisty, darting at anything  that invades their territory.  Our buckeye's larval host plants are plantains growing in the utility right-of-way bisecting our neighborhood.  Preferred nectar plants are lantana and composites like daisies.

Mornings bring flowers dripping with nectar in our backyard these days. Those flowers attract buckeye butterflies, various swallowtails, sulphurs and bumble bees. We may spot a couple of our resident hummingbirds - often the buff-bellied hummer - on one of the feeders, or one of the bauhinias.

Many flowers blooming right now have flat blossoms; many, including lantana, blue mistflower, caesalpinia with red and yellow blooms (Pride of Barbados), and three passion vine species (with purple, white, and green blooms), have composite blooms.

Blooms with other shapes don't work for almost all butterflies and for bumble bees. They cannot extend their short proboscis far enough to reach the nectar of "taller" flowers, such as coral bean and Turk's cap. The nectar in the tall blooms is simply too far down in the blooms for the butterflies and bumble bees to reach.

Resident hummers drink nectar from the Turk's cap and coral beans in bloom without competition from butterflies and bees.

Along the back wall of our house, near our deck, we have mistflower, lantana, firecracker plant and passion vines, as well as coral bean and the bauhinia the hummers are interested in. Our hybrid coral bean is a shrub-tree draped over our 1,500-gallon rainwater storage tank.

It's a site somewhat protected from winter cold, so the coral bean hasn't been severely threatened except during the recent extremely cold winter. Native coral bean, a smaller (and spiny) variety, peeks out through other natives in the full-sun area.

We've lots of anoles this year - small and large ones - all over the yard. They hunt among all the plants, often lying in wait near one of our windows. Our (indoor) cat perches near the windows watching for them. And she paws the glass excitedly when she spots one close enough that she could reach it if only that pesky glass wasn't there.

Anoles help control insects, so they're very welcome at our place. Even with a summer as dry and hot as this one, we have more than enough insects. Sadly, we do find an occasional very small anole or night gecko dead inside the house. Some of those seemingly became cat victims after managing to sneak into the house.

Mockingbirds, doves (white-winged and Inca), a pair of Carolina wrens, an occasional cardinal and our resident hummers are our nesting bird population this summer. Mary enjoys watching the Carolina wrens hopping among the branches of our trees and shrubs during or after rainfall. Motion of trees' smaller branches gives away the wrens' locations. They've been with us all spring and summer.

Our raised deck, on the back wall, is part of all this. Its slatted roof "frees" some birds - even hummers - to fly under the roof. Maybe it's because they can see sky between the slats, rather like seeing the sky through trees' branches.

Both the potted-plant part of our wildlife habitat and a wildlife dripper are on the deck. The dripper provides (collected) water for wildlife's drinking and bathing. Some birds (hummers, for one) use it to demonstrate bathing followed by preening themselves. And not just hummers demonstrate "pushy aggressive" behavior if the dripper runs dry. We get their message and remedy the situation ASAP.

Sources: "Birds of Texas," Fred J. Alsop III, Smithsonian Handbook; "Butterflies of North America," Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman, Kaufman Focus Guide

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.



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