Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rufous Hummingbird Migration

When we lived in the country, we operated a year-round hummingbird hostel. Gardens for food and shelter, feeders for quick energy. Bird books don't show hummingbirds in the Texas Hill Country in winter. Guess the birds don't read the books.

From Spring-Fall, we're flocked with Black-chinned and Ruby-throated hummingbirds.  The Black-chinned begin arriving in March. A generous number stay through summer to breed and rear young, sometimes as many as three clutches.  Many linger into fall to tank up for flights to Mexico and Central America.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds pause in the Hill Country in spring and fall on the way to and from distant breeding and wintering grounds.

But in the last decade, a noticeable number of Rufous hummingbirds have begun to overwinter in our region. For four years running a young male would arrive at our flowers and feeders in mid-December. 

Why? Maybe the young guys couldn't migrate without more bulk, or wanted to be first in line to get back to far-away breeding grounds. Maybe our winters have been warmer than average. And maybe more people are creating gardens and keeping feeders out for hummingbirds.

Cornell University's experts say that Rufous hummingbirds are "the feistiest hummingbird in North America". They need every bit of spirit to make migration treks from as far north as Alaska to Central America and back. These tiny birds weigh less than a nickel, yet they navigate and fly untold miles twice a year.

Adult Rufous hummingbird
The little guys would stay with us until the first Black-chinned hummingbirds arrived in mid-March. The next year a new youngster would arrive. We never saw 'our' Rufous hummers again. But our feeders kept them alive through winter; and the pleasure of watching them grow into adults remains.

This year we abandoned the scorch of Texas summer sun for some time in Colorado. Pagosa Springs--a cute historical town on the San Juan River among the San Juan Mountains. I knew I'd miss my Black-chinned hummingbirds at home...but the chance for cool days and mountain air was too enticing.  

What I didn't know was that we'd arrive during Rufous hummingbird migration. We'd see males and females, juveniles and adults flocking to the feeder hanging on our deck. We were privy to diving and chattering and aerial wars of ownership. One female perched above the feeder, claiming it as private property. 

It was so much fun, I'm sharing a few seconds of pure winged happiness with you too.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Yellow passion vine, (Passiflora lutea)

The best presents are those you least expect.

Especially if the gift isn't easy to find. 
Yellow passion vine flower

So you know I did a happy dance a few years ago when I discovered a short length of Yellow passion vine (Passiflora lutea) beneath an oak at our newly-purchased home. 

I didn't expect we'd find any native plants beyond a few tree species. The house is in a small development where the land had been scraped bare except for big trees

Yellow passion vine isn't rare but I've never seen it for sale in a nursery or available online. You either have to luck into finding one on your land or know someone who can share.

Zebra longwing butterfly on lantana
Folks who love butterflies will also count this species a gift because it's a host plant for Julia, Mexican & Gulf fritillaries, and Zebra & Crimson-patch longwing butterflies. Butterflies visit yards with food sources...but the thing they are programmed to do before they die is reproduce. So if you want butterflies in your yard, put in plant species that butterflies need for laying their eggs and feeding caterpillars.

Butterflies will lay eggs on other passion vine species too, including Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as Maypop. Both varieties have naturalized in more than 20 U.S. states, generally from the midwest to the Atlantic and south. Maypop can also be grown in pots and moved indoors in winter.
Gulf fritillary butterfly caterpillar on Maypop passion vine (Passiflora incarnata)
A word of caution, the world of passion vines includes about 500 species. Plant native passion vines. Exotics may kill caterpillars. Avoid red-flowered passion vines, and those with scientific names ending in coccinea and racimos. Butterflies will still lay eggs on those but the caterpillars can't properly digest them and won't live to become butterflies.

Yellow passion vine leaf
If you'd like to scout your area for Yellow passionvine, look in dry part-shade areas. The vine has tri-lobed leaves and climbs or trails about 12-15 feet long in good conditions. Don't worry if it climbs a tree, it doesn't dig into bark.

The vine grows well in limestone-based, well-drained soils and will get by with modest water once established. 

Yellow passion vine is deciduous in the Texas Hill Country but I didn't find a reference to confirm that for all regions.

Yellow passion vine flowers, May-September
the vine gets enough sun, it produces inconspicuous yellowish-white flowers May - September.

The Ladybird Wildflower Center website says that flowers are followed by purple or black berries attractive to birds. But in the two locations and eleven years we've been graced with this vine, I've never seen fruit.

What we have seen, beside the appealing foliage, is butterflies. 

Gulf fritillary on lantana
Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.