Baby, It’s Cold Out There

The temperatures dropped and the gang showed up. Several flocks of little yellow birds arrived to chow down at the feeders and pick bugs from the trees. There were Pine Warblers, Orange Crowned Warblers, Yellow Rumps and Goldfinches.

As it turns out, the finches will only eat fresh Nyjer seed and I had to quickly run to the store to grab a bag. The knowlegable staff told me I could freeze the seed for next year. The Nyjer seed is expensive and the birds are usually gone before they finish a bag. Another feeder is full of sunflower seeds that give the birds the energy they need.

Another winter visitor that has been around for some time is a Rufus Hummingbird. I have enough blooming flowers in the winter to attact the hummer and I supplement with a sugar water feeder. On these cold days I make sure I have the feeder out before dawn.

Visiting Birds

The advantage of living in the South, is that we have plenty of winter visitors.  Goldfinches have returned after not stopping by in about two years.  I quickly went out to buy fresh Niger seeds as soon as they arrived.

The resident Cardinals don’t seem to mind sharing sunflower seed with the visitors.

A small flock of Sparrows have also been frequenting the garden.

Every year there seems to be a hummingbird in the yard and one finally showed up after Christmas.  I believe this is a Rufous Hummingbird, but it really does not have much color.  I have been trying to get a photo for days and I finally pulled a chair into the backyard and waited.  It didn’t take too long to snap this one from a distance.

The day was sunny and the sky was Texas blue.  When this photo is enlarged, leaf buds can be seen.  Here in Texas spring is not far away and plants will be leafing out next month.

Unfortunately, the sunny day inspired this yellow Cloudless Sulphur butterfly to hatch out.  I’m not sure it can take the cold nights to come.

This was written 3 days ago.  See the update on the next post.



Becoming a Wildlife Photographer


I thought I would take the plunge and become a wildlife photographer (joking..kinda).  I really wanted to capture my winter Hummingbirds, so I dug out a tripod, put on the long lens and situated a chair with a good view. I sat for awhile and they did not show up.  Being in the yard, I started thinking about gardening chores and decided to get to work.  With that done I came back to the chair to wait again.  The birds still were not hungry, so I went inside to check on dinner.  I headed back out and was finally rewarded.


I was able to get a decent shot of the Buff-bellied Hummingbird that has been around since Thanksgiving.  I have a photo of him through a window, but this is outside and clearer.  He is tolerating my presence more.  I have enjoyed watching him take showers in gentle rains and baths on the Variegated Ginger and Philodendron leaves.


This little guy arrived around Christmas.  He is a Rufous Hummingbird and hails from the far northwest.  His color indicates a male.  He is very stealth during feeding and is able to zoom in when the big Buff-bellied is elsewhere.  He drinks for quite awhile, filling up in one visit.


As far as a career as a wildlife photographer, I think not!  I don’t have the patience to sit for long periods of time, but I certainly admire those who do and produce the wonderful photos for us to enjoy.  I will just go back to getting lucky with a camera in the right place at the right time.


Sugar Addicts Heed Nature’s Call

The cool winter months brought some northern visitors to the Automatic Garden.  They were attracted by the flowering plants, but the supplemental sugar really kept them happy.  From dawn to dusk the sugar birds could not leave the sweet nectar.  It is not unusual for a Rufous Hummingbird to enjoy the liquid sugar, even a Ruby-crowned Kinglet will indulge, but I really think it might have been a new experience for the Yellow-rumped Warbler, who could not leave the feeder and spent a lot of energy chasing the rest away.

I was afraid that the birds may not be  able to break their sugar addiction, but the weather changed and nature called them back to their northern homes.

And as the seasons always return, so did the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds taking their place at the feeders and flowers.


Ruby-crowned, Yellow-rumped and Rufous, A Drama with Color



The setting is a peaceful garden bed.



Sweet little Ruby-crowned Kinglet has been enjoying the sugar water feeder and yummy bugs.



And then Yellow-rumped Warbler arrives and sees that Ruby-crowned has a sweet set up.  Unfortunately, he can’t quite figure out how to use the feeder.  Regardless, he will not let Ruby-crowned use it and chases her off every time she comes near.


Yellow-rumped has to get his sugar high from licking the drips from the ground.


Meanwhile, the tiny Rufous Hummingbird also has to have his share of the sweet stuff and chases the bigger birds away with his needle-like beak.


The End


As I had mentioned in a previous blog, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet had shown up in the garden and I put some nectar out in a hummingbird feeder.  I found the Kinglet only likes that shape of feeder tube and needs to have something to land on, as they cannot flutter for long.  Male Kinglets have a red tuft of feathers on their heads that they show when startled.  They winter here on the Gulf Coast.

I have the feeder set up outside my kitchen window and I am entertained while eating or working at the kitchen table.  I also took all the photos through the window, which made it difficult to get good shots, not to mention that these birds do not hold still for long.

I soon noticed a Rufous Hummingbird using the feeder.  It was the first time this winter that I have seen one.  These Hummingbirds spend their summers in the northwest, which is why they can tolerate some of our “cold” days.  Little tiny Hummingbirds can be quite aggressive and the Rufous would chase the Ruby-crowned from the feeder.

