Wild Things

Inspiration from fellow gardeners is a gift. I recently watched my friend Amy Campion's presentation to the Native Plant Society of Oregon about pollinators and was wowed (see it here). In addition, the good folks from Gardenista were here this week for a photo-shoot and an interview for their upcoming book Low Impact Gardening. With all of these big ideas fresh in my mind, I was suddenly keen to observe what, or rather who, is visiting the garden right now. After all, the initial inspiration came years ago in our Portland garden to attract wildlife (via the Backyard Habitat Certification Program) and we were quite successful. Having brought that mindset with us to tread lightly and to provide for our fellow creatures, I wondered how we were doing. Were we attracting a variety of insects besides honey bees? I know we have a myriad of birds, frogs, snakes, salamanders, voles, mice, skunks, raccoons, lizards and moles, but who else is out there? So with camera in hand I documented what I observed for two hours on July 18, 2023. Now, not everyone was cooperative, so photos of certain birds and insects did not come to be. But this is what I did capture on a fine July day at Chickadee Gardens.

By far the most activity was on Eryngium giganteum, a sea holly informally known as Miss Wilmott's Ghost. This was positively moving with activity, more images further on.

I must admit, my insect identification is sketchy at best. I am hopeful many of you can pitch in and help keep me on the right track. First up, bumble bees. They were spotted on a number of flowers but their favorite right now is Teucrium chamaedrys. There are times when the plants look as if they are covered in black olives, there are so many bumbles. Check out those full pollen baskets on the back legs!

Bumble bee visiting a penstemon - perhaps a yellow fronted bumble bee.

A different species on the same penstemon.

A yellow-faced bumble napping on Veronica longifolia.

Visiting Marrubium incanum.

Visiting Eryngium giganteum.

A different species, likely a fuzzy horned bumble bee.

Another shot of the fuzzy horned bumble bee. So furry!

Lavender was quite popular with the bumble and honey bees.

Now for a few wasps. This is some kind of thread waisted wasp on dill, likely a weevil wasp. The umbelliferous flowers are always covered in a myriad of insects. Think achillea, dill, bupleurum and the like - big flat open umbrella-like flower heads.

Another thread waisted wasp, perhaps the Mexican grass-carrying wasp. There were quite a few on my large stand of Miss Wilmott's Ghost.

Another on the same...

And another with a bumble bee on the same flower.

They are pretty interesting to watch and I consider them beneficial. Many are solitary and harmless to humans. Providing habitat, flowers, water, and of course avoiding pesticides, herbicides, etc. is about the best thing I can do for insects. I stay out of the rest of it and leave it to nature to balance out populations.

The Mexican grass-carrying wasp was not the only wasp visiting eryngium. This is the golden digger wasp, of which there were many.

This golden digger wasp is visiting blooming parsley that I planted for pollinators near the asparagus. Apparently this flower attracts predators of the asparagus beetle, so hooray, I would love to think it's working.  

Yet another species. Insects are fascinating, another language to learn.

Moving on to smaller bees, I have no idea what this is but that's a pretty small Sedum spurium flower. The sedum flowers are a big hit this week with all manner of tiny flying insects.

This is Hebe recurvifolia and I never expected a hebe to attract pollinators, but there are no fewer than two on this flower spike.

A female long-horned bee on Sedum suprium flowers.

Another teeny pollinator, this time visiting Santolina virens. It could be a sweat or carpenter bee.

A sweat bee visiting Erigeron 'Profusion'.

A female leaf-cutter bee visiting Cephalanthus occidentalis.

More small bees, likely sweat bees.

Common red soldier beetle on parsley flowers. There were quite a few of these and we have observed them here for weeks this summer.

A couple teeny pollinators flying through the air to visit Digitalis ferruginea

I don't know what that is coming in for a landing on nepeta, but it looks like a frog from here.

More Sedum spurium flowers with several pollinators visiting. Perhaps a small sweat bee or carpenter bee in the center mid-air?

Another sweat or carpenter or other small bee visiting lavender flowers.

Honey bees were all over Allium sphaerocephalon, Eryngium giganteum and several species in the thymus genus. Here they visit allium flowers.

Three completely different pollinators visiting Eryngium giganteum.

Eryngium giganteum once more.

Echinacea purpurea was a hit with them as well. On a side note, butterflies, specifically western swallotwails visit this plant often although I did not capture any photographs today.

A delosperma flower with the tiniest of flies.

A lacewing visiting dill flowers.

A gray hairstreak butterfly and honey bee on Eryngium giganteum.

Mason bee nests that will be taken down soon to be stored in a safe place until spring when the next generation emerges. While this task should have been done ideally in June, timing has been off for us in many ways. They are safe here for now but a task on my to-do list for certain.

While insects are fascinating and wonderful, let's look at a few birds I managed to photograph today. This is a juvenile evening grosbeak. These guys are plentiful at the sunflower seed feeders; in fact they park themselves there all day and basically eat the whole thing. They do allow other birds to visit the feeders so we're ok with it.

A goldfinch visits a tiny birdbath.

In a shadow, a red-breasted nuthatch visits the same bath.

