Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Thankful For Pleasant Autumn Days

It is a good time of year to be thankful for the growing season and the harvest.  The garden is ready for winter now.  We have had such a pleasant, warm autumn, but now I am looking forward to the quiet and rest of winter.

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We mowed the lawn as short as possible.  The fothergilla bush still has red leaves, on the left.  These pictures of the whole yard are always interesting to me, when I compare how things look from season to season and year to year in these blog posts as trees and bushes grow.  It still looks pretty green today and I just watched some sparrows and dark-eyed juncos fighting for space at the bird bath, that is not frozen.

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The fothergilla bush on 11/21.

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The grass clippings and mulched leaves went into the compost pile, which it pretty hot today.  We have eaten almost all of the Brussel sprouts.  The rhubarb is winding down.  I pulled out a lot of the strawberry runners and babies, but they like the cool weather, and will be green for a while.

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Last Sunday I went to the horse stables and brought back manure to spread around the garden and blend into the soil over the winter.  Still active at this time of year are kale, collards, garlic, parsley, mint, and oregano.

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On 11/16 this common buckeye butterfly was warming itself on our driveway.

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The green tomatoes are gradually ripening.

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Sometimes while working in the garden I hear the sandhill cranes flying overhead on their way to an Indiana sandhill crane gathering.

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At Lake Katherine the beaver has been getting ready for winter, too.  The lodge is well covered with mud and trees have been brought in close for easy access in cold weather.

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Last weekend we took a walk at Pioneer Woods in the Palos Forest Preserve, where restoration work has been going on.  The green leaves are probably mostly on invasive honeysuckle bushes.  Winter is a good time to cut those down and build some big bon fires to clear out the forest undergrowth.

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Harvest moon.

Fall Insect Life

The coral mums are attracting a lot of insect action.  Some visitors may be looking for nectar and some may be attracted to the deteriorating plants.

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Ailanthus webworm moth

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The mums are beautiful from a distance, but many flowers are past their prime.

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A honey bee of some sort coming for nectar.

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Spotted cucumber beetle

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This hover fly appeared to be mostly dead and the fly was checking out both the flower and the insect.

Below are other creatures I saw on the mums yesterday.

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Above are various flies and moths that I captured in pictures on the mums.  Some were too small or fast moving to catch.  There was one giant bumble bee near the geraniums that moved to quickly to catch in a photo.

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I noticed that there were tiny insects on the nasturtium flowers, too.  The nasturtiums have really been beautiful this fall.

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 I took a little time yesterday to use twisty ties to attach the raspberry vines to the fence.  Earlier in the summer I cut off this years vines when they had finished producing fruit.  Now the vines that grew this year will have raspberries next year.

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 In early October I noticed a lot of aphids on the swamp milkweed plants.  I wondered what predator would come to feast on them.

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Yesterday I saw a half dozen lady bugs running up and down the branches of the milkweed, without an aphid in sight.  I love it when these beneficial insects take care of the problem with no cost to me or harm to the environment.

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I will throw in a picture from a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse path in the forest preserve last week.

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The yellow and orange leaves of this sassafras tree caught my attention.  There was a little stand of sassafras trees, which is not that common in this neck of the woods.

Back to another week of work, but I really enjoyed getting out in the autumn colors this weekend!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Birds are migrating.  Insects are slowing down.  The last flowers are blooming.  The last vegetables are being harvested.  Here are a few pictures.

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Two weeks ago I saw this golden-crowned kinglet hopping around the crabapple tree.

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I am not sure what kind of moth this was, but it let me get close as it gathered nectar from the marigolds today.

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This little moth was taking shelter under a nasturtium leaf.

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We still have a monarch butterfly hanging around the zinnias.  When the zinnias are covered with fall shade for a while in the afternoon the monarch moves to the pole beans.

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Nearby a grasshopper was moving slowly.

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I think this is a black cricket, also on the pole beans.

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The coral mums have been blooming for a while, attracting a lot of bees and flies.

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A closer look at the mums.  I think that is a hover fly, though it could be a bee…

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The pineapple sage is blooming wonderfully, but the hummingbirds have left to fly south now.  I think there are still a variety of small pollinators enjoying these red tubular flowers.

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Just a few gaillardia flowers are still blooming, but the bumble bees really love them.  The white flowers are alyssum.

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The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass is at its peak now and is at least 6 feet tall this year.

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Seed heads of ‘little bunny’ pennisetum grass

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Strawberry flower and little strawberry.  You never know what you will find around the garden.

