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Critters in the Garden

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Critters in the Garden

One of my personal pleasures in my garden is to observe wildlife. As much as I enjoy the plants, the interactions with the many parts of the animal kingdom and my garden plants make the wild within my garden an infinitely more interesting place. This observing the eating is a lot of fun so long as the creatures don't eat the whole plant. And when they do, you might liken my personality shift to someone you might recognise from Caddyshack. In order to attract a greater diversity of birds, frogs, and insects more habitats and plant species need to be in the garden. I often plant specific plants when I want to attract hummingbirds into my garden. I place them relative to where there is good light at a time I might be there to photograph from walkways and seating areas. Because my plantings are so diverse and there has never been poison or even fertilizer ever used on the property the soil health and insect all thrive. The array of beneficial insects that come to my various plants is astounding. I rarely have pest species for long. At times I think this works against me at least when it comes to Monarch Butterflies. I watch the Monarchs lay eggs and then come back an hour later, sometimes less and the eggs are often gone already. Caterpillars too, they often succumb to the array of wildlife in the garden. Nature does work in abundance and I have had plenty of survivors on the many Milkweeds scattered about my garden.

Video of a Monarch Caterpillar and Adult laying eggs on Asclepias fascicularis the Narrowleaf Milkweed.

If you love Hummingbirds as much as I do, you can find a way to a great picture of Hummingbirds by planting in a way that you will get the best light from where you can comfortably observe them. They come amazingly close if you are not moving about. I have a slew of birdhouses scattered through the garden. I put the birdhouses on tree posts and use them as hose guards to keep from dragging hoses through the plants. It has been a great joy to watch families move in and out of the houses. I put birdhouses on the tops of fences like little parapets. There is a shortage of cavities for cavity nesting birds so I keep hollow logs and leave them about the garden or on the top of the woodpiles in case one is needed for a few weeks of nesting. I had a great moment with some house wrens. They nested in a bit of a crevice in the siding of my office. There were periodic chitterings every few minutes each day. It took me a day or so to notice but the chitterings erupted each time a parent arrived with more food. A few weeks after they fledged one of my apple trees developed a woolly aphid problem. The woolly aphids look like a cottony mass and in a short time will deform the branches. The house wrens took up residence in the woodpile under the apple tree after leaving the wall of my office. Even though nearly half of the tree was covered in cotton, it was gone in a day, fat happy little house wrens to the rescue.

A walk through my garden taking time to smell the roses and watch a hummingbird and Gulf Fritillary pollinate Scabiosa Black Knight

Contacts between lawns and shrubbery, and the shrubs and trees, provide a variety of height and cover. It is in these contact zones where the most wildlife activity occurs. I have little dust bath divits under my roses and other shrubs made by the quail. Perfect mini-rototillers and a blast to watch as their flock scurries about my garden. They sort of flow from one garden to the next, a few at first then a flood followed by waves of followers. Fox, raccoons, squirrils, skunks and opossums are regulars. Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls hunt each night. Owls and hawks have visited the pond and been captured by the game camera. It is a bit of a running battle with the rodents, but a true win came when the camera caught the fox with a rodent in its mouth. The fox pair come by the camera a couple of nights each week.

Having a water feature helps bring in a huge number of different creatures. There were quail throughout our neighborhood but none in our yard until I put in a water feature. Then a small covey of quail took up residence under our berry bushes. That covey now has split into several groups.

A little quiet time with the insects, a skipper, a wasp drinking, a dragonfly taking in some sun, a brief visit with a blue mud dauber, bees with the berries.

I put up bird houses, bat houses and mason bee houses. The first year a few birds tried out the birdhouses. Each year there have been more kinds of birds as well as more of each kind. I have not been tagging them so I don't have any way to really know but I expect that many of the young are returning as well as their parents. I keep putting up more birdhouses to keep up with the population boom. It is much more fun to watch Violet Green Swallows and our local Titmouse parents eating the mosquitoes than swatting them myself.

Tarantula Hawks, Carpenter Bees and Yellow Faced Bumblebees feeding on nectar from Asclepias eriocarpa, Woollypod Milkweed. High resolution videos are part of our garden image collection. There are more native pollinators out in the wilds than most of us would ever imagine.

I like to put in plants that will attract the local butterflies. A butterfly garden can make for a scene of "floating flowers". Even if some of the plants are bruised a bit in the process by the occasional munching by the caterpillars it all seems worth it to have that beauty and motion in the garden.

A Snowberry Clearwing, Bumblebee Moth Youtube. High resolution photos are part of our garden image collection.

Video of the Life cycle of a Monarch Butterfly generation. High resolution photos are part of our garden image collection.

