Opossum, Swans and Icy Waters

The weather was mild so I went on a few walks this weekend.

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We stopped briefly at the Saganashkee Slough to see if we could see any bald eagles and ending up watching this opossum for a while.

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It looks like the opossum is looking at us.

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The mute swans were swimming at Lake Katherine today near the fish sculpture where a little ice had thawed.

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A crack in the lake ice.  The weather was supposed to get above 50 degrees today.

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In the ephemeral pond the logs were frozen solid.

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I always love this little bridge over the pond.

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Looking back from the other side I could see my shadow.  Cypress leaves everywhere.

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We took a drive down to Channahon yesterday looking for bald eagles.  No luck.  We first stopped at the Rock Run Rockery and I enjoyed seeing the gull reflections on the ice.  Without a scope it was hard to identify all the birds.  Then we headed over to the 4 Rivers Environmental center, which was a wonderful place, but we had run out of time, so did not spend much time there.  I saw my first hairy woodpecker in the woods there.

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Back at home the squirrels and blue jays occasionally have some crabapples.  The woodpeckers come for the suet.

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The serviceberry branches I brought inside in mid-January are just starting to open.

Monarch Threats and Winter Birds

You may have heard of the disappearance of the well-known conservationist that has been protecting the monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico and winter there.  Homero Gomez was last seen on January 13th.  Monarchs have a number of threats including illegal logging that reduces the size of their winter habitat in Michoacán.

I recently finished reading a book by conservation biologist Nick Haddad called The Last Butterflies.

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This book took me a while to read, but I enjoyed it.  It was interesting if you like reading about scientific experiments in the wild and that sort of thing.  One of the last chapters was about the migrating eastern North American monarch.  Much like the passenger pigeon, there are still millions of monarchs, but they face a number of threats that could wipe them out, including threats to their wintering grounds in Mexico.  Here in the United States there is a loss of habitat as well as threats from pesticides.  Why does this matter?  Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are the most well known and loved insects.  They are like the canary in the coal mine.  When they decline, despite efforts to assist them, we can guess that many other insects that we care less about but that are very important are also facing numerous threats.

I am looking forward to getting some milkweed plants from an acquaintance at the Palos forest preserve restoration project who has promised me some plants in April.  I have had no luck planting milkweed from seeds.  I have swamp milkweed and butterfly weed, but am eager to plant some asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), too.

Another important thing gardeners can focus on is nectar plants in the autumn when monarch are migrating south.  Below are a few pictures from my garden.

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Monarchs on sedum in September.  One day this past year I looked out and saw six monarch feasting on the sedum nectar.

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That same day the monarchs were sipping on the Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’

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Monarch on zinnia

But we are still in the very middle of winter, so I will post some winter bird pictures as well.

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Male red-bellied woodpecker snacking on suet.

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Two downy woodpeckers wait for the red-bellied woodpecker to leave.  The feeder is hanging by a string so it swings around when birds peck on it.  Notice that we just pruned off a few lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.

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I have enjoyed having the downy woodpeckers visit the yard more frequently this week.

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The house sparrows look for bits of suet that may have landed below the feeder.

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The mourning doves arrived to check out the action.

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The European staring gives it a try.

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Looks like the squirrel managed to get a chunk of it.

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White-breasted nuthatch

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When we pruned the trees I brought in some serviceberry branches to see if they would open inside.  I have no idea if that will work.

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Sunrise on our street.  The days are getting longer!

 

January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

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Snow Crocus emerges.

I first noticed this snow crocus on Christmas Day, which is the earliest I have seen it appear.

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Daytime moon

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Dark-eyed junco on liatris.  It looks like it got a seed to nourish it on a winter day.

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We had about an inch of snow yesterday morning, which should melt today and tomorrow.  It has been a mild winter.

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The cyclamen is blooming for the fifteenth year!  This autumn I refinished the wood counter in my greenhouse window.

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We started the new year with a wonderful hike at Cranberry Slough in the forest preserve.  The trail was icy, but not slippery, and the only person we met was riding a bike.

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One last shot to say goodbye to 2019. Mute swans flying over Lake Katherine last weekend. 

