Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

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!

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

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The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

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Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The view from the patio.

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Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

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The first gaillardia blooms.

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Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

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The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

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Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

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The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

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We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

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In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

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Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

IMG_8530Unfortunately this berry loving cedar waxwing died after crashing into our kitchen window!  I saw a big serviceberry in its mouth before it died.

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A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

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There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

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Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

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We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

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A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

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One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

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There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

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Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

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.

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

This is always a fun time to be taking pictures in the garden.  There are too many mosquitoes to want to do much weeding, but the garden it packed with pollinators on all the September flowers.

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Bee on Caryopteris.

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I have two caryopteris bushes that are covered with bees these days.  My best guess is carpenter bees.  I can count 6 bees in this picture.  They love the sedum, too.  The ornamental grass in the background is miscanthus ‘morning light.’

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The sedum has turned pink.  On the back left is the other caryopteris bush and on the right is the blue hill salvia that is blooming again after a hair cut earlier in the summer.  The sedum is most active when the sun is shining, attracting a lot of flies, skippers and bees.

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I zoomed in to take a closer look at the bold-faced hornet.  My research says this critter is in the yellowjacket wasp family that live in those big hanging nests in trees.  I wonder where the nest is.  If you are not in danger from bothering the nest these are considered beneficial insects due to their predation of flies, caterpillars and spiders.  Wikipedia says that adults also drink nectar which they feed to their larvae.  The designs on the body are really fascinating.

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I moved over to the blue hill salvia to photograph the busy bees there.

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But my camera wanted to focus on this mystery mushroom instead.

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Funky fungus

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Recently I noticed a large area of fungi.  I am not sure if they are the result of the deterioration of our old silver maple tree or if it is just from wood chips breaking up or what.  I am not really an expert on fungi, but the fungi area is five or six times larger than this picture.  It looks a little bit like wasp nests….

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Unknown critter on my plastic chair this morning.  Is it a wasp or a moth or something else?  There are so many unknown small creatures in the yard now.

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When I went to pick pole beans I found these two grasshoppers next to each other.

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In the little messy meadow there are a lot of little grasshoppers and damselflies these days.

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Next to the meadow the turtlehead flowers are in bloom and behind them the coral mums are getting ready to bloom in October.

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Russian sage and solidago rugosa goldenrod ‘fireworks.’

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Monarch on Russian sage.  I have not seen monarch caterpillars on my milkweed yet, but realize that some of the monarchs that have been visiting recently have been male.  I noticed that when I looked back at some of the pictures I posted in previous blogs that show the pattern when the wings are open.

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There have continued to be two monarch on the zinnias each afternoon this past week.  The goldfinches have continued to pick the petals off to get at the zinnia seeds.  There is a butterfly festival at Lake Katherine tomorrow, 9/18/16.

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Hummingbird at neighbor’s feeder.  There have been at least two hummingbirds very active in the yard the past weeks, as they live in the mulberry tree behind our backyard.  At least five times I have seen a hummingbird chase after a monarch to scare it away.  I suppose they share the same nectar in the flowers.  I did not believe it at first, but after multiple times I saw that the hummingbirds thought they were the boss and were trying to enforce it, not very successfully.  I think the ones I am seeing are female or immature as they have not had ruby throats.  We do not have a hummingbird feeder, like the neighbors on both sides of us, but the hummingbirds are busy in our yard every day.

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The flowers on the east fence are prettiest this time of year.  In bloom in orange, yellow and white are nasturtiums, alyssum, zinnias, marigolds and mums.

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I thought all of these mums I planted two years ago, I think, had died, but some have come back and started blooming now.

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Butterfly bush flower and nasturtiums.

If you have lasted through all these pictures, thank you!  I don’t blog as often now, so I seem to accumulate a lot of photos between each post.

Nasturtiums, Goldenrod and the Forest Preserve

We have had beautiful fall weather! Here is a little of what is happening in the yard.

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Nasturtiums and alyssum.  I never seem to have enough nasturtiums in the garden, but thankful for what I have!

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod.  It is that time of year again, and I still have three stands of this goldenrod.

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Wasp on goldenrod.  I tried to figure out what kind of wasp this is, but was not successful.  The goldenrod is covered by flies, bees and wasps.

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Zebra grass at sunrise from kitchen window.

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Viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago lustre’ bushes loaded with berries.  Bird food.

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Pink turtlehead flower.  Bee food.

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Daddy Longlegs spider in the pole beans.  Every time I have gone to pick green beans I see the daddy longlegs spiders scurrying away.  This must be their home.  When I looked for them to take pictures today I found three of them.  Creepy!

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When it rains the toad comes out.  This guy came all the way up on the patio.