I am very careful about pesticides. I don't spray at all in my garden. And when the pesticides are required at a job I make sure that the pest company guy puts the poison in bait stations that can keep the toxins away from unintended targets such as kids, dogs, cats, chickens, goats and pigs. I always require they use the least toxic means available and keep the dosing as small as possible. For the most part waiting a bit will allow nature to solve the problem. The major exceptions for me have been rodents and ants, I have been able to manage them here but keep them at bay here in my garden, elsewhere this has sometimes been a problem. As a professional gardener without a pesticide applicator's license it is illegal for me to use anything stronger than a jet of water on any job in California. I am not allowed to spray weeds, nothing. I am pretty happy for this loss of responsibilty. I think it has kept me healthy after reading in the news all of the stuff about Roundup and plenty of pesticides are way more potent.

One of the greatest indicators of the health of a garden is the spiders. Because they eat other insects the toxins can be concentrated in their bodies. It is said that a messed up spider will make a messy web even when carrying a small toxic load. Since they are an apex predator they collect toxins for everything they catch. It has been a great joy to get to know my garden's spiders. Seems amazing to me but after over 30 years in this house and a life of steady observing in my garden with camera in hand I am still meeting my spider neighbors in my garden.

Critters in the Garden


Acorn Woodpecker
Allen's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Blue Heron
California Quail
Costa's Hummingbird
Oak Titmouse
Western Bluebird
Yellow Rumped Warbler


Blue Mud Dauber
California Bumblebee * Bombus californicus
Green Metalic Bees
Honeybees * Apis mellifera
Ligated Furrow Bee * Halictus ligatus, (Sweat Bee)
Mason Bees
Tarantula Hawk
Yellow Faced Bumblebees * Bombus vosnesenskii

California Gardens Butterfly List

Acmon Blue * Plebejus acmon
Anicia Checkerspot * Euphydryas anicia
Anise Swallowtail * Papilio zelicaon
California Dogface * Zerene eurydice
California Hairstreak * Satyrium californica
California Sister Butterfly * Adelpha bredowii
Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly * Phoebis sennae
Common Buckeye * Junonia coenia
Dwarf Yellow Sulfur * Nathalis iole
Fiery Skipper * Hylephila phyleus
Giant Swallowtail * Papilio cresphontes
Gray Hairstreak * Strymon melinus
Great Purple Hairstreak * Atlides halesus
Gulf Fritillary * Agraulis vanillae
Lorquin's Admiral * Basilarchia lorquini
Lupine Blue * Plebejus lupini
Marine Blue * Leptotes marina
Monarch Butterfly * Danaus plexippus, (Butterfly, Caterpillar and egg)
Mormon Metalmark * Apodemia mormo
Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak * Satyrium tetra
Mournful Duskywing * Erynnis tristis
Mourning Cloak * Nymphalis antiopa
Northern White Skipper
Orange Sulphur * Colias eurytheme
Painted Lady * Vanessa cardui
Pale Tiger Swallowtail * Papilio eurymedon
Pipevine Swallowtail * Battus philenor
Red Admiral * Vanessa atlanta
Sara Orangetip * Anthocharis sara
Spring Azure * Celastrina ladon
Umber Skipper * Poanes melane
Variable Checkerspot * Euphydryas chalcidona
Western Tiger Swallowtail * Papilio rutulus
White Checkered Skipper * Pyrgus albescens


Bumblebee Moth * Hemaris diffinis
Great Ash Sphinx * Sphinx chersis
Ornate Tiger Moth * Apantesis ornata
Snowberry Clearwing * Hemaris diffinis
Western Tussock Moth
White Lined Sphinx Moth * Hyles lineata


Jumping Spiders * Salticidae
Green Lynx Spider * Peucetia viridans
Northern Crab Spider * Mecaphesa asperata
Western Lynx Spider * Oxyopes scalaris

Other Cool Stuff

Asian Ladybug Larvae * Harmonia axyridis
Bluet Damselfly * Enallagma civile
Brown Prionid * Orthosoma brunneum
California Toad * Anaxyrus boreas halophilus, Bufo boreas
Convergent Lady Beetle * Hippodamia convergens
Decollate Snail * Rumina decollata
Fig Eater Beetle * Cotinis mutabilis
Green Lacewing * Chrysoperla rufilabris
Hover Fly, Syrphid, Flower Fly * Toxomerus marginatus
Ornate Checkered Beetle
California Praying Mantis * Stagmomantis californica
Snake Fly

California Gardens Pest Pages

Planaria * Bipalium kewense
Glassy Winged Sharpshooter * Homalodisca vitripennis
Tachinid Fly * Monarch Parasite