And then, the Yellow-rumped Warbler showed up.  Usually, these Yellow-rumped stick together and forage in the trees looking for bugs.  They especially like Wax Myrtle berries that are now ripe and are probably the reason they are hanging out in the Automatic Garden.

This Warbler has developed a bad case of sugar addiction.  He comes by several times an hour and the bird does not want to share!  The Warbler knows the sweet water comes from the feeder, but can’t quite figure out how to get it.  He has been studying and exploring the bottle for days.  As I was writing this, he did try to flutter and drink from the tube, but immediately flew off, so he probably was not successful. The last photo shows a little bit of his yellow rump.  When the Warbler’s wings are open the spot is about the size of a quarter.

The little actors are still putting on their drama and it is time to fill the feeder so the show will go on!



The Garden is a Twitter


The Automatic Garden is tweeting (the old fashioned way).  The American Goldfinches arrived around Christmas, which is pretty much right on time. There are about 20 to 30 of them, but they are very camera shy.  These two were too hungry to notice a photographer. The populations of Cardinals, Titmice, Doves, Chickadees, House Finches, Sparrows and Red Bellied Woodpeckers (to name a few) has picked up.  Visitors also pass through this time of year and a Vermilion Flycatcher with a scarlet underside and black top was spotted.


The American White Pelicans spend the winter on a nearby lake and take to the sky daily to stretch their wings.  Also seen on a flyover was a Bald Eagle.  There is a nesting pair on the lake and they will also stop on nearby trees in the evening. All the action in the garden also attracted some predators.  A hawk chased a bird into the window and a cat has been hanging out hoping to get lucky.


The identity of the second hummingbird was revealed while trying to snap some pictures.  This tiny bird fits the description of a Black Chinned Hummingbird that is a female or immature male. They are known to show up on the Gulf Coast in the winter.


Here is the photo from a previous post of a Rufous Hummingbird.  Even though it is going to get cold  again, as far as the birds are concerned, Spring is in the air!

Sad Return


After being away from the Automatic Garden during the Arctic Blast, homecoming was very sad.  A majority of the plants were burned from the cold.  Many have never been affected from a freeze, but this one was epic.  Usually frost cloth will save the tender plants, but alas, no one was home to cover them.


This Firecracker plant (Russelia) has never froze until now.  It is a hummingbird favorite.  I was glad to see my Rufous survived the low temperatures.  Another hummer friend showed up…or should I say frenemie!  The flowers are dead, but plenty of feeders are up to provide substance.


The Pentas have made it through two previous years.  Now it is time for replacements.


On the upside, the Nandina finally turned red!  The garden will  provide days of exercise while cutting back dead plant material. Now there will be no doubt which plants are truly suited for the Automatic Garden when they grow back in the spring.

Winter Hummingbird


This is a Rufous Hummingbird and probably a female.  She was very difficult to photograph and these photos are through a window. Click on the photo one to two times to enlarge and see her colors.


There has been a Rufous in the Automatic Garden for the last 7 years.  They can be found as far north as southern Alaska, which must be why the little birds can tolerate recent night temperatures in the 30’s.


She is perched on the remains of Texas Star Hibiscus stem right outside the kitchen window near some Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignata) that is still blooming.  It is a favorite perch for all the backyard birds.


As Rufous Hummingbirds are very protective of their nectar source, she is often seen chasing other birds around the garden even though they are much bigger than her.






The Rufous Hummingbird and bees have been feeding together all winter.  The hummingbird will actually poke the bees away if it can’t get to the feeder.  In the first shot, the bee can be seen through the bird’s wing.

Merry Christmas from the Gulf Coast

Merry Christmas everyone!  Christmas on the Gulf Coast is somewhat different from our Northern neighbors.  It is highly unlikely that we will have snow, but it has happened.  It may not even be cold, although cold down here is anything below 70 degrees.

Never fear, the lack of snow and cold are well made up for with outstanding light displays throughout town and at private residents. 

For gardeners and naturalists, it is a wonderful time of the year with our gardens still in bloom and many feathered visitors from the North.  A multitude of birds pass through, some just stopping long enough to fill up before heading over the Gulf of Mexico and other birds will stay in the area all winter.

A favorite visitor to the Automatic Garden is a Rufous  Hummingbird that summers in the Northwest and as far away as Alaska.  One has been arriving late fall for the last 5 years.  This year the little Rufous was followed and now there are two!  The garden has been blooming enough to feed them.  Feeders have been placed to provide extra nourishment.



The Automatic Garden provides gifts everyday and it does not disappoint on Christmas.  Currently in bloom are azaleas, camellias, black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, cigar plant, various salvias, pentas, dianthus, golden dewdrops, firespike, cannas, firecracker plant, blue clerodendrum, bromeliad, cone flowers, and hummingbird bush to name a few.

Have a wonderful New Year and to all you gardeners out there I wish you sunny days and rainy nights!

The Automatic Gardener