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!


Snowstorm

On February 9th the snowstorm brought approximately 13 inches of snow.  The pictures below will show how gray the days have been.

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The snow keeps falling on the birdbath and last fall’s flowers.

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A downy woodpecker works at the spicy suet on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch pauses in the snow before checking out the suet.

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Pulling back on the picture you can see on the left that the sedum stalks are almost completely covered with snow.  On the right the yew shrubs are leaning way over with the weight of the snow.  I knocked the snow off most of the yew shrubs, but did not go far enough to reach these branches.

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Hicksii yew branches and snow after an earlier snowfall.

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Snow on goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks.’  I left the goldenrod up for winter interest and the insects that might be in the stems.

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I went out three times during the day for spurts of shoveling and my husband and son took their turns.  On the left you can see a few spikes of yucca poking out of the snow.  On the right, notice how high the snow is on our little bitternut hickory tree.

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This morning we walked at Lake Katherine.  It was a slog through the high snow, but great exercise and quiet beauty.  The lake was frozen except for this area where the fountain was bubbling.

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The Canadian geese were hunkered down on the lake ice.

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Snow scene at Lake Katherine.  After taking this picture my camera battery died.  It was probably best, as then I kept my cold hand in my mitten.

Earlier this morning our older neighbor was complaining because the snow plough had covered his car with snow and blocked him in.  Dan, my son, and I went over and shoveled him out so he would not have a heart attack!  We may need him to help us one day, and snowstorms can make us more neighborly or the opposite.

Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches

The Downy woodpeckers have become frequent visitors, and I am coming to recognize their little calls from the chinquapin oak tree as I sit in my office.

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The suet tempted in this male downy woodpecker, who is being observed by the female downy and a white-breasted nuthatch.

IMG_1518The red-bellied woodpecker is higher in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy and the downy waits its turn.

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The red-bellied woodpecker is fluffed up in the cold weather with a little suet on her beak.  I think this is a female.

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The male red-bellied woodpecker has an eye on the downy woodpecker, who is waiting him out further up the tree.

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The downy woodpeckers were pecking on the ice and getting a drink in the frozen birdbath.

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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White-breasted nuthatches are cute and fun to watch as they scamper down the tree.

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Another shot of the nuthatch, who is lower than the downy in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy, so watches and waits for its turn.  I love the beautiful color combinations of black, gray and white on these birds with their long, pointy beaks.

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When the snow melted the squirrels found nuts in the ground to munch on, but soon discovered the suet.

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The squirrel managed to get the suet feeder open and run away with a chunk of suet a few times, so right now we have the feeder empty.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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White snow covers the branches and contrasts with the red cyclamen.  Today there is no snow on the ground, but the weather predicts snow for tomorrow morning.

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If you are longing for spring, here is a blurry shot of the snow crocuses from two weeks ago, around January 21st.

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I just finished reading and really enjoyed 438 Days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea, by Jonathan Franklin.  Winter evenings are nice for cozy reading!

Other fascinating current reading:  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

 

Suet Visitors

I have never used bird feeders before.  On the spur of the moment I bought a suet feeder and put some suet in it, to see if I could interest some woodpeckers.  There have been no woodpecker visitors yet, that I am aware of.

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The weather has been so cold that for quite a few days there were no bird visitors.  Then one day I noticed black-capped chickadees exploring the suet feeder.

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It was a bit of a puzzle to get at the frozen suet.

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A male northern cardinal was among a group of birds checking it out on Friday.

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I love the bright red bird’s contrast to the winter scene.

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Sparrows and starlings came by to try their luck.

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A house sparrow looks for a snack.

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I noticed a hawk fly into one of the large trees in the neighborhood.  I suppose this is a good time to find a bird meal at a bird feeder.

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The dark-eyed juncos looked at the suet briefly, but then went off to look for seeds on the garden plants.

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The dark-eyed juncos are winter residents that are always fun to watch as they hop around on the ground looking for seeds

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We have had snow on the ground for 2 weeks and temperatures have remainder below 20 degrees Fahrenheit since December 26th, which is apparently a temperature record in Chicago.

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Last Saturday morning, with a wind chill well below zero, we took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  There were lots of animal tracks, especially deer tracks.  We were okay with the weather, except for our feet, which seemed like ice blocks.  This morning we had a good walk inside the mall instead, so we were a little wimpy!

Food: Our son is on a two-week 1500 calorie meal plan suggested by his doctor, before he gets his annual blood test.  You can find the meal plan on the Eating Well website.  I have been cooking all kinds of interesting and delicious meals and though it is a bit of work it has been generally tasty and enjoyable.  It is one way to stay cozy in the cold weather.

Current Reading:  I am in the middle of reading several books at once – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland.

December Morning in the Woods

We got lost in the forest preserve woods yesterday morning.  We walked about 90 minutes before we got back to our car.  But it was a mild morning and the woods were beautiful!

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When the sun finally came out yesterday morning I made a long shadow.

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It was impossible to capture in a photograph the view of all the ravines and hills we walked through.  Everything was covered with a layer of leaves and was very quiet.

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I noticed this mossy area at the top of a stream bed.  The little red speck in the back of the picture is from 3 mountain bike riders we met on the trail.

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We passed three guys on mountain bikes as we were trying to figure out which way would take us out of the forest.

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Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

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We and the deer looked at each other.

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I came across a pile of nut shells.  It was under a shagbark hickory tree, so I am guessing they are from hickory nuts.

IMG_1193I saw this little cavity in a tree that looked like a nice place for a squirrel to sit and have a nut meal.

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This tree cavity looked like a warm place to get out of a storm.  It reminds me of the little bunny children’s book I love.  Notice the spray paint on this trunk?

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A lot of the trees in this forest had been decorated with spray paint…

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Last weekend we visited the Turtlehead forest preserve in Orland Park.  We decided we want to come again and view it in the other three seasons, too.

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Back at home I put fresh water in the bird bath when the weather was above freezing.  Then I noticed a flurry of starling and house sparrow visitors.  The northern cardinals and dark-eyed juncos looked on from nearby, but did not want to get mixed up with the crazy sparrows and starlings.

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This morning, Christmas Eve, we are getting 1 -3 inches of snow for a beautiful white Christmas.

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In our cozy kitchen, where the roast is in the oven, I noticed a ladybug in the greenhouse window.  It is hiding somewhere in the cyclamen plant….

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!