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We are gradually adding brussel sprouts to our soup each Sunday.

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I took a look today and there are a lot of green tomatoes in the garden!  I don’t see frost in the forecast, but I will keep my eye on the weather report.

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My Arab neighbor friend is back from Jordan and came to gather a bag full of collard leaves.  Quite a few of the collard leaves are chewed by worms, and she did not want those, because I think she uses them to roll up a spicy meat dish.  We totally welcome someone to share these greens with.

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Last Saturday was my first day with a volunteer team of around 20 people that were cutting brush and burning.  We were almost exclusively cutting back Eurasian bush honeysuckle.  We had two big bonfires going.

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Today Dan and I just took a wonderful early morning walk through the prairie and forest at Spears Woods in the Palos forest preserve.  We bumped into the volunteer crew as we were leaving. They were getting ready for another productive day.  By clearing the invasive shrubs they are opening up the ground for native plants to thrive, which in turn provides habitat for a greater variety of birds, insects, and other wildlife.  With habitats diminishing everywhere for so many species this is valuable work, in order to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

I have been looking around the yard for a praying mantis this summer and I finally found my first one.

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Yesterday I noticed this praying mantis in the tall Miscanthus ornamental grass. Its head was following me as I tried to get a good photo.  I am not sure if this is a Chinese mantis or a praying mantis that is native to Illinois.

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There are a lot of little grasshoppers like the one in this picture in our little unmowed meadow.  That was why I started looking for a hungry praying mantis.

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While I was looking around in the meadow I saw this black and yellow garden spider.

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Here is the view of the spider from the other side.  If you look closely you can see the spider web.

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Today I went looking for the praying mantis again.  It was not in the miscanthus, but I found if in the mums that are  getting ready to bloom.

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I will have to keep an eye out for her egg sac when I clean up the garden this fall.  I enjoy having these mostly beneficial insects around.

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I have not seen any monarch caterpillars on the swamp milkweed, but the aphids are certainly invading.  I guess something will be interested in an aphid lunch…

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Yesterday was such a rainy day.  It has been dark, cool and rainy all week.  I guess the house sparrow was able to sit out in the rain.

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The rain seemed to benefit the nasturtium leaves that are gorgeously green.

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This picture is taken through the screen on the office window.  I can watch the hummingbirds on the pineapple sage, though they are too fast to capture in a picture.  The tall plant in back is brussel sprouts.

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Here is a little closer look at the brussel sprouts plant.  The zinnias continue to attract the hummingbird and butterflies.

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Painted lady butterfly on pink zinnia

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A century old oak tree was but down across the street from us this week, as it was too close to their house.  There will be fewer leaves to rake, but fewer leaves for the compost pile, too.

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I have not had many chances to get out and look for migrating birds this week.  But I barely captured this hawk flying over the neighborhood.

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A group of ten of us volunteered today to clear out honeysuckle bushes at the Palos Forest Preserve.

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Here is a cleared out area surrounded by brush piles on either side.  We were not able to burn the brush piles today, because there was not enough wind to blow the smoke away, so someone will have to have a bonfire another time.

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This is an area of the forest that was cleared earlier.

September Birding and Wildlife

September Birding and Wildlife

The fall bird migration season is a great time to get out and do birding in our area between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River in Illinois.  I recently joined IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) and I get numerous emails each day from birders who are announcing what birds they are seeing around Illinois.  This has given me ideas about new areas to explore.  This morning we ended up at McGinnis Slough in Orland Park and never got to the other places we planned to explore.  It amazes me how many beautiful natural areas there are right around us that we have not even explored yet!

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Wood ducks and American coots at McGinnis Slough.  We walked very quietly down the path in order not to scare the waterfowl and saw quite a few beautiful wood ducks, but the pictures I took of them were not the greatest.

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Most of the brown ducks are mallards, but I wondered if the brown one in front is an American wigeon or something other than a mallard.

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I didn’t really count how many coots there were.  I would say at a minimum there were 40, but maybe quite a few more.

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Great egret up in a tree above McGinnis Slough.

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McGinnis Slough.  This time of year there are high marsh grasses surrounding the water as well as a beautiful forest area.

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Orange sulphur along the path

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Can you see the dragonfly?  I think it is a darner, but after some research I am hesitant to clearly identify what type of darner.

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Female yellow-rumped warbler at Lake Sedgewick in Orland Park, IL.  She is just migrating through…

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I made a quick stop at Lake Sedgewick yesterday and hope to explore here soon.  One of my IBET emails said that a group of 25 American white pelicans stopped for a bit on one of the islands in the lake as they migrated through this week.