Crabapple Tree

The crabapple tree outside the kitchen window has been catching my attention recently.

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It snowed on Halloween, but the next day the sun came out and I love the blue sky and fluffy clouds above the snow outlined crabapple tree.  On the left the chinquapin oak tree was showing its fall colors.

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Backing up, here is the view from the kitchen window.

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The dark-eyed juncos have arrived, and are winter residents in our neighborhood.

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Male house finch

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The crabapples probably get tastier after a freeze or two.  Though they probably are not terrific tasting since usually quite a few little apples persist on the branches over the winter.

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The crabapples are at various stages of ripeness.  The tree is full of crabapples this year and we hardly had any last year.

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Profusion crabapple tree this past spring.  The weather must have been just right to get the flowers pollinated and set into little apples.

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The squirrels have come a number of times for a snack.

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Golden-crowned kinglet migrating through Chicagoland.  It is always fun to look out the kitchen window and see what birds are stopping by.

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The bark of the tree does not look very healthy to me.  Does this mean the tree is dying?  The leaves get diseased and fall off early each year.  I have not diagnosed the problem yet.  We did have robins successfully nest in this tree early in the year though, when there were still leaves.

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As a side note, I saw a black swallowtail caterpillar in the fennel on November fifth, the week after the snow.  We are in cleanup mode these days and have started a big leaf and grass compost pile.  I am leaving more plants standing in place this year to provide habitat for wintering insects and other critters that are good bird food.  Insects are the foundation of the food chain, right?

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Dan and I had a fantastic walk in the woods this morning, starting at the Wolf Road Woods trail in the Palos Forest Preserve.

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At Tomahawk Slough we saw a very fluffed up great blue heron.  The temperature was below freezing last night and thin ice covered parts of the slough.

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This shot was from our walk last week at the Willow Springs Forest Preserve.  It is time to pull out the cozy jackets, wooly scarves and mittens, and warm boots and enjoy cold weather hiking.

Nasturtiums, Mums and More

As most plants die away some continue to bloom cheerily.  We have not had a real frost in the backyard yet, though I saw frost on our front lawn one day.  We have a little warmer, more protected microclimate in the backyard.

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Orange nasturtium

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Orange nasturtiums and alyssum along the fence.  These have variegated leaves.  I planted 3 packets of Jewel mix nasturtiums around the yard, if I remember correctly.

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More traditional looking leaves.  This giant group grew out onto the patio.  The squirrel jumped on them at one point but they grew back.

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Yellow nasturtiums have a touch of orange and red.

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Reddish orange nasturtium.  I did not get a picture of the dark red nasturtium.

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Coral mums.  This picture was taken about a week ago.

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Coral mums and pollinator

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Some of the pollinators prefer the flowers to be a bit more ripe.

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I looked for a bumblebee today and found one on the Agastache ‘blue boa.’

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On Saturday, 10/19, there were two black swallowtail caterpillars chomping on my curly parsley.  I did not see them today, so hope they got away somewhere.

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Virginia creeper

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Aronia melanocarpa, black chokeberry ‘Viking black.’  I planted these two bushes last year and they grew nicely, though I did not get any berries this year.  The garden around them this year was mostly fallow, though I grew some sunflowers between them after the daffodils.

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Our favorite vegetable this time of year is curly kale.  After we finish cooking our soup on the weekend we throw big bunches of chopped-up kale in, and it softens up in the hot soup pot.

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The squirrels have been tearing around the yard, digging holes in the lawn and everywhere else, planting their nuts for the winter.  We don’t have acorns in our oak tree this year, after a bumper crop last year.

Fall colors are just starting in the yard….

October Flowers and Spooky Spiders

When I started designing my garden, the first thing I worked on was autumn flowers.  I love them, and it is a wonderful time of year to have them begin to bloom after slowly growing over the summer.  My goal is to always have something blooming from March through November or the first frost. This helps the insects and pollinators and cheers me up, too!

I have only been posting about once a month this summer, so there are too many pictures to pick from!

The big attraction this week has been the asters.

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Can you see the green bee on these asters?

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I think this is some kind of sweat bee.  I see them each year on the asters.

