Monarch

Flowers are blooming and butterflies are visiting.

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From the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of a monarch butterfly on the swamp milkweed.

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Thursday morning I saw the first monarch caterpillar I have seen in the yard in a long time, chewing on the swamp milkweed flower, as far as I could tell.  However when I went back in the next hours I could not find it.  I am hoping it made it to safety….

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We have a lot of hungry juvenile robins, as well as juvenile starlings and a lot of other birds in the yard.  I read that soldier bugs are predators for monarch caterpillars, though maybe that is when the caterpillars are tiny, not huge, like the one above.

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We have had grackles in the yard this week, visiting the bird bath.

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A noisy blue jay has started visiting the yard this week, checking on the acorns on the Chinquapin oak, which are still tiny.

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On this day the bird bath was almost empty and not very clean, after a large group of starlings had a pool party.  The blue jay did not take a drink or a bath…  I have to change the water frequently in this hot weather.

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I really enjoyed the raspberries this year, but I think they are all eaten now!


Visit to Orland Grasslands

I wanted to see a meadowlark, so I took a drive to Orland Grasslands.  Most of the morning I was not sure what I was looking at, but here are some of the bird and prairie pictures I took.

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Male American Goldfinch pauses while working on thistle seeds.

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Male and female American Goldfinches

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And now there are three…  I just love the bright colors.

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Right from the start of my walk I saw a lot of these male birds singing above their nesting areas.  I thought they were meadowlarks, but now I think they are dickcissels.

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Dickcissel

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Dickcissel singing

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Another dickcissel.  If any of these are really meadowlarks please let me know.

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Here is another new bird for me.  My guess is that it is a grasshopper sparrow.

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Here is the same bird singing.  There is a tiny bit of yellow on the wing, a white eye ring and the little color above the eye.  I might be wrong, though….  The only way to learn is to spend time looking at birds and at my new Peterson Field Guide to Birds.

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This little bird was on the bike path.  I wondered if it was a baby bird that had come out of the grass.

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I zoomed in on this black bird out in the prairie.  I think it is a bobolink, because of the light patch on the back of the head.

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Here is a blurry close up of the bobolink.  I could be wrong.

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In a wooded area I saw an oriole.

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A tree swallow was getting ready to find some bugs.

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Here is one of two other tree swallows that were preening on a branch.

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Looks like a downy woodpecker.  Another one went up the tree and out of the picture.

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I chased this singing bird around for a while, and never got a good picture.  I think it was some kind of flycatcher.

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It was a beautiful morning to be in the prairie, with the flowers starting to give it color.

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The pink coneflowers were blooming.

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This monarch is the only butterfly picture I got.  I could hear a bull frog in the pond and the crickets were starting to make noise.

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I am thankful for the chance I had to enjoy this beautiful morning!

Eared Grebe and March Soil

I planned to have this blog be about my back yard, and there are a few pictures at the bottom of this post about that.  But when I hear that a bird that is not common for Illinois is in the neighborhood I sometimes decide to go birding instead of focusing on the garden.

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Eared Grebe at Saganashkee Slough.  I get frequent emails from IBET – Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts.  They inform the birding community of what interesting birds have been seen that day.  I particularly pay attention when the birds are seen in the Palos area. So I headed out to the slough to see if I could find this bird.  After taking quite a few pictures I noticed some birders and approach them and they said it looked like my picture was of the eared grebe they were looking for.  Yay!  This is a bird that is migrating through Illinois.

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Saganashkee Slough.  I understand that the water is only about 6 feet deep and that may make it a good fishing place for waterfowl.

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Horned grebes.

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A horned grebe that caught a fish.

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Red-breasted mergansers diving for fish.

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As I was watching through my binoculars it looked like mating season, as a group of male red-breasted mergansers were following a female.

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Two male common mergansers with a female.

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I kept hearing the sandhill cranes flying overhead during the afternoon.  Sorry the photo is not more zoomed in!

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Dormant trees at Long John Slough.  We are still having freezing temperatures at night, but today the weather was warm and beautiful.

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I noticed insects flying around today.  A moth landed on the Hicksii yew shrub.

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Daffodils were pushing up along the east fence.  I guess the soil is kind of heaving now due to the ice freezing and thawing in the soil.  I think this is good for the soil and the soil is damaged when we walk on this soft soil this time of year.

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Another view of soft, thawing, spring soil that is pushed up here and there.

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Earlier this week it was snowing hard, though we only got about an inch.  It snowed and sleeted Friday night, too.  I think we can use the moisture, so no complaints.  Spring is coming, but winter has not quite left us.

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.

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Fall colors at Lake Katherine

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

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The nuts were abundant on the bald cypress trees.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Male zucchini flower

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The coral mums are starting to bloom…

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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.

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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!

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

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An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

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It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

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Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

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It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

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Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

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I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

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A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

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The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

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The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

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This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

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At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

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But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

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A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

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The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

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A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

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This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

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Monarch on zinnia.

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Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!

Swallowtails, Hummingbirds And Other Flying Creatures

This time of year it is fun to see the variety of pollinators that visit the garden.  The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly posed nicely for me, but it is always a challenge to get good hummingbird pictures.

IMG_9849Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

IMG_9817This eastern tiger swallowtail hung out with wings open quite a bit making it easier to photograph and to identify it as a male butterfly by its markings.   Dill flowers were blooming behind the zinnias.

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I think this is a question mark butterfly sunning on the fence.  It looks a little tattered.  I took a picture of another one a few weeks ago.

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I was trying to capture this monarch butterfly on the milkweed, but the camera wanted to focus on the trunk of the crabapple tree.

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Here is another attempt to get a shot of the monarch fluttering above the milkweed.  I love the colorful outdoor flower arrangement of this shot!

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The hummingbird competes with the butterflies for the same flowers.  Here it chased away the monarch butterfly and is enjoying the swamp milkweed.

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The hummingbird enjoys the neighbors’ hibiscus flowers.

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Here the camera caught the fast-moving hummingbird, but it is at the edge of the picture….

IMG_9687Hummingbird on garden fence.  I think I have mostly seen females.

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We don’t have a hummingbird feeder, but the neighbors on both sides do.  We just offer flower nectar….

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Hummingbird on Russian sage.

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I took this picture of the hummingbird visiting the coleus plant from the office window.  Later, while sitting on the patio, I watched a hummingbird check out every single white flower on the coleus plant before moving on.

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Hummingbird on white phlox.  Most of my pictures are kind of blurry like this, as I have to shoot quickly when the hummingbird shows up before it moves on.

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Wasps have taken up residence in the open fence posts around the garden this summer. They are good predators, but I keep out of their way.

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Wasp resting on hickory leaf

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A green dragonfly rests on a turnip leaf.  I am a dragonfly fan!

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Bee on coneflower.  Many kinds of bees are in the garden now.

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I have seen a few grasshoppers and crickets, but I am keeping my eyes open for a praying mantis, which I have not seen this year.

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The invasive viburnum leaf beetles are back.  They lay their eggs in the branches and in the spring the larvae will start chewing on the leaves.

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Last summer we cut these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes to the ground, but did not have the energy to dig out the roots, so they grew back quickly and have looked nice this year, but the beetle issue is not going away, so maybe next year we will find some other plants to replace them, or maybe not….

If you got through all this pictures you must like flying creatures!  I will leave my other bird pictures for another post!