Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

The weather stayed nice and unseasonably warm through today, when the rain and cooler weather seems to be moving in.  I was able to go on a number of beautiful fall walks this past week.

IMG_0773

Fall colors at Lake Katherine

IMG_0827

There were two pairs of mute swans at Lake Katherine this morning.

IMG_0822

The nuts were abundant on the bald cypress trees.

IMG_0831.JPG

Our little bitternut hickory tree in the front yard continues to grow more each year and it turned very yellow today.  You can see that the neighbor’s autumn blaze maple behind it is just getting ready to turn color.

IMG_0623

On Wednesday I had the day off and I went for a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Palos Forest Preserve.  The hickories were turning color, but most of the color was fairly muted.

IMG_0664

The temperature was in the mid-70s, so I sat down in the sun across from the prairie and soaked up the sun and the quietness.  The big oak trees were still very green.

IMG_0663

A large grasshopper was walking in circles in the grass at my feet….  So many different and complicated insects in the world, eating and being eaten.

IMG_0659

Nearby a migrating white-crowned sparrow looked for a snack.

IMG_0700

I spent some time in the shelter observing birds.  Another more experienced birder came along and she confirmed some of my sightings.

IMG_0715

I thought I had take pictures of a group of eastern bluebirds and she confirmed that was true.  I have not seen eastern bluebirds for a while, so that was rewarding.

IMG_0734

A great blue heron and a double-crested cormorant each found a resting spot on top of the solar array in the middle of the slough.  It was a very beautiful day.

IMG_0747

Back home in our yard two painted lady butterflies have been hanging out at the zinnias all week.

IMG_0751

A variety of other moths and butterflies spend the day on the flowers that are still blooming.

IMG_0764

I was struck by the two designs that meet in this picture.

IMG_0617.JPG

A week ago I took this picture of a goldfinch munching on the dried coneflowers in the garden.

IMG_0618

Pulling back you can see the little goldfinch on the messy coneflowers.  This is the view from our kitchen window.  This is the time of year to clean up the yard and get ready for winter.  I am always having a conversation in my mind about what messy plants to leave for the birds and insects and what clean up to do now to make it easier in the spring.  Some years I clean up more and some years I leave more mess!

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

IMG_0549

Male zucchini flower

IMG_0548

Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

IMG_0542

I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

IMG_0560

These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

IMG_0567

We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

IMG_0543

In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

IMG_0534

Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

IMG_0554

Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

IMG_0553

The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

IMG_0538

I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

IMG_0562

Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

IMG_0518

I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

IMG_0563.JPG

All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

IMG_0527

This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

IMG_0581

These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

IMG_0585

Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

IMG_0576.JPG

The coral mums are starting to bloom…

IMG_0507

Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

IMG_0494

Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!