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We went for a walk in the Cook County Forest Preserve on this cloudy morning.  They are celebrating 100 years.  This was at the Little Red School house trail and we stopped to watch the birds in the prairie.  I believe the yellow flowers are compass plants.

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The goldfinch was getting some seeds for breakfast.

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We spent some time looking out at the Long John Slough, which was covered with lily pads in many places.  There was a cormorant and a variety of skittish ducks that we spooked.

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We saw two beavers.  This beaver swam across the slough toward us and kept an eye on us while it munched on lily pads.

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We came across a nuthatch as we walked through the woods.  We had trouble trying to get pictures of it as it climbed the tree.

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We spent a while trying to get bird pictures, but we were not very successful.  I put this picture in because I think it is a male hairy woodpecker, and I think this is the first time I have gotten a picture of one.

Enjoy autumn!!

Blooming Flowers and Biting Mosquitoes

It has been a raining summer and the mosquitoes are winning the battle.  A lot of flowers are blooming in the garden now.  If some of the pictures are not the greatest it is because each picture comes with a mosquito bite!  The garden has a lot of places where mosquitoes can congregate under a lot of foliage.  It doesn’t seem so bad if we walk on a trail somewhere else.

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The Joe Pye Weed – Eupatorium ‘Gateway’ – is starting to bloom.

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A few pink hydrangea flowers are blooming on our small bush.

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Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball.’  I wish I had gotten a hydrangea with smaller blooms that were not so heavy.  Last summer I had good luck with drying them, though.

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Hydrangea close up.

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We have had three Kniphofia – red hot poker flowers this year.  Maybe a few more will continue to come…  The blue flowers on the left are spike speedwell.  The Russian sage is starting to come on strong.  On the left is miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The liatris spicata and the Shasta daisies are blooming at the same time.

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Bee visiting liatris spicata – blazing star.

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I spent a little time deadheading these mums today.  It has been too cold and wet to do it before, so it was a bit of a job.  The alyssum reseeds itself every year here and there in the garden.  It is easy to pull out wherever I don’t want it.

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Swamp milkweed.  I tried planting regular milkweed from seed this year, but have not succeeded so far, though I am still trying.

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This is the only picture I have of some bee balm that is getting going in our little meadow.

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With the rabbits and all the mosquitoes we ended up cutting back some of our little meadow to give some room for a little hickory that a squirrel planted in a good place.  We will see if this hickory catches up to the taller bitternut hickory we planted in the front yard.

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The first pink zinnia calls to the butterflies.

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The dill is flowering.  Dill is good food for the black swallowtail caterpillars.

Native and non-native plants:  I planted a lot of flowers before thinking about incorporating more native plants into the garden.  So I have a mixture of both.  Often the native plants really attract the pollinators, though some non-native ornamentals do well, too.

Cooking:  My cooking this week included these ingredients from the garden: broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, bok choy, onions, red potatoes, small eggplant, parsley, oregano, thyme, a few strawberries and blueberries, and 5 wax beans that the rabbits missed.  With all the mosquitoes this year I have not been too upset to have the rabbits eat the pea and bean plants.

Blue jay And Other Visitors Come Calling

There is something about a blue jay squawking that gets your attention!  This week I could hear one often in the neighborhood, and got a few pictures of one at the bird bath.

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Blue jay getting ready for a bath.  Beautiful blue feathers.

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Blue jay with new hairdo after bath.  Making a ruckus!

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“Whatchu looking at?”

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I put fresh water in the bird bath and more birds have been visiting again.  What is this robin thinking about on this sunny fall day?  Is he listening to me talk to myself as I work at my desk, or listening for a meal, or just enjoying the moment?

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After robin had his bath it is sparrow’s turn.

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Monarchs on zinnias.  From my office window I could see several butterflies on the zinnias so I went outside for a closer look.

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Monarch sunning itself on a zinnia.

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The monarchs spent hours on these zinnias that afternoon.

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A painted lady butterfly was also briefly on the zinnias.

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Katydid resting on plastic chair on a cool day.

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Katydid side view.  This katydid did not move until I had bothered it quite a bit and then it moved a bit.  I could still hear grasshoppers and crickets today as the weather was in the 60s.

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Black saddlebags dragonfly on alyssum.  I think this is a female with the yellow spot.  I saw her flying around the yard and resting here and there occasionally.

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Side view of black saddlebags dragonfly hanging on to alyssum.

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‘Hunter’ is the neighbor dog, who likes to watch what I am doing, and likes a pat on the head now and then.  The goldenrod is starting to turn brown now.  The American hornbeam in this picture has had wonderful fall colors the past two years, we will see what happens this year.