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Hoverfly on aster

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Corn earworm moth on aster

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One day I saw a lot of fluttering on the asters from my office window.  I went out and found six to eight painted lady butterflies on the asters and they were also visiting the zinnias.

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A few monarch butterflies joined in.

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The goldenrod is mostly finished now, but it is so vibrant when it first opens.  Here with Russian sage.

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The flies love the goldenrod and seem to like it as the flowers fade.

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A few gaillardia still smiling

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Zinnias and alyssum

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Black swallowtail butterfly on marigolds

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In the foreground the red flowers of pineapple sage are starting to bloom, a favorite of the hummingbirds.  The two huge sunflowers in the garden are leaning over.  I cut off the spent flowers and new flowers keep appearing.

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Sunflowers keep blooming

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Hummingbird rests in crabapple tree.  We had almost no crabapples last year and a bumper crop this year, though the leaves fell early.

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The boltonia bloomed in mid-September.  A grasshopper enjoys the warm resting spot on the fence.

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Pink turtlehead flowers. This picture is from about a month ago, and they are just finishing up now.

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Garden spider lurking in the leaves of the pink turtlehead flowers

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The foggy morning accentuated the spider webs in the garden and this garden spider looks spooky in its web.  I did not need to buy any spooky merchandise to get this picture!

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The orb spiders have been very active on the patio.  One morning I came out to find 3 large orb spider webs near where I was going to hang laundry.

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I found a few common meadow crickets in our little “meadow.”  I still hear crickets at night.

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On a walk recently I saw this eastern shieldback katydid.  The phrase “on its last legs” came to mind.  That seems to be true of a lot of insect at this time of year, though it could just be that they are slow after a cold night.

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Dragonfly – not moving too quickly, but looking beautiful!

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It’s pepper season!  The brussel sprout and kale are great, though the last batch of tomatoes are taking their time ripening.  Organically grown food is the main focus of the garden, but I love the flowers, and all the variety keeps the garden pests under control.

Recent Reading:  Grandma Gatewood Walks

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Loved this book!

Small Creatures, Giant Sunflowers

Here are some of the pollinators and other critters that have been visiting the garden this summer.  Also, the giant sunflowers are crazy!!  I had no idea when I planted them how big they would get.

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Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

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Black swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

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Black swallowtail caterpillar on curly parsley

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Red-spotted purple butterfly on sedum

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Red-spotted purple butterfly on sedum

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and attracting a lot of pollinators.

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Hoverfly on phlox

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Common buckeye butterfly on cucumber plant

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Painted lady butterfly on Agastache hyssop

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Large bumblebee on Agastache hyssop

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Nasturtium flower

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I think this is a silvery checkerspot butterfly on marigolds.  This butterfly has sunflower for its host plant, which makes sense.  Though it also looks like a pearl crescent butterfly.

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Posing by the sunflower on 8/7/19 when the first flower opened on the two tall sunflower plants.

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On 8/26/19 I took this picture of the crazy sunflower plants waving above the garden.

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When we got back to the garden after a short road trip one of the sunflowers had tipped over.  I cut off the heaviest flower heads and propped it up enough that I could walk underneath it.  The bird, bees and butterflies love these flowers!

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Sunny summer day…

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Add in the sound of cicadas…  This is one of several cicada shells I found; this one on a collard leaf.

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I am not sure if this is a grasshopper or katydid.

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When I was young I spent a lot of time getting dragonflies to sit on my finger.  I had fun doing that again.  This beautiful blue dragonfly was sitting on the clothes line and stepped onto my warm finger and rested for a while.

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We just took a short vacation and visited a lot of parks and nature preserves in Illinois and Missouri.  This dragonfly was spotted at the Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge yesterday.  They have an area called Sandy Hollow with wonderful hiking paths.  Just guessing, but this dragonfly might be a brown spotted yellow wing dragonfly.  It was resting in the prairie as the morning warmed up.

September has arrived, but I am holding on to summer a little longer!