And of course, chickadees! These are black-capped chickadees and I am pleased to report they are very abundant in our garden this year. All these little birds love this birdbath because it has a rough texture so they can grip it, plus it's shallow and a little bit hidden. I highly recommend something like this for small birds to enjoy year-round. In summer it is filled with fresh water daily.

And rounding it out a wee Pacific tree frog hanging out in a planter on our front porch. We have many of these frogs around and welcome them.

For just two hours in the garden I was quite pleased with the diversity. This is encouraging and makes me want to observe more acutely who visits what - and when. I encounter wildlife all the time while in the garden and thoroughly enjoy it, but paying attention to details about insects specifically is another step for me. This little exercise has helped me to understand a little more about getting to know our pollinators.

Seen but not photographed: Annas and rufous hummingbirds, swallowtail butterfly, hoverfly, grasshoppers, downy woodpecker, red finches, towhees, dark eyed juncos, dragonflies, mourning doves, chipmunk, painted lady butterfly, woodland skipper butterfly. They all make my heart sing.

A special thank you to Amy Campion for her help in identifying several of these bees and insects and for her most helpful list of resources, cited below. You are the best!

Resources to learn more:


  1. Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes11:19 AM PDT

    Very cool! Lovely to see all the insects visiting your plants. That's interesting that they go after the Eryngium giganteum. That surprises me. I would have thought you would see more insects on your native plants.

    1. It is fun to see so many insects. I am a little surprised too that they were primarily on non-native plants. Perhaps that has to do with what's in bloom at the moment - that's my best guess.

  2. Wonderful photos from an attentive gardener. The frog pic is especially sweet. I regret that I've never seen a frog in my current garden, or my last one for that matter. Too hot and dry without any water pooling even during the height of our rainy season I suppose. I have more lizards than I can count, though.

    1. The frog! I love those guys. They sleep under cushions on our deck furniture often, so we have to check before we sit down! Lizards are super cool, though. I wonder if you had a water feature if it would attract frogs or perhaps other mayhem? (thinking raccoons)

  3. Amy Campion7:05 AM PDT

    Wonderful post! I hope it is the first of many of its kind. I'm sure you'll see something new every time you go out to look. I know I do!

    1. Thank you for all your identification, Amy! I hoe to see new critters too. Hooray!

  4. Anonymous10:58 AM PDT

    Found a frog in our kitchen sink yesterday. Quite the drama unfolded as we tried (and eventually succeded) to usher him back outdoors. In the bathroom was a miniature grasshopper, about the size of a housefly. Unlike you, we were unprepared to catch any of it on camera.

    1. Whaaaat? That's crazy! You guys have the best stories, I swear. I'm glad you got the frog out safely!

  5. Anonymous8:12 AM PDT

    This is a very satisfying way to spend time in the garden: observing and contemplating... After reading your post this morning, I conclude that "if it flowers, they will come", although they do seem to have favorites. Lavender, Sage, Cat mint are loudly buzzing with activity in my garden, while Day lilies and Hosta blooms - not so much that I recall.
    Good on you for noticing the lacewing: it's practically transparent. And wonderful photos of the Eryngium. I wonder what makes it so appealing...
    Congrats on having your garden featured in Gardenista's next book. You will give us updates on when its published, yes?

    1. That's so cool, Chavli, that you found a lot of activity in your own garden. I wonder too about what makes eryngium so appetizing. Does anyone know? And yes, Gardenista book updates as I have them. Cheers!

  6. Wow, so many different bees. I'm going to start paying more attention to my own visitors. Love the frog nestled in the tiny spot, I'm surprised you spotted him there!

    1. Woo hoo! I couldn't believe the diversity out there. Very encouraging. I only spotted the frog because I had set my camera down on a table next to his hidey hole and noticed a tiny bit of movement. They are so cool.

  7. Yay! So exciting to hear that Gardenista was there this week for a photo-shoot, seems your doing a lot of inspiring. Great photos!

    1. Thanks Danger! No, you're doing a lot of inspiring! So much inpsiration, Danger! Thanks for the comments, hopefully we'll connect before this summer is over.

  8. Just shows how when you plant a garden you invite in so many creatures. It's also great that you stopped and observed. So often we are too busy to notice all that's happening. We have a ton of butterflies in fluttering around our garden this summer. I's like to think it's because of everything we have done to create a 'habitat' for them. Congratulations on the Gardenista photo shoot. Your garden is renowned.

    1. It was really rewarding to just stop and observe, absolutely. I'm making it a point to try to identify what I see, it makes it fun. Hooray for your butterflies! And thank you for your very VERY kind comments, I am humbled. I don't know about renowned, that's a bit too generous. Thank you!

  9. Great job on photographing pollinators. I too was inspired by Amy's talk and snapped a few photos out in the garden last weekend. Was surprised that no one was visiting our patch of Rudbeckia hirta and a different patch of Salvia, then finally a swallowtail visited both. Not sure when, or if, I will ever get to identifying all of the insects in the photos as I've got a lot of other posts planned before then.
    How fortunate that you have black capped chickadees in the garden. We've got the chestnut backed chickadees and they rarely come down from the upper tree canopy. Not even sunflower seeds seem to draw them down. Just have to content myself hearing them chatting up above.


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