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Male downy woodpecker.  These birds stay in Illinois year round.

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Another place where I made a quick stop yesterday was Orland Grasslands.  An IBET email mentioned that a mink had been seen here several times this week.  The grasses are tall now and I hope to get back to explore soon.

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Male northern flicker searching for ants at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve.  We sat in our car for a while and watched the little meadow filled with morning bird activity early last Sunday morning.

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Deer in morning light.  Restoration has been going on at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve and much of the overgrown shrub undergrowth has been cleared out to restore sunlight for more native plants to flourish.

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Back in our yard the goldfinch was snacking on coneflower seeds.

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Mystery bird in our chinquapin oak tree.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Hummingbird on clothesline.

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Mute swans at Lake Katherine last week.

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Stephanie walked around the lake with me last week and she tried out the new giant adirondack chair in the back meadow.

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The forbes at Lake Katherine were tall and attractive.

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Aster

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Back home again, this is a painted lady butterfly, I think, on an orange zinnia.

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Common green bottle fly on yellow mum.  Yesterday when Dan and I were walking at Lake Katherine we saw for the third time a man with his camera in the weeds.  We stopped for a while and he is a specialist at insect photography.  We had a fun time talking about insects and the best ways to take pictures of them.  He recommended some reading for me.

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Huge bee on the nasturtiums.  I am not sure if these big bees are bumble bees.  They are much bigger than the other bumble bees in the yard.  Rather than entering the flowers from the front they just bite the outside of the flower and sip the nectar that way.

Hope you enjoy your little corner of the world this week!

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

It is harvest time in the garden.  I have made spaghetti sauce twice with all the tomatoes.  We had a zucchini dish last night.  I can see a lot of peppers that I need to do something with.  I have picked buckets of beans.  The refrigerator has been stuffed with cucumbers!

img_5293Here are 30 cucumbers that were being stored in the fridge.  Some did not last and I threw them out but we have eaten most of them.

img_5421Every evening after work I have gone out to the garden to harvest for the day.  Recently it has mostly been buckets of pole beans.

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We set up a structure in the spring and the bean vines have completely covered it now.  I have to harvest when it is sunny or the mosquitoes eat me alive.  I have learned to wear long sleeves.

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The peppers are ripening.

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Clearwing moth.  In my last post I showed a picture of a tomato hornworm.  Clearwing moths develop out of hornworms.  When they are flying they look a bit like a hummingbirds as they sip nectar.

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A pair of goldfinches were harvesting seeds from the cone flowers in our yard.

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Here is a shot from the tomato patch and the zinnias back toward the house.

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Today three monarch butterflies spent the afternoon in the zinnias.  I caught two of them in this picture.  I have seen two monarchs on the zinnias every day all week.

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Monarch on orange zinnia.  On the left a little skipper was sipping on the white zinnia.

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and here a little skipper is enjoying the delicate flowers.

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Over the Labor Day weekend I visited Minnesota.  Here my 91-year-old Uncle Bob is feeding corn to his hens.  He also has bee hives, several cows and calves, and a vegetable and flower garden.

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The Chippewa River near Eau Claire.  I took a little break here on my drive back to Chicago.  On my trip I also stopped by the Rum River, Mississippi River, Wisconsin River and had a short stop at Mirror Lake State Park.

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A few weeks ago I was walking around Lake Katherine and I met an older man carrying one of these flowers.  I said to him, “You have some purple loosestrife.”  He thought he had some lavender that he was getting to bring to the lady next door who has trouble sleeping.  He had heard that if you put some under your pillow you sleep better.  I explained that loosestrife is an invasive plant so it is fine to pick it, since we don’t want it around the lake.  He was disappointed that he could not find lavender at Lake Katherine.  In general it is too humid in Chicago for lavender. We had a short discussion about invasive plants.

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Before I met this man I had just taken a picture of the berries that were ripening on the buckthorn bushes that have completely invaded the understory around the lake.  When I mentioned buckthorn, he said he had heard of them.  He pulled a very small plastic bag out of his pocket and said it was buckthorn bark.  He had ordered it online, because it is supposed to give you help in legal issues and his neighbor had some legal issues.  Someone is making some money off this invasive plant!  This man had no idea that there was buckthorn bark all around him.  Maybe if Lake Katherine finishes up some of its other restoration projects they will be able to tackle getting rid of some of the buckthorn and replacing it with native shrubs.