Flowers of the Field

When I started seriously gardening over ten years ago, I was mostly interested in color schemes, height and placement of flowers, and having something blooming in all seasons.  That is still interesting to me, but since then my focus has moved to growing more food and planting as many native plants as I can.  So I still have non-natives in the yard, but I keep adding native plants, as they attract many more pollinators and provide habitat for a greater diversity of wildlife.  This time of year the abundance of flowers is really wonderful!

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Purple coneflowers, monarda – wild bergamot in the background, and Ratibida pinnata, sometimes called prairie coneflower, yellow coneflower or gray-headed coneflower.

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I bought this Ratibida – gray-headed coneflower – at the farmer’s market today and I hope it survives the heat these next few weeks, as I usually don’t plant anything this time of year.

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View from the kitchen window.

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For some reason I bought a lot of packets of sunflower seeds this year, so I planted them all over the backyard.

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Monarch on sunflower.  The goldfinches love to eat the seeds.

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Two tall varieties of sunflowers in the vegetable garden.  The two in the back are so tall that they have not even started to flower yet.  Can’t wait to see how big they get.

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Besides the sunflowers we have a lot of Echinacea purpurea – purple coneflowers. They seem to be multiplying and the goldfinches love them, too.

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Black swallowtail butterfly on purple coneflower – taken from the kitchen window.

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The monarda – wild bergamot – really took off this year, and it has been swarming with bumblebees and all kinds of pollinators.

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A hummingbird moth or clearwing moth of some sort has been visiting all the flowers.

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Liatris, blazing star.  I now have two nice clumps growing in the garden.

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Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed susans.

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Gateway, Joe Pye weed.  I like the look of the flower as it gets ready to open.

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The pollinators like the Joe Pye weed when all the flowers are open and messy.  This is an ailanthus webworm moth.

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The fennel plant is now taller than I am and blooming, attracting a wasp and an ant to the nectar.

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The male house finch can be seen now and then snacking on the sedum, which has not started blooming yet.

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Did the robin enjoy the bath?  Sparrows never miss a chance to join the fun.

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But who is this visiting the garden at dawn?

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Is this stealthy, fat neighbor cat looking for a bird, a rabbit, a squirrel, or a chipmunk?  Salvia blue hill flowers in the background.

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I found two of these large bugs/beetles on the stalk of my new gray-headed coneflower after I planted it.  Do cats eat those kinds of bugs?  Or do birds eat them?

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Common buckeye butterfly we saw on a walk last week.  I see monarchs just about every day in the summer in my yard, but there are many butterfly species I rarely see because they like a variety of host plants that I probably don’t have in my garden.  It is just a reminder that wild habitats need protection.

Home And Away

Hot weather and thunderstorms are here.  Tomatoes are growing.  Summer is here and the garden is active!

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American goldfinch feasting on the first purple coneflowers.

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There is just one clump of gaillardias this summer.

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There is also one small group of Shasta daisies.

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The Miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass stretches over the back-eyed Susan flowers, which will bloom before long.

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Bee balm

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Jackmanii clematis

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Butterfly weed

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False sunflower

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The downy woodpecker spent time on the laundry pole pecking for something.

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There have been quite a few baby robins in the yard, though they are really “big” babies!

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Tomatoes are forming on one of three tomato plants.

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With the long, cool and wet spring we have had our best year of green peas.

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I pick a bowl of wax beans every day.  Cooking, freezing and giving to neighbors.  Not pictured here are the raspberries I have been loving!!!

At the end of May I sprained my ankle badly and so I spent a month sitting around watching the weeds grow.  On Sunday I started taking walks again and have been increasing the length of the walks each day.  It is wonderful to walk again, though I should have been doing more stretches this past month and I am trying to make up for it now.

Today, on the fourth of July, I took my lunch to the forest preserve at the Little Red Schoolhouse and took a wandering walk.

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Waterlily at the pond.  When I got this picture on the big screen I saw the tiny frog.  I could hear the bull frogs as I walked past the pond.

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I tried to take a picture of a dragonfly and saw I had a tiny frog in that picture, too.

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Prairie flowers

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I stood still by the slough and saw an indigo bunting feeding.

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The catbird was calling.

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This bird seems to look like a catbird, too, but the call was completely different, I think.

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A summer trail.  I am so thankful to be